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Will the Eagles re-sign Brandon Graham? Zach Ertz? Joe Banner says the 2021 salary cap will make decisions tough

In this week's Q&A, Banner explains what the Eagles are going to have to do to deal with their 2021 salary cap problems. Some of it will be painful.

Could Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham, who played a key role in the Eagles' Super Bowl victory 3 years ago, end up being a 2021 salary cap casualty?
Could Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham, who played a key role in the Eagles' Super Bowl victory 3 years ago, end up being a 2021 salary cap casualty?Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A with Inquirer pro football writer Paul Domowitch. This week, the two discuss the ongoing saga of the Eagles’ quarterback situation and the team’s precarious 2021 salary-cap issues, the impact that the next round of TV deals will have on the cap, and the league’s decision not to require isolating teams for the playoffs:

Domo: If Jalen Hurts plays well Sunday against Arizona and in the final two games against the Cowboys and Washington, what impact do you think that will have on how the organization moves forward with respect to the quarterback position?

JB: Every data point that they gather in the next three weeks will provide them with more information as far as making a decision and getting it right. I am hard-pressed to believe that they’re going to bring both of them in to compete (for the starting job) next year. But if Hurts plays well, and you still believe (Carson) Wentz can get back to where he was, it would make sense to just bring both guys back and let them compete.

It’s a really tough decision, and frankly will be influenced by where Carson’s head is at. Carson may decide he’s had it. That he’s been treated like crap, and that maybe it’s best to find a way to get divorced. As I’ve said previously, the contract makes that hard and probably impossible in its current form. But there are things that could be done that would at least make that possible.

But my feeling is that even if Hurts plays well in these last three games, that the quarterback with the better upside, the quarterback who, if healthy, can take them further, still is Wentz. And they will hold on to both of them for at least a year.

But I’m just speculating. It’s going to be a really, really tough decision, and obviously, a really important one as far as the future of the franchise is concerned.

Domo: The Eagles are facing some difficult salary-cap challenges in 2021. The cap is going to shrink because of the loss of revenue from the pandemic. Early projections have the Eagles about $50 million over the cap. How difficult is this going to be for Howie Roseman? Is he going to have to cut people he doesn’t want to cut? Will they pretty much have to sit out the free-agent signing period?

JB: It’s definitely going to be hard for them to be in a position where they add free agents. I’m not talking second-tier guys who sign later at cheaper prices. I’m talking about the top guys. They won’t be in position to go after any of them this year.

There are a few guys they’re going to have to make tough decisions on that have played well but have fairly big cap numbers. The first guy that comes to mind is Brandon Graham ($17.9M cap number in 2021). He’s having a very good season. He’s one of the highest character guys on the team. Been an important part of their history for a long time. But they have to make a decision on what they’re going to do there. Same thing with somebody like Malik Jackson ($13.6M cap number) and maybe Zach Ertz ($12.5M).

They have to decide what contracts they’re going to restructure because they’re going to have to do some of that. We’ve seen the consequences of that if you do it with the wrong guy, like Alshon Jeffery. You’re sitting there with your hands tied and lose all of your future (cap) flexibility. So you have to decide who can you do that to and really feel like there’s minimal risk. It’s most likely to be somebody like a Lane Johnson ($17.8M cap number in ’21). You can reasonably anticipate he’s going to come back healthy from his injury and still be a productive part of the team for at least the next two to three years. Then there’s Fletcher Cox ($23.9M cap number in ’21). Do they restructure his contract again and make it even more onerous as they move forward?

I do think there is going to be a significant jump in the cap in 2022. So drawing down some ’22 money into ’21 is not a bad idea. You don’t want to do it too much so that you’re stuck in that mode. But I think that’s what it will be. A combination of a couple of cuts of guys that probably, in a perfect world, you would rather keep, a few restructurings, and some borrowing from the future.

Domo: The NFL’s TV deal with ESPN expires after next season. All of the other network deals expire after the 2022 season. Is it safe to say they are going to be getting healthy rights-fee increases that will quickly make them forget their 2020 revenue losses?

» READ MORE: Kevon Seymour was out of the NFL and working at an auto customizing shop. Now he’s an Eagles corner.

JB: It’s hard to know the number. But what’s really important to understand is that the money they’ve been getting from TV for years will now be TV and streaming. We’ve seen this with the Thursday night package. We’ve seen this with the broadcast on Amazon. I think the hard part of the next negotiations with the TV networks is going to be holding on to the streaming rights that are not included in these network deals unless the networks are paying a sizable additional amount of money for these rights.

So I don’t think we’re going to see the biggest percentage increase we’ve ever seen in the next deals. But between the renewal of the deals and the ability to sell their content to more people in more formats, I think we’re going to see a very sizable increase in team revenues which will push the cap up, because half of every one of those revenue dollars goes into the cap.

Domo: You mentioned a couple of weeks back that Jeffrey Lurie probably already had begun doing some preliminary work in the event he decides to replace Doug Pederson. What does that entail?

JB: The first phase is just putting together a list that includes every potential option that may be out there. There will be college names on it. NFL coordinators. There will be former head coaches. And some years, as was the case when we hired Andy (Reid, then the Packers’ quarterbacks coach), there will be some cases that don’t fit into any of the above categories, but for some reason, you think are ready to be NFL head coaches.

» READ MORE: Why Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie won’t fire Howie Roseman | Paul Domowitch

Then you start working that list down through research. We talked to everybody from players that had played for the coach, agents who had players that played for the coach, and other coaches that had worked with or for the person you were evaluating. Any piece of information you can find. You even go back and look up articles that have been written about the candidates. If they were coordinators and had done press conferences, you pull them up and watch them. From all of this, you whittle the list down to about five people that you feel are serious candidates.

Domo: When you hired Andy back in 1999, Ray Rhodes had known for months that he was a dead coach walking. You didn’t have to tiptoe around looking for replacement candidates. That’s not the case now. Jeff doesn’t even know for sure whether he wants to make a change. He likes Doug a lot. The Lombardi Trophy is sitting in the NovaCare lobby thanks to Doug. So the last thing Jeff wants to do is disrespect him. But he also wants to be prepared in case he decides he needs to make a change. Do you have to be a little more delicate doing your research in a situation like this so that somebody you talk to doesn’t call Doug and say, “Oh, by the way, I got a call from your boss and he’s looking to replace you”?

JB: That’s a very important consideration. First of all, if you’ve been in the league for a while, everybody develops relationships with people that they know they can talk to honestly and not have to worry about it going anywhere or about getting misinformation. Those are the first people you’re talking to. You might even just be talking to them philosophically about what kind of person you should be looking for.

» READ MORE: The Eagles are playing Alshon Jeffery ahead of Travis Fulgham. Maybe there’s a legitimate reason. | Mike Sielski

You see some teams use outside headhunting firms to make calls on your behalf. Or you may ask other people to make calls on your behalf. If I have a friend who works for the Packers and I’m trying to find out info on somebody who works for the Seahawks, and I know they know him, I can call my friend at the Packers and say, “Listen, don’t tell anybody on whose behalf you’re calling. But could you call the Seahawks, or could you call Pete Carroll or (general manager) John Schneider or whomever it might be and get some information about this guy?” So you’re actually using surrogates to speak to do some of that initial research for you.

Domo: Roger Goodell said this week that mandatory bubbles for teams during the playoffs will be prohibited, though he added that teams will be allowed to house players in a hotel on a voluntary basis. Which sounds like he’s saying, “You can put your team in a bubble if you want. But it has to be strictly voluntary and the league is staying out of it.” You’ve been in favor of isolating teams for the playoffs. Your reaction to Roger’s announcement?

JB: I’m assuming they concluded that the logistics would just be really difficult. But if I were running a team that was in the playoffs, I would be preparing for effectively self-quarantining. And maybe that doesn’t mean seven days a week, 24 hours a day. So players can at least go home and have dinner with their families. But I would still try and keep us all under the same roof and as isolated as I could without literally forcing them to abandon their families for a month.

My understanding is that the league isn’t prohibiting any team from doing anything it wants to. He just basically said there won’t be any league-wide implementation of this or a mandate to do it.

I’ve always thought it would be great if they could do it (individual bubbles). The logistical challenges, as well as the mental health issues with respect to taking grown men away from their families, that’s a pretty challenging thing to ask.

But in the playoffs, you’re quickly getting down to a relatively small number of teams. And remember, once we get down to the Super Bowl, those teams are effectively quarantined anyway in the Super Bowl city and subject to the head coach’s rules as to who can come and go.