Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A with Inquirer pro football writer Paul Domowitch. This week, the two discuss who, if anybody, will pay for the team’s disappointing season, whether Doug Pederson will have a bigger role in personnel if he is retained, which quarterback he would prefer to move forward with, how quickly the Eagles need to make a decision on whether they’re going to trade Carson Wentz, and the significance of the Eagles’ hiring last month of former Chiefs and Browns GM John Dorsey:
Domo: Doug Pederson talked this week like a coach who thinks he’s coming back for a sixth season. Did you get that same sense?
JB: I definitely think that’s how he was talking. I’m not sure that makes it true. I do think he’s more likely to be back than not. But we’ll have to see. He was either publicly selling, or reflecting the confidence that he knew was justified based on internal conversations.
If Jeff (Lurie, the team owner) has made a decision or is leaning toward bringing Doug back, I would think he’s sat down with him and said, “Listen, tell me how we would do things differently going forward so I don’t have to live through another season like this.” He probably would be very influenced by Doug’s plans and his objectivity and probably his own willingness to own whatever piece of this he should own.
Domo: Is it at all possible that Jeff and Howie (Roseman, the general manager) will look at this season and blame it all on injuries and ignore the shortcomings of the roster?
JB: It would be easy for them to look and say, “We only won four games, but we got whacked by injuries. We realize now that we’re not as good as we thought, but we think we’re about an eight-win team,” and then start making moves proportionate with that thinking.
Listen, there’s no question injuries had a meaningful adverse effect on the season. But if they allow that to make them think they’re really OK and just need to make a couple of strategic moves and get the quarterback straightened out, I think that would be a major underestimation of the extent of the challenges they’re facing. They’re human, and that means objectivity doesn’t always come easy. But they need to appreciate how challenging the ride back up is going to be.
Domo: It’s hard to believe that somebody isn’t going to pay for this disappointing season. If Howie and Doug are retained, it seems likely that some of the assistant coaches will be made scapegoats. Do you think (defensive coordinator) Jim Schwartz is on the hot seat? Given the disappointing play of the quarterback and the offense as a whole, is (senior offensive assistant) Rich Scangarello safe? How about (passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach) Press Taylor?
JB: Knowing Jeff, I would be very surprised if they didn’t make some changes. I don’t think there’s any way in the world he’s watching the offense and feels like he’s seeing them compete with the top schemes in the league. I can’t imagine he’s not frustrated by what he’s seeing. And that would lead to changes.
I’ve been much more worried about the defense for a while. Now, it’s a lot easier to think the problems on that side of the ball are talent-driven rather than coaching. But this is a passing league, and they really have struggled against passing teams. If they’re going to get back to the point where they can beat good teams, they’re going to have to get a lot better at defending the pass.
Will that result in discussions about (firing) Jim? I don’t know. He’s got a long track record of being a good, if not great, defensive coordinator. Could it result in further discussions about philosophy and how they do things? That sounds much more probable to me.
Domo: What do you make of all the injuries they’ve suffered over the last few years? They’ve changed medical staffs. They’ve changed training staffs. They’ve changed their training regimen and their approach to training camp. And yet, the torn ACLs and ruptured Achilles tendons and torn biceps and Lisfranc fractures keep on coming.
JB: One thing I’ve learned over the years is that subtle differences in training practices can produce wide gaps and outcomes. So, they may be doing things modestly different than other teams and not recognizing the degree of that.
They’re also an older team. When a team gets older, the risk of injury, individually and collectively, goes up a lot. If you look at the offensive line, having that many injuries is really a degree of unluckiness, but it’s also a reflection of having a bunch of older players at the position.
Same thing at other positions. When DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery go down, you can’t go, “Oh, I’m so shocked. I could never imagine that happening.” It was predictable.
They’ve talked the last two years about getting younger. And I believe at least part of the problem will be mitigated when they actually finish getting younger. Because right now, they’re counting on a lot of older players to hold up.
Domo: Doug kind of went back and forth this week on his desire to have more input in personnel decisions if he is retained. On Monday, he talked about wanting to be “a voice that’s heard.” By Wednesday, he was saying he didn’t “want to cross that line” and wants to focus on being a coach. What do you make of that? And should he have more input into personnel decisions?
JB: I’m not seeing anything that doesn’t make me believe he’s not engaged at the proper level (in personnel issues). When I say that, what I mean is, you’ve got to respect the people in personnel. Their expertise is personnel and Doug and his coaches’ expertise is coaching. That does not mean that the coaches can’t be really valuable assets in helping with personnel and, most importantly, being really clear on what kind of players they want and how they’re planning on using them. That increases the chances of not only getting players who are talented, but also players who can have a maximum impact for you.
For years, people have been critical of Bill Belichick as a general manager. But he’s not trying to find the best players. He’s trying to find the best players for his particular scheme and the role he’s looking for them to play. So you need the coaches involved. And if they aren’t adequately involved, that could be one of the things they review and change.
Some coaches are very good at evaluating and some are awful. So I’m not suggesting turning over a major (personnel) role to them and giving them final say. But certainly, their input and identifying clearly how they plan on using what players in what roles as they prepare predraft, it’s really crucial that the coach is very intimately involved in that aspect and that he is able to communicate what he wants.
Domo: The Eagles hired former Chiefs and Browns GM John Dorsey as a personnel consultant earlier this season. Good idea? Bad idea? Howie’s idea? Jeff’s?
JB: John has a reputation as a very good talent evaluator. I think his problems in both Kansas City and Cleveland had to do with the other elements of being a GM. I think if they brought him in and focus on his strength, which is talent evaluation, it can only make them better.
Now, whether it’s just something for him to do now while he looks for something bigger, or whether he’s really committed to being there as an evaluator for a long time, I don’t know. But I would consider it a good addition and a strength you can never have too much of.
He has had a relationship with Howie for a long time. So I’d be surprised if Howie didn’t initiate this. I’m sure, at a minimum, he was approving of it or it wouldn’t have happened. I think it complements the group they have there well. And I think it would be good if it turns out he’s committed to the long term there.
Domo: Let’s assume Doug is going to be coming back. Who do you think he wants to go forward with as his quarterback – Wentz or Hurts?
JB: I think it’s really hard to know that. Not from (firsthand) knowledge other than knowing the people, it’s impossible for Doug and Carson to have gone through this season together and not have developed some tension between them. There was just too much stress, too much disappointment. They’re both driven, highly competitive people. Now, you could step away from the scene and that could all evaporate. Or there can be some lingering damage from that. There’s no way for us to know that.
What I know is Doug is calling very different plays with Jalen at quarterback than he was with Carson. It makes me think that Doug may be a little bit excited by some of the things that he thinks he can do with somebody that’s as mobile as Jalen and doesn’t have a history where you have to worry about him getting hurt. And it looks like he has a build where he can actually take more contact and hits than probably most quarterbacks.
So I can’t tell you which one he prefers. But it does look like he’s excited and even a little bit rejuvenated in terms of getting creative and using zone reads and RPOs and some of the things he backed off of with Carson.
Domo: Former Jets and Dolphins front-office boss Mike Tannenbaum popped up on ESPN this week and came up with an out-of-the-box idea for making a trade of Carson Wentz and his contract more palatable to the Eagles. It involves Carson writing a $20 million check to the Eagles to help lower his dead cap number. Then, after he is traded, his new team would write him a $20 million check to make up for the $20 million he gave back to the Eagles. Is this even legal?
JB: Technically it’s legal. But if you’re Carson, you’re not going to do it unless you absolutely know that there’s an acquiring team that’s going to repay you the 20 million bucks. But I don’t think it’s a good suggestion or the likely way things will head because there’s no trade happening unless the Eagles decide they want to move him. At which point, they’re not going to have much leverage. Getting Carson to pay them back $20 million, I mean, why? I don’t see that happening.
Plus, you can love Carson all you want. But over the last three years, he has a losing record on a fairly talented team. So nobody’s going to take the current contract he has plus another $20 million and take that risk. The Eagles owe him, from a cap perspective, $65 million over the next two years. So, you’re talking about an acquiring team paying at least that $65 million, and maybe as high as $85 million in this idea. It’s not happening. It’s just not happening.
If you just trade for the contract the way it is and let’s say the Eagles paid the roster bonus, now you’re taking on a guy that would be (getting) between $20 million and $25 million per year over the next couple of years. Fully guaranteed. So that’s still a big risk for the new team to take on based on the way he’s played and his injury history. So I just don’t see any realistic scenario where Carson is repaying money and the Eagles are actually getting a benefit.
And by the way, in Mike’s example, Carson actually ends up making more money. So, a guy with a losing record over the last three years, an injury history, and some question as to where his head is at the moment is certainly not going to end up with a pay raise out of this whole thing.
Domo: Do you think Howie has had any conversations with Carson’s agents since he was benched?
JB: I’m sure they’ve talked numerous times over the course of the season. But as far as the immediate present, it may be a situation where they’ve said, “Let’s just get through the season, so that everybody isn’t under so much stress and the emotions aren’t so elevated. Then let’s have a really thorough conversation about where we are and see if there aren’t some mutually beneficial ways to resolve this.”
If I’m the agent right now, I don’t want to be talking to Howie unless he has some very clear answer, like, “Don’t listen to all the (bull). We’re bringing Carson back and we expect him to be our starting guy.” And there’s no way at this moment that Howie is saying anything like that. Even if he expects that to be the outcome, he’s not going to tie his own hands like that right now.
Domo: How quickly do the Eagles need to make a decision as far as their willingness to trade Carson?
JB: As soon as possible. There are ways that you move Wentz and actually reduce the cap number in 2021 by quite a bit. Obviously, one of the major things they’ve got to do soon is figure out how they’re going to get themselves in acceptable cap position for 2021. So, they can’t really make any other cap decisions without really knowing what they’re going to do with him.
They could decide they want to move him, but there may be no takers. So they really have to see the thing through and really know what the outcome of that is. Now, you can have Plan A, B, and C. But you can’t just be sitting there and not working on this at all. Because you need to know things like who should we cut, who should we restructure, what is the actual cap number, how many dollars do we need to save here? And Carson is going to be the biggest piece to the answer to that question.
So you need to make a decision for that reason. You also want to make it because teams are going to be making moves to fill needs. If you’re trying to move somebody like Carson, you want to be there when there’s the maximum amount of interest. If you wait until, say, the end of March, and somebody needs a quarterback, but they traded for, say, (Marcus) Mariota, or fell in love with somebody in the draft, it’s going to reduce your possible list of landing spots.
So you want to have the maximum number of options. And you need to factor in how you’re going to manage your cap. For both of those reasons, I would say that by no later than the middle of February they at least need to know absolutely for sure what they want to do and if it’s something they could possibly execute. In other words, if it’s a trade, is there real interest out there.