Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A with Inquirer pro football writer Paul Domowitch. This week, the two discuss whether Doug Pederson considered benching Carson Wentz last week, the Eagles taking a pass on a trade-deadline deal, the NFL’s crackdown on COVID-19 violators, the number of NFL owners that voted for Trump and genuinely support the Black Lives Matter movement and other good stuff:
Domo: Doug Pederson was asked earlier this week whether he considered benching Carson Wentz Sunday night during his four-turnover performance against the Cowboys. Doug said he didn’t; that he wanted to give Carson every chance to win that game. Do you believe him?
JB: I don’t think he would think about it in the moment. They’ve either seen enough in practice [of Jalen Hurts] to know that if he really needed to play some extended time that they think he could really succeed, or they’ve seen enough in practice to be kind of worried right now if he had to be the guy.
I think it’s unlikely to see him just come in for a significant stretch and be like a relief pitcher, unless they’re really seeing some much more encouraging things in practice than is realistic to expect from a mid-second-round, first-year quarterback.
I think (Doug) has to be thinking that using him a bit more and putting in more planned plays or even a planned series is something that he has to get ready soon to integrate. But to purely kind of, for a half, because Carson isn’t playing well, just turn the team over to Jalen, you’d have to have seen a lot more to excite them in practice than I get the impression they have so far. That’s not to say he won’t be great. But for most first-year quarterbacks, that would be an awful lot to expect.
Domo: Which brings us back to Carson. We’re eight games into the season, and except for a couple of decent fourth-quarter performances, he’s really been bad. He’s 31st in the league in passing, 32nd in completion percentage and has a league-high 16 turnovers. Is there any way you see him turning things around this season?
JB: I do. Which means I’m either right or really stubborn. I’ve believed in him since they picked him and I think his play over the last five years has been good to very good. Not always great. Not always worthy of what you expect from the second pick. And obviously, there’s been an extended time here this year where he’s fluctuated between poor and OK.
But I’m certainly not seeing enough over a long enough period, especially with some of the other circumstances, including the weaknesses in the offense due to injury, to now give up on him. I am less sure of him than I was. But if you forced me to make a prediction, I still think he’s going to have a very successful NFL career.
Domo: The NFL has brought the hammer down again on COVID violators. It fined the repeat-offender Raiders $500,000 and took away a sixth-round draft pick. Jon Gruden got hit with a $150,000 fine. The Steelers were fined $250,000 and their coach, Mike Tomlin, was fined $100,000 for not wearing a mask on the sideline. Your reaction?
JB: I applaud the league. It’s not easy with people that are in the league, have good reputations and have helped build its success, to stand up there and be this aggressive and firm. But they have to look out for the collective interests of the league and, frankly, the communities that the teams are in. I applaud them for just trying to send the right message, for tolerating no exceptions and escalating the consequences of not complying, which I think will get people’s attention.
Domo: And the consequences this time included a draft pick.
JB: The $500,000 fine, the owner’s not going to be happy about that, even if he can well afford it. But the taking away of the draft pick will get the attention of people around the league way faster than money consequences.
Domo: We’ve both known Gruden for a long, long time. He worked for you. He’s been saying all the right things about wearing a mask and adhering to the COVID regulations. At one point, he said the Raiders were “on the cutting edge of beating the virus.” And yet, he’s been fined twice for mask violations, his players attended a charity function without masks, his starting right tackle took off his COVID tracer. I mean, what in the hell is Jon thinking?
JB: I’ve always been a big believer in actions speaking louder than words. I hear Jon saying the right things. But there have been multiple infractions. And I know the league well enough to know that they got a warning before the first real penalty. And the behavior has continued. And it wasn’t just like one thing. It wasn’t just letting the mask slip down for a couple of minutes. The allegations were pretty broad and quite concerning.
I would conclude from a distance, obviously without certainty because I’m not there, that despite what Jon is saying, they’re not taking this as seriously as both I and the league think they should. It’s simple. Follow the rules and nothing happens and everybody is safe and the chances of keeping the football season going and the people around you healthy remain high. But if you don’t follow the rules, there’s going to be consequences and people are risking their health.
I saw Trent Brown was put back on the COVID list Friday morning. He was put on it just two weeks ago after testing positive and getting fined. That’s a little scary to me. And he happens to be in the organization that has had the most significant penalties come down on them. It’s hard to believe that’s all a big coincidence.
Domo: An off-the-wall question. How many of the NFL’s 32 owners do you think voted for Trump?
JB: Under normal circumstances, you’d probably have a good solid 25 that would vote Republican. I’d like to think that at least a few of them came to realize that that isn’t what he really is and switched over. But I have no personal knowledge of that.
Domo: How many of the owners do you think really agreed with Roger Goodell’s we-were-wrong comments in June regarding the players' social-justice protests and the Black Lives Matter movement?
JB: That’s a complicated question because I kind of think degree matters. I think overwhelmingly the owners would have a sensitivity and an awareness that everything’s not the same for everybody. Now, some may fully appreciate and be empathetic to that to a greater degree than others. But for the most part, I haven’t come across any that just had their heads in the sand and were in total denial about these types of issues.
That’s why I say degree matters. Some may think it’s mostly fine and we can work within the system for incremental improvement. And others may feel, no, it’s really broken and we need fundamental change. But I didn’t really experience anyone who was in total denial about the challenges.
Domo: After next week’s game against the Giants, the Eagles have a very tough five-game non-division stretch against teams with a combined 26-10 record. Can they win the division without winning any of those five games?
JB: Just based on how bad the division is, it probably is possible to win it without winning any of those five games. But if you’re not winning any of those games, I’m not sure there’s any value in winning the division. You’d just be a sacrificial lamb at that point.
Domo: The trade deadline came and went without the Eagles making any moves. Surprised?
JB: No. If they were going to do anything it would’ve been incremental. They weren’t looking to make any blockbuster moves given their cap situation next year. They were looking at teams that had a little extra depth at positions of need like offensive line or linebacker, or players with contracts expiring who would be available for minimal cost.
My experience with Howie and Jeff is that they’re objective about what they’re seeing. They’re not people fooling themselves. They understand the challenges going forward with the cap. And the more draft picks they have and the more money they can preserve, the better chance to be in a highly competitive position next year.
Domo: Jets GM Joe Douglas gave his coach Adam Gase what I guess you could call a vote of confidence this week. What did you make of it? And is there any way this guy really can keep his job?
JB: To the second question, I can’t picture it. I mean, I really can’t. He had his chance, so to speak. If you watch their key players, if you watch how the players react to him, if you look at the coaching staff he put together and the strength of his leadership, I mean, to me those are the key things you evaluate in a coach when you’re deciding whether to keep him or not. I wouldn’t give Adam a solid grade in any of those areas. And his record (0-8) speaks for itself.
And you have somebody coming in as the GM who was hired after the coach was hired. That’s usually not a good thing for the coach. So I would be extremely surprised if they don’t make a change. And I’m not even sure that they’ll wait until the end of the season.
Domo: So was Joe just trying to get everybody’s attention off the coaching situation for now?
JB: There’s two parts to that. One is you do want to feel like you’re giving a coach every fair chance there is to prove that he should keep his job. And all of this commotion and distraction, while well-earned, doesn’t help. You want to quiet the questions and focus for a couple of weeks.
But second, new coaches study an organization. And part of what they’re studying is how the last coach was treated. And so, if he’s making a change, the coaches that he’ll be interviewing will take some comfort in seeing that the last coach was given some time and treated with respect and not just thrown overboard.
So I think Joe is smart enough to realize that, as a new GM, you need to create a perception that you’re somebody who is sensitive to coaches and wants to give them opportunities to succeed.
Domo: We’re halfway through the season. Who’s your midseason coach of the year?
JB: My first year in the league with the Eagles in 1994. We started 7-2 and then never won another game that year. So I’m going to pass on that question.
Domo: I remember that season well. Rick Kotite was your coach. You and Jeff fired him after the season.
JB: When we were 7-2, I got a call from his agent saying, “Don’t you think we’re at the point where it would be fair to extend his contract?” We said no and then we lost the next 7 games. I’m sure he thought that was because we didn’t give him an extension and he was a lame-duck coach. Otherwise, we might’ve finished 14-2.