Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A with Inquirer pro football writer Paul Domowitch. This week, the two discuss Doug Pederson’s decision to bench Carson Wentz, whether the quarterback still has a future with the Eagles, the impact of his $128 million contract extension on a possible trade, and the job security of Pederson and GM Howie Roseman:
Domo: What can we take away from Doug’s decision this week to bench Carson Wentz and start Jalen Hurts against the Saints?
JB: I think there are some things that we can say are highly likely based on the move. For example, I’ve talked before about the possibility of trying to rebuild Carson’s game and his confidence one brick at a time starting now. Well, I think what they’re saying with this move is they don’t think that can be done on the fly. And they’re going to presumably have him step back now, and in the offseason, see where they’re headed and what progress they can make with respect to rebuilding him into what he was.
I don’t think the move says anything specifically about Doug’s own situation as far as the likelihood of him returning or not. But obviously there are questions about that that are legitimate. Some are acting as if that’s kind of a done deal and he’s gone. I know nothing about what’s going on inside right now. But from my knowledge of how Jeff thinks, I’d be surprised if he’s already made a decision.
I’m sure it’s something he’s considering. I’m sure it’s something they’ve started to think about. But as I’ve said previously, Jeff is kind of a pragmatic decision-maker. He’s emotional like we all are. But good decision-makers try to step back from their emotions. My guess is, at this point, he’s really struggling with this. He likes Doug. They won a Super Bowl with him. They’ve been to the playoffs the last two years. And now he’s having this disastrous season.
So it’s very possible they will make a change. But I’d be surprised it that’s something Jeff has decided to do 100% at this point.
Domo: What are the odds of Doug getting fired right now in your mind?
JB: I’d say 60-40 yes. This is a guy they really like and is a great person. He’s proven that he can be a winning coach. He’s won a Super Bowl. I think they’d really like to find ways to keep him. But the way things are unraveling, Jeff is going to ask the simple question. If I don’t make changes, what are the reasons I would expect next year to be very different than this year? Because he does not want to live through this again. That’s what he’s going to be looking at. And if he believes there are really concrete, logical, objective reasons to believe they can stay the course and things will be a lot better next year, he’ll do it. He’s not going to make a change frivolously. He’s not going to make a change because of public pressure. But if he’s sitting there thinking if I don’t make a change, next year is going to be just like this year, he won’t hesitate to make changes.
Domo: If Jeff fires Doug, Eagles fans aren’t going to complain. But Howie’s approval rating is much lower than Doug’s right now. Yet you’ve said repeatedly that Howie’s job is safe. Do you still believe that?
JB: It’s not like I’m speaking to people in the building who are sharing that kind of information with me. So I don’t have any inside information. But I know how Jeff thinks. I know how much confidence he has in Howie. I know, in his mind, he’ll view Howie’s 8-10-year record, including winning a Super Bowl rather than the last couple of years. I think he has tremendous trust in Howie. And I’d be very surprised if there was a move there. I don’t think there’s even a 10% chance of it happening. So obviously I’ll be very wrong if it does. But I don’t think I will be.
Domo: Before Doug made the quarterback announcement this week, he said that it would be his decision and that he didn’t feel the need to communicate with anybody. He was primarily referring to his coaches and team leaders. But is it safe to say he had to run it by Jeff and Howie?
JB: He may not have needed to discuss it with his coaching staff this week because it probably was something they’ve discussed previously and he knows what they think. But there’s no chance this wasn’t discussed with Jeff and Howie, both leading up to this and as the decision was being made.
Now, my experience with Jeff is that, in the end, he’ll respect the coach making the decision. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be a lot of discussion or he won’t ask a lot of questions or it won’t be obvious what his own view is. But I do think it’s true in the end that it was Doug’s call.
Domo: Why make this move right now?
JB: It goes back to my first answer. I’m not saying I agree with it. But I think they feel like trying to get Carson back to where they want him to be on the fly, with game-planning and all the other disadvantages beyond him that exist at the moment in terms of the play of the offensive line and the receivers, etc., I just don’t think they feel like that they can both, get him ready to play each week and do that. So it made sense to them to let him step back and relax and clear his head and look at things from the sideline. You hear some players talk about how they gain perspective when they do that.
At the same time, they feel they’ll gain some more knowledge about what they have in Hurts and what his potential may be, which is something they need to know with respect to decisions they may make in the offseason. I mean, they’re going to have to make a decision on Carson. They have to have at least an enhanced opinion on Hurts from the time they drafted him as to what his chances [of success] are.
And frankly, they’re probably going to have a high enough draft pick that there could be some discussion as to whether they want to trade up and try and get [another] quarterback. [Their quarterback situation] is the most important thing they’re going to do this offseason. So this will help them gain a lot of information and hopefully increase their chances of getting it right.
Domo: Whoa! Did you say draft yet another quarterback? Do you really think that’s something that will be on the table?
JB: I’m not saying it’s probable. I think it’s unlikely. But I don’t think it’s zero either. Their own description at the time they drafted Hurts was they thought he had upside. In the meantime, he’d be valuable in certain situations and usages. And, because of Wentz’s history with injuries, the backup quarterback was a significantly more important position on their roster than it was on other teams. And, they left the door open and certainly weren’t ruling out the possibility, that long-term, Hurts could develop into a starting quarterback.
Well, they know a lot more about Jalen now than last April when they thought that. It may have increased their confidence that he could be a long-term starter, or it may have decreased their confidence. And they’ll get a good look at him the next four weeks. So they’ll have a lot more information about him with respect to his work ethic, his passing accuracy, his ability to pick things up mentally and his ability to lead. They had an opinion last April, but they didn’t know. Now, they’ll know.
Domo: Do you think Hurts will start the next four weeks? Or do you think Doug would consider going back to Carson next week if Jalen plays really poorly against the Saints?
JB: I can only tell you that, in my mind, that would be kind of hard to explain. The only reason it would make sense is if you thought Carson just needed to step back and catch his breath and regroup to have a chance to be rebuilt. But if they thought that could be done while he’s still playing, then, in my mind, they never should have pulled him in the first place.
So, if they go back to Wentz next week, I’ll be clearly telling you that they made a significant mistake as to how they handled this over the previous two or three weeks.
Domo: Will they try and fix Carson in the offseason or throw in the towel? What do you think his future with the Eagles is right now?
JB: Well, a big part of the answer is going to be what they do with the coach and what the coach – either Doug or, if he’s fired, his replacement – believes. I mean, you don’t really want a head coach who doesn’t fully believe in the person you’re counting on being your starting quarterback. Doug’s actions indicate that he has some serious concerns about Carson. But we don’t really know if he thinks that, listen, if he takes an offseason and we work with him and regroup, he can get it going again.
Now, if they’re changing coaches, it will be crucial what the new coach thinks. If he says, I’ve watched the tape. I’ve watched this guy for five years. I liked him coming out [of college]. I have some ideas about what I think we can do to fix him. That’ll be a crucial element.
Personally, my prediction is that they bring Carson back next year and give it one more year to see if they can get him back to the player that he was and that they thought he would be going forward. They invested in Carson because of what they believed he was and would be. Like myself, I’m sure they have many more questions and are less confident in their assessment than they were. But I’d be surprised if they’ve just done a 180 and said, ‘Wow, we were just wrong and he is absolutely not the guy.’
The only way they can bring him back and be in control of the situation is to honor the existing contract, which they basically need to do anyway because of the guarantees in it next year.
Domo: You mentioned the $128 million contract extension he signed last year. How big of an obstacle is that if they end up trying to trade him?
JB: His ability to be traded under the current contract as it is written would be very difficult. Probably, like you see in basketball, you’d get very, very modest compensation when somebody is taking a contract off your hands. That’s mainly driven by the guarantees, not the price of the deal. But there are things they can do. They can convert money they owe him in the future into a signing bonus. It will reduce their exposure and make the numbers for a new team more reasonable.
Now, everybody is watching the same tape right now. So, anybody acquiring him is not going to be sitting there saying, ‘Oh yeah, I want to pay this guy $30-plus million a year based on what he’s doing right now.’ You may get a team that will say, ‘Listen, I’m willing to take on this contract with some reductions of what the costs over the next year or two will be to see what he is and give you some compensation.’ But it’s going to be very hard to find someone to take on the contract as it is.
So, in any scenerio other than keeping him and getting him back to what he was, this contract is going to have significant negative ramifications on their cap over the next year or two. To trade him, they need to redo the contract in ways that they can control, as opposed to going back to the player or the agent. In my opinion, I can’t see any team that would take on this contract the way it’s written right now.
Domo: Why would Wentz or his representatives be willing to redo the deal?
JB: You don’t need them to. The Eagles have the right to convert certain things, like roster bonuses and signing bonuses that he has coming up next year. If they want to convert that and pay it up front and make him more desirable in trade scenarios, they can do that. And it will help them get out of the rest of the contract and it will help reduce the cost of the contract and it will help take all of the future charges they have on the books right now for him off. But that’s a scenario where they would have just decided, ‘We give up. He’s not the guy we thought he was. We’re 100% sure of that, and we’re moving on.’ And again, I can’t take that off the table. But I’d be very surprised if that’s how it goes.