Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A during the season with The Inquirer’s longtime pro football writer, Paul Domowitch.
This week, they discuss the Eagles’ unexpected loss to Miami, what’s probably going through owner Jeffrey Lurie’s mind right now, the Eagles’ cornerback situation, Lane Johnson’s new mega-deal, Nick Foles’ benching in Jacksonville, and the Giants’ struggles.
Domo: As recently as five-six weeks ago, you still felt the Eagles were the best team in the NFC. Sunday, they lost to the Miami Dolphins. The Miami Dolphins.
Banner: I never considered the possibility of them losing that game. The things that we’ve talked about, the things we’ve seen all year, showed up in that game. At some point, they become truths. The defense has got some challenges. The line has gotten a little better as the year’s gone on, but it isn’t dominating in the way it was designed to. And there are still struggles in the secondary with coverage. Wentz had another tough game. And the [offensive] line didn’t play that well, which makes it tough to fully evaluate him.
Domo: They’re 5-7 right now. Only the ineptness of the Cowboys is keeping them in the playoff hunt. This is a team that was supposed to contend for a Super Bowl. You and Jeffrey Lurie have been friends for a long time. Read his mind for me right now. How disappointed is he? Do you think he’s lost any faith in either Howie Roseman or Doug Pederson?
Banner: Jeffrey cares very deeply about his football team. Winning is very important to him. Like all of us, we reflect our expectations and our emotions. I’m just guessing from how I know him and not anything he’s said: I’m sure he’s very frustrated. I’m sure he’s second-guessing some of the decisions he made.
I think his confidence in Howie still is very solid. And I think he probably still has confidence in Doug. But he’s very, very frustrated, and certainly personally and with other people in the building will evaluate what did we get wrong, why did we get it wrong, and how can we fix it. It won’t go unconfronted.
Like all of us, he’s surprised. He’s upset. He probably has some idea about what’s causing it, but not a clear answer.
Domo: Cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby both had tough games against the Dolphins on Sunday. Your thoughts on the two of them.
Banner: You have to be able to cover good receivers if you’re going to beat good teams. Sunday, their problems there cost them against a team that isn’t very good.
I do believe Darby is a good player. He’s struggled to stay healthy, but I think he’s a good player. I don’t think he’s a top-tier player, but he’s a good player.
I’ve never been a big Mills fan. I know they won a Super Bowl with him playing out there. I know Jim Schwartz likes him a lot. But if you watch teams that need to make big plays against the Eagles, particularly deep, they frequently throw in his direction.
In the past, they’ve been able to get away with it. You look at teams like the Chiefs and the 49ers, their defensive lines are playing so well and the scheme is contributing consistent pressure that you can get away with some weaknesses in the secondary.
The Eagles’ defensive line is still very good. But it’s just not elite enough to prevent teams from exploiting other weaknesses. So either their corners have to play a lot better or their defensive line has to play a lot better, or when they play good teams, they’re going to struggle.
Domo: Both Darby and Mills will be free agents after the season. What do you think the Eagles should do there? Re-sign one? Both? Neither?
Banner: I wouldn’t bring Mills back. It’s not a matter of cost. You need a quality player there if you’re going to compete to get back to the final four or final eight on a regular basis. That means you need to build a team that’s good enough to beat good teams. And I just think he’s going to be exploitable regardless of the price. They just need a better player at that spot.
Darby, on the other hand, I think is good enough to play on a defense that can beat good teams. I suspect his price will be a challenge. But if it’s not a challenge, he’d be someone I’d certainly consider as far as filling one of those two spots.
I’d be shocked if he took a deal before the season is up. But if I was sitting there in Howie’s shoes, I’d be trying [to re-sign him]. I’d be trying to see if there’s a reasonable deal that could get done with him.
Domo: Speaking of deals, the Eagles signed right tackle Lane Johnson to a four-year, $72 million extension last week. There’s no questioning Lane’s ability. He’s probably one of the top three or four tackles in the game. But he’s also one positive PED test away from a lifetime ban. A couple of weeks earlier, they gave his linemate Brandon Brooks, who is dealing with an anxiety disorder, a huge contract with a lot of guaranteed money. How big a concern would that be to you if you were the guy giving out those contracts?
Banner: I’d call it more of a consideration than a concern. I look at this in two parts. One is timing. The Eagles are really, really smart in trying to get deals done now.
The market is going to go up, and it’s going to go up dramatically. The CBA is going to get done soon. You’ve got a new stadium opening in Los Angeles. New TV deals. Other new revenue streams. The cap is going to go up dramatically.
Getting deals done now will prove to be great value down the road. So, on that part, I think they’re 100 percent right. And frankly, they’re about the only team in the league that’s actually succeeding in getting these deals done. There are a number of other teams trying, but they’re not having the success with it the Eagles are.
Now, the decisions they make on the particular players obviously is equally important. I would say that any guy that is young enough and good enough that you’re confident he’s going to be a very important part of your team for at least three years, I would be trying to sign him right now.
Brooks and Johnson certainly figure to be important parts of this team for the next three years. Sure, there’s some risk with both of them because of their situations. With deals this large, any misses will be consequential. But they do a good job of structuring the deals to try to minimize that some.
They obviously believe in the importance of their lines. And these are two of the best players in the league. You have to hold your breath slightly with both of them. But the signing of these players and recognizing where the market is going, I think, is very smart on their part.
Domo: Nick Foles got benched Sunday by the Jaguars, eight months after signing a four-year, $88 million contract with them. What do you think is going to happen with him down there?
Banner: It’s sad. Nick is a terrific guy. If they ever do a 30-for-30 on him, it will be one of the more interesting roller-coaster rides of a career we’ve ever seen.
The franchise obviously is in disarray. They’ve given two huge quarterback deals, first to [Blake] Bortles after he was there for a few years, and now to Nick. And they’ve made a number of other mistakes.
Teams that are losing and that also are in terrible cap shape, somebody’s got to look at the front office with a critical eye. If this administration is back, I’m sure they’ll try to give Nick another year. If a new [management] team comes in, it’s very possible they’ll just eat that [deal], take a year to get the cap squared away, and move on.
Domo: The Giants, who will play the Eagles at the Linc on Monday night, are 2-10 and have lost eight games in a row. Is Pat Shurmur a dead man walking, and is GM Dave Gettleman the right or wrong guy to turn that franchise around?
Banner: I hope Pat’s not a dead man walking, but I think there’s a pretty good chance that he is. I think Gettleman is smart in his philosophy in terms of his priorities in building a team. He’s focused on the quarterback and the lines.
Beyond that, though, the individual player decisions that he’s made and executed since he came in, there’s been a huge number of mistakes, some of them really big.