Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A with Inquirer pro football writer Paul Domowitch. This week, the two discuss a possible expanded role for Jalen Hurts, Carson Wentz’s recent improvement, Tuesday’s trade deadline, Tom Brady’s misguided Instagram post, Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner’s bad decision, Bill Belichick’s Subway commercials, and other good stuff.
Domo: During last week’s Eagles-Giants broadcast, Troy Aikman mentioned that at some point this season, he thinks the Eagles will start giving Jalen Hurts an entire series behind center, rather than just a play here and a play there. Do you think that’s likely? And how do you feel about it?
JB: As you know, the network broadcasting team meets with the coaching staff and a couple of key players the day before the game. This season those meetings probably are on Zoom, but they’re still part of the production process. Most of the insight -- not the analysis, but something like this -- almost always come out of those meetings. Sometimes it’s something that’s directly told to them. And sometimes it’s a situation where they think they’re correctly reading between the lines what’s being said.
I took this to mean that there’s at least some conversation, if not something directly said to him, that made Troy think this is going to happen. And Troy’s been around the game a long time, both as a player and broadcaster, so it’s not often that he’s going to misinterpret something like this.
The second part is, I do think that experimenting with that makes some sense. We certainly see looking around the league that Jalen Hurts' style of play vs. Wentz’s, when he’s a little more in the pocket and not willing to move around and run, is where the game is headed.
But the Eagles are likely to win the division and make the playoffs. You have to find a balance there between showing the confidence in the guy that’s going to primarily lead you there (Wentz) and starting to experiment with some things that could be helpful down the road. So, I do think it’s a decent idea that could benefit them down the line. But I think they’ve got to manage it carefully so it doesn’t create a bunch of doubt with the players or Wentz.
Domo: Wentz is starting to show signs of coming out of the funk he’s been in the first half of the season. He’s got a 118.2 fourth-quarter passer rating the last two games. He’s thrown just one interception in the last two games. He’s thrown multiple touchdown passes in each of the last three games. He averaged 8.35 yards per attempt last week against the Giants. Reason for optimism?
JB: At the beginning of the year, he was just playing bad. Now I’d describe his play more as inconsistent. So now we’re seeing him make some of the special plays that others can’t. We’re still seeing a lot of unexplained mis-throws. So I’m not saying everything is fine. But he’s playing considerably better than he was earlier in the year. And I think we’ve seen enough to know that there’s a chance he’ll continue to move in that direction.
Domo: The Cowboys traded away one of their best pass rushers, Everson Griffen, earlier this week. Head coach Mike McCarthy said they did it because they want to give more snaps to other players, including Randy Gregory, who, by my count, has failed at least a half-dozen drug tests over the last five years and missed the entire 2019 season because of a drug suspension. What’s up with that?
JB: When I was with the Eagles, we always felt we had two major advantages over the Cowboys. One was their tendency to always wait to sign their own players until the very last minute, which usually cost them significant amounts of money and gave us a significant cap advantage.
The second was their willingness to take significant risks on players with questionable character. We see occasionally that works out. But overall, it tends to be a mistake. Some of the guys they’ve made moves with recently and some of the guys they’ve signed in the past, I mean, I remember when Gregory was a second-round pick (in 2015) and everybody was like, “Oh my God. I can’t believe they got this guy in the second round.” Most of the people in the draft rooms around the league, though, were sitting there and saying, “Oh my God. I can’t believe they picked him.”
Domo: At the urging of Tom Brady, the Bucs signed Antonio Brown last week. He’ll be cleared to play after Week 8. Good move? Bad move?
JB: On one hand, it’s a good move. I mean, he’s an extremely talented player. The fact that he’s missed some time doesn’t worry me. On the other hand, I do believe chemistry is a huge issue on teams that win. Bringing him into the locker room does create some risk. It’s almost an overloaded position there with guys that want to be on the field and catching balls. It will be a challenge, like it was in Pittsburgh for years, to kind of find a balance between being able to take advantage of his skill set and at the same time try to manage any challenges he brings. Because there’s such strong leadership on that team, I think they can probably handle it.
Domo: Speaking of TB12, what did you think of his dumb Instagram post earlier this week, in which he incorrectly claimed that more people are dying every month from suicide than COVID, even though statistics show that there are five times more COVID-related deaths per month than suicides? I mean, even if he was trying to emphasize the importance of mental health, why even go there?
JB: It looks like there is one thing that he is maybe the greatest ever at and some other things he’s not so good at. There are so many people that would love to have a platform like his to speak and make a difference. It’s disappointing that he does have that platform and this is how he uses it: to mislead people.
It’s just such a shallow, incomplete, counterproductive comment. It’s disappointing. I remember when I was a kid. The Vietnam War was going on. I’d turn on the news and if 40 people died in a day, it was just horrific. Now we have a thousand dying every day [from COVID] and people are finding a way to trivialize those lives. It’s disappointing.
Domo: Since we’re on the subject of COVID, even though it’s a non-NFL topic, I’ve got to ask you for your take on Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, who celebrated with his teammates after their World Series win this week, often without a mask on, even though he had tested positive for COVID a couple of hours earlier. He even sat next to manager Dave Roberts, a cancer survivor, without wearing a mask for a team picture.
JB: I wish he hadn’t done it. At the same time, I understand as someone who was in the league a long time and came close to winning it all a lot of times and never did, how consuming and overwhelming that is and how much he wanted to be a part of that celebration.
But sometimes you just have to have self-control and make the sacrifice. I saw what you saw. If he had just left the mask on and didn’t hug everybody, maybe he could have found a way to be part of the celebration. His decision to sit right next to his immune-compromised manager was a dumb thing to do. There’s a middle ground there where you’d like to see him experience the joy of the moment, but at the same time not risk serious consequences for the people around him.
Domo: The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday. There have been a few deals, but not a lot. And certainly no blockbusters. Is the pandemic impacting that?
JB: I wouldn’t necessarily say that. I can tell you from behind the scenes, there are as many conversations going on this year as in past years. Maybe even a little bit more. I’m not hearing a lot of huge names in those conversations. More incremental upgrades, or teams looking to replace an injured player. Stuff like that.
Domo: The lack of big names, is that because of the 2021 salary cap?
JB: Yes. I think that’s exactly what it is. First of all, I think some teams that, in the past, looked at the idea of going for it in one year have learned that it’s smarter to take a more sustainable approach. It doesn’t mean you don’t get more aggressive in any given year, but you don’t go for broke in a given year.
And then there’s the uncertainty of the cap and people wanting to be conservative and have money to carry forward and stuff. It is having an impact on the big names in the trade market.
Domo: The league said the other day that they’re probably going to cap attendance for Super Bowl LV in Tampa at about 20% of stadium capacity. It also said they are keeping open the possibility of eliminating the bye week before the Super Bowl if they need to add an extra week to the season to play games that might get canceled because of COVID. Good ideas?
JB: I’m glad they’re thinking this way and realizing they have to be socially conscious to the (Tampa) community, rather than just have a clear focus on the event. I think that’s good. But it’s just too early to really know about anything. We’re seeing what’s going on in the moment. We don’t know if it’s going to slow down in four weeks or six months.
Domo: The great and mighty Patriots are 2-4. They’re coming off a 27-point home loss. If they continue to unravel this season, which is a very good possibility, do you think it will have any impact on Bill Belichick’s future as far as possibly retiring and becoming a full-time pitchman for Subway?
JB: These coaches, really all of them but especially the top-of-the-pile guys, are just so competitive that nobody has even met anybody in their life close to them. My bet is this is actually further motivating Bill and feels like a challenge he wants to conquer and prove he can overcome rather than walk away from. So I don’t think it will bring him closer to the end of his career. I think it will make him more focused and determined. He probably has that brilliant mind working a million miles a minute more than it was.
Domo: Your thoughts on his Subway commercials. Could an acting career be in his future?
JB: I would have liked to have been in the meetings at the advertising agency when somebody threw out the idea, and what the faces in the room looked like. That had to be an idea that was way out of left field. Somebody threw it out there and somebody else must’ve liked it, and next thing you know, they’re talking to Bill’s agent. And now we’re all watching it.
I also would’ve loved to have overheard the conversation between Bill and the agent when he called him and said, “Listen, I’ve got an opportunity here to discuss with you. You’re going to do these commercials, but you’re not really going to talk much in them because we don’t think that helps.”