Former Eagles president Joe Banner will again do a weekly Q&A this season with Inquirer pro football writer Paul Domowitch. In this week’s preseason segment, Banner discusses whether the NFL will be able to dodge COVID-19 and get the 2020 season in, the impact George Kittle’s and Travis Kelce’s new deals will have on Eagles tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, and the salary-cap challenges facing the Eagles next year:
Domo: So, how optimistic are you that the NFL will be able to get the 2020 season in?
JB: I’m pretty confident they’re going to start. I have real questions about whether they’ll be able to finish. That’s just more about what’s going to happen nationwide in October and November when we’re going to be dealing with the flu season on top of a potential second COVID surge. You’ve got to count on more players than probably is realistic being very dedicated to minimizing or eliminating the risks they’re taking.
The problem is you have players that are married and have kids. You have coaches that are married and have kids. That’s a lot of people that have to stay safe and do the right thing. I’m hopeful. It would be good for everybody if they could play. I’ve talked to people in the league. They’re very, very committed to getting going, and I don’t really have any doubt that will happen. Like I’ve been saying, they’ll report, they’ll practice, they’ll start the season. And then it’s up to the virus what happens next.
Domo: Since they’re not playing in a bubble like the NBA and the NHL, outbreaks seemingly are going to be inevitable. Can they deal with them without shutting everything down?
JB: I think they’re going to. With hindsight, we’ll find out whether it was smart. But I do think it will take a significant infection rate [to interrupt play]. I’m confident from the people I’ve talked to, they’re not going to get a few cases and shut things down. It’s not going to be like last spring in the NBA. There’s going to have to really be serious breakouts and real problems with playing the schedule and all that kind of stuff. Because they’re determined to keep going.
Domo: Right now, it looks like some teams are going to be able to have fans in the stadium for their home games, while others, including the Eagles, won’t because of restrictions on social gatherings. Will that provide an unfair advantage to the teams that will be allowed to have fans at their games?
JB: I don’t think it’s going to make a huge difference, but I do think that the teams that are going to be allowed to have even modest crowds are going to have a bit of an advantage. Now, these things tend to get a bit exaggerated as far as how important they are and how much they matter. But I’m sure if you’re playing on a team or running a team and have a home game, you’d like to have some sort of home team benefit beyond not having to travel or worry about staying in hotels.
Domo: How much money will teams like the Eagles lose this season if their games are played in empty stadiums?
JB: A lot. There’s the obvious loss of ticket revenue. But you’ve also got parking revenue, concession revenue. There’s the revenue from your luxury suites and club suites, as well as what those people spend on things like catering and parking and all that. It’s a large number of revenue streams.
If I recall, when I was there, it was in the 25-35% range depending on the team and your pricing. And realize, about half of that goes to the players and the other half to the owners. So the owners lose a sizable chunk of profitability and the players lose money that otherwise would have gone into the cap.
Domo: The league’s two top tight ends, George Kittle and Travis Kelce, signed contract extensions last week that reset the salary bar at their position. Kittle signed a five-year, $75 million deal. Kelce signed a four-year, $57.2 million deal. As a longtime NFL contract negotiator, what are your thoughts on those extensions?
JB: I think the Kittle deal is on the low end of fair for the player, and very good for the team in light of how good the player is. If you look at it in the context of the previous high deal [the $10 million-a-year deal Austin Hooper signed with the Browns in March], it’s a much higher jump than you’d usually see. But if you look at it from the standpoint of pure value and talent and relative to other positions, I think it’s just fair.
Kelce’s deal is very different. I think it was driven by his age and whether he will play the whole contract. But he basically took a new deal with an OK average and a terrible cash flow, much of which he’s likely to get after he’s probably not playing anymore.
I actually think he guaranteed himself of getting cut after maybe two years into the new deal. Not two years from now, because he had time left on his old deal, but two years into the new deal. And I don’t really understand why a player of that caliber would agree to something like that. He had time left. If he likes it in Kansas City and likes winning, he could have just waited until deeper into the contract.
Domo: What impact will the Kittle and Kelce deals have on the Eagles’ two tight ends, Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, who both have two years left on their deals? Can they afford to keep both of them given what it’s going to cost?
JB: It was smart for Ertz to have waited. Usually when a player jumps the gun and signs early, he ends up looking back in a year or two and wishes he had waited. I still think Ertz is a very valuable and important part of their system. I think they’ll eventually do a deal of some consequence with him. And I think that’s wise because he’s a top-caliber player and a top-caliber guy.
I think they’ll get something done with him that will at least lengthen the current time he’s committed to the team. I think he’ll snuggle in a little below Kittle. But he’ll get in that ballpark, would be my guess.
Goedert, we’ll have to see. They can’t have two tight ends making $13-15 million a year long-term. But in a couple of years, Ertz will be near moving on. So you’d maybe only have the two of them with new deals overlapping for a year or so. I think the most likely scenario is they sign them both and they overlap a little bit and then when Ertz is ready to move on, they still have Goedert and don’t miss a beat.
There’s no hurry with Goedert. They can wait until he becomes a free agent [after the 2021 season]. The new rules make it a lot harder for somebody to hold out. So I’m sure they feel they have a couple of years to see where the market is.
Domo: The league salary cap this year is $198.2 million. Prior to the pandemic, next year’s cap was projected to increase to around $210 million. Now, with all of the lost revenue this season, the projected cap floor for ’21 is $175 million. ESPN reported last month that the Eagles have $267 million committed to their ’21 cap, the most in the league. How big of a cap mess are the Eagles in?
JB: I think the 2021 cap is going to be a little higher than some people think. They’re going to have new TV deals. They’re going to have streaming deals. They have new stadiums opening that will be increasing the revenue that goes into the [salary cap] pool. So I think the number is going to be at least moderately higher than the $175 million projection, which will be helpful to teams like the Eagles.
I’ve always been dismissive about the concerns people have had in the past about the Eagles’ cap situation. A year ago, everybody was worried about their cap and they ended up keeping the important people they needed to keep and still were able to go out and add a Darius Slay and a [Javon] Hargrave.
It’s going to be a little bit more difficult next year for Howie [Roseman]. But I still don’t think they’re in serious cap trouble. I could show you on paper where pushing some money forward this year and then restructuring a couple of deals and maybe moving on from an older player like Brandon Graham, and once again they’d be in good shape and still be able to make a [free-agent] move or two next year.
There will be a little bit more pain. There will be a few more challenging decisions, including how much restructuring do they want to do, which is basically borrowing from the future. They’ve got guys like [Fletcher] Cox and [Carson] Wentz that they could do that with. They could go back to [Lane] Johnson again. So it’s easy to do that if they want to keep borrowing from their future. So they don’t really have a short-term problem. But they do have to make a few more adjustments to accommodate what’s on paper than they have had to do in past years.
Despite the fact that it looks on paper like they have the worst cap situation of any team, it’s really not the case. There are teams in much worse shape than they are. Like I said, their short-term situation still remains very manageable.
When you’ve got a quarterback making as much as Wentz does and you’ve got players with roster bonuses that you could just convert to signing bonuses and spread out the charge, it gives you a tremendous amount of flexibility.
It’s different if you’ve got a lot of those types of guys near the end of their careers because then you’re worried about what the write-off would be when they stop playing. But at this point, it’s pretty easy to do that.
Now it can come back to bite you like it did with Alshon Jeffery. They borrowed a little bit from the future and he got hurt and didn’t play as well as they wanted him to, and now they’re in a box with that contract. So it’s not a no-risk situation. But it’s a small risk, especially when you’re talking about guys like Wentz and Cox and Johnson.
You look at a team like the Saints and you realize it’s really hard for them to get in a position where they can keep everybody they want and still make moves. The Eagles just aren’t going to be in that position. They may need to make one or two tough decisions. But otherwise they’ll be able to keep who they want and be able to look at the market and pick up a player or two there.