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Joe Banner: Eagles passing on Micah Parsons and Mac Jones in the NFL draft should be a learning experience

While the Eagles did well in drafting DeVonta Smith, perhaps Howie Roseman will be introspective and consider how the team evaluated top rookies in Parsons and Jones.

Penn State football linebacker Micah Parsons (11) during the program's annual Media Day on Aug. 3, 2019. CRAIG HOUTZ / For the Inquirer
Penn State football linebacker Micah Parsons (11) during the program's annual Media Day on Aug. 3, 2019. CRAIG HOUTZ / For the InquirerRead moreCRAIG HOUTZ / For the Inquirer

Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A with Inquirer Eagles reporter EJ Smith. This week, the two discuss Nick Sirianni’s performance relative to other first-year coaches, the team’s decision to pass on Micah Parsons, Urban Meyer’s current standing with the Jaguars, and how the 2022 salary cap will affect the team’s financial situation next season.

EJ: How would you evaluate Nick Sirianni’s first year relative to the other first-year head coaches?

JB: If I have to grade him I’m kind of giving him an incomplete because we still don’t, in my mind, have enough information to have really strong conviction. On the other hand, I think it’s reasonable to feel like he’s done a good job this year. They’re going to win a decent number more games than they did last year. There’s a number of factors in that, I’m not saying it’s all him.

I’ve praised the fact that he’s showing flexibility where other coaches tend to just be inflexible in just doing what they’ve always done. We saw the team get off to a bad start and he was open to change his thinking and admitting he was wrong. Public figures don’t do that often for understandable reasons. I don’t say that as a criticism, he jumped right in and just did what he thought was best for the team in terms of the immediate future and the initial evaluation of Jalen Hurts.

The thing for me is kind of an incomplete is because, as you know, I think the single most important thing a head coach does is the staff he hires and if he manages that staff effectively. I think there’s some signs that he hit on some things and he may have missed in some cases.

I’m giving him a pretty good grade for the year and kind of punting on giving him a long-term grade until we see another year, in which case we’ll have a lot more information.

EJ: Micah Parsons has emerged as a real candidate for defensive player of the year as a rookie and has been a dominant pass rusher this year. He was viewed primarily as a linebacker coming out; how does his rushing ability change the value that was assigned to him as a prospect relative to now?

JB: We should realize this isn’t new. Eagles fans may remember when Ike Reese was a linebacker and sometimes when we were in nickel, we’d actually let him rush the passer because he had so much quickness even though he was very undersized to be a pass-rusher. What’s new is Micah’s just so good, so fast, and so dominant. We’ve never seen anybody, I don’t even believe going back to Lawrence Taylor, play this well this quickly. He’s been so dominant, he can take over a game.

Everybody is imperfect in their drafting and there’s always a couple of people that are drafted behind you who are better, but it’s legitimate to look at that. I would put Mac Jones on that list, too. The most important thing the Eagles need to do is find a quarterback for the next decade and it looks like they could have just sat where they were and just picked Jones. To me, Justin Fields is still more of a question mark, but I don’t consider Jones a question. Will he be top-three versus top-10? Time will tell, but he’s a quarterback you can win big with.

It’s interesting to me that people focus on Micah versus a quarterback, who is massively more important. But this is not unusual, where somebody gets picked behind you. You do, I mean, if you’re smart, they’re being introspective and asking, “Why didn’t we pick him? What did we see? Is that informative in a way that we should factor that into our thinking going forward or is he just a unique player?”

There were some character questions behind the scenes that affect it a little bit; time will tell if those things show up. So the story on Micah isn’t finished, although the start is spectacular. The story on Jones isn’t finished, but those are legitimate questions that a general manager has to be asked and challenged with and hopefully is being objective and introspective with himself and his people as they look back and learn from those kind of things.

EJ: It’s fair to point out, if the league knew Parsons could be this type of pass rusher, he probably would have gone in the top five. Chase Young went No. 2 the year before and their impact is comparable.

JB: I would actually say that Micah’s playing even better than Chase Young did last year. Everybody knew Micah could rush the passer, everybody knew he could do the double role, but nobody knew he could do it this well. Even the Cowboys, they watched his college tape, they watched him through the preseason, and at the beginning of the year he was primarily playing linebacker. Then they had two injuries to DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory, so they started using him as a pass rusher.

Even with all that they saw and even picking him, they underestimated his ability to rush the quarterback. He was just so dominant that they couldn’t stop using him in that role.

EJ: You’ve talked plenty about positional value in the draft. DeVonta Smith has been a really good player for the Eagles, but how is this situation instructive in how important it is to target premium positions early in the draft if at all possible?

JB: I believe strongly in position priorities, but you have to do it with the discipline to not force a pick because you have a position of need. That said, we’ve watched the Eagles for a long time now and we’ve watched Howie [Roseman] for a long time now. There’s no doubt that if they had a grade on Parsons that included even the potential possibility that he’d be this type of pass rusher, they would have taken him. They didn’t have that grade on him.

I suspect they had a high grade on him, because most everybody did. If they realized how dynamic he could be as a pass-rusher, as much as they loved DeVonta and as well as he’s done, they would have picked the pass-rusher. They have a 25-year history that says that.

Listen, any time you pick a really good player, you’ve won. If you want to nitpick a little and say they didn’t get the best player available, I think they’d even acknowledge now they probably didn’t. But hindsight’s 20/20. I don’t know anyone who makes picks, even if they didn’t get the very best person at the spot but they did get a good player, who regrets that pick.

I hope they are looking at it and learning from it, and at the same time, I feel really good about the fact that they’ve gotten a really good player. I hate that they had to give up an extra pick to get him when those guys were sitting there because they’re clearly someone who prioritizes having as many picks as you possibly can.

EJ: What’s your take on the Urban Meyer situation?

JB: I have a very good friend on the staff there. I think there’s some truth in what we’re hearing, but I also think it’s become a bit exaggerated. That said, I never would have hired Urban Meyer as my coach. He’s left two college jobs because over time, just the stress and the strain became too much. You know, his style of coaching and building staffs is one that would have worried me about being easily transferred to the NFL.

He’s obviously made some specific decisions on hires. One hire [Chris Doyle], coming into a league that is focused on increasing diversity especially in the coaching ranks that, had a clear background that should have been extremely concerning and in my mind, should have been disqualifying in terms of race and positions he’s taken. Also, I’ve never seen a head coach, all of whom look stressed and strained, look so totally miserable and unhappy as Urban Meyer does right now.

I thought it was a mistake at the time, it’s not somebody I would have pursued. I think everything we’re seeing says it’s a mistake. Whether it’s a one-and-done — because I went into it thinking it was the wrong hire, for me it could easily be a one-and-done. The administration there tends to be extremely patient.

Their history is to show a lot of patience, so I actually think it’s more likely that Urban would step down than he would get fired if there’s a change. Just because he looks so miserable and the way his previous two jobs have ended, I’m making that comment. Not because I know anything or pretend to have any insights, just based on the fact that he has previously left jobs, he looks so miserable, and the fact that the team has been quite patient.

» READ MORE: The Eagles could have done a lot worse than Nick Sirianni. You want Urban Meyer instead?

EJ: How do you view the patience that the Jaguars have exhibited with previous regimes? Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie has sometimes been labeled as overly patient with general manager Howie Roseman. How is that balance between making measured decisions versus giving someone too much time?

JB: The narrative on this is exactly on the opposite of reality. I actually think owners wait too long to make changes. I’ve always said this. I said this to [Browns owner] Jimmy Haslam when I got to Cleveland, “If by the time we get to season 3, if it’s not really obvious that we’ve improved a lot and we’re beginning to be among the better teams in the league, you should fire me.”

We see lots of coaches get four or five years and it’s really obvious after two or three they’re not the right person. We see general managers get a chance to hire two or three head coaches. By the time you’re picking your third head coach, something’s dramatically wrong and you should have been replaced.

If we relate this specifically to the Eagles, I don’t put Jeffrey in this category. I know that people feel like he’s been ridiculously patient with Howie. I view that differently, I think Howie has strengths and weaknesses. Since they won the Super Bowl, they made a classic mistake of thinking the best thing to do was try to hold the team together and see if they could make a second run with a similar roster. That strategy rarely ever works, so I think it was a mistake and it’s cost them, but it wasn’t an unreasonable thing to do.

Jeff let Chip [Kelly] go after three years and the first two years were good. He let Doug [Pederson] go two years after he won a Super Bowl. So I don’t think Jeff is somebody that falls into this group that I’m describing, which is what I think is most of the league.

EJ: The league set the 2022 salary cap last week at $208 million. How will this affect the Eagles specifically?

JB: The position the Eagles are in, they were one of the teams rooting for the largest possible increase in the cap — other teams that have lots of room actually like the cap not to go up as much and then they kind of have an advantage. I think the numbers that are coming out are both within the range of what people were thinking and because it’s a significant increase, it’s good for the Eagles in terms of just fitting everything in with enough room to either grow or re-sign players, whatever they need.

I generally think the more recent news hasn’t eliminated the challenges they have, but it’s made them more manageable and I’m sure it’s created some hope long-term about continued growth in the cap that will be pretty significant. We’re still really not seeing the full implementation of two teams in Los Angeles and the new TV deals. There are some really basic things that are significant contributors to where the cap comes out, but next year won’t fully capture the size of those increases.

But it’s good news for the Eagles to see the short-term cap coming in kind of on the upper end of what people expected and there’s reason to believe that’s going to continue going forward.

EJ: It’s interesting you say some teams root for the cap to stay a little lower. How do you think it’s split around the league between teams who want the cap to go up and teams who want it to stay the same?

JB: I’m actually going to split it into thirds. Despite what some people suggest, most owners are more committed to winning a Super Bowl than they are to making money. So I’d say a third of the league that’s actually viewing a large increase in the cap as a competitive advantage, about a third of the league isn’t really that focused on that and will manage with whatever the numbers end up being, and then another third that actually has room and would in fact be at an advantage if the cap goes up smaller amounts.

EJ: It feels like 2023 is a big year with a new TV deal expected to kick in and the progress being made as the pandemic hopefully subsides even more. How big could the jump be in 2023 and how are the Eagles hedging against that?

JB: They’re anticipating the cap is going to go grow aggressively going forward and short of something with COVID that significantly impacts that, I think they’ll be right. In that way, the strategy that they’re implementing, which is hoping for these big increases to continue, I think is very likely to happen.

In terms of the 2023 cap, the TV deal is essentially done and we know it’s going to create sizable increases. The team moving to L.A., although they haven’t produced the large increase in revenue that we would have expected, those revenues are still going to incrementally increase and that will go into the cap. Short of COVID, there’s just nothing that says the business as a whole isn’t really strong. The interest is at incredibly high levels and in some instances it’s even growing. You read stories of a Monday Night Football game having the highest ratings in 10 years. People need to know, those are off really big numbers. That’s really impressive. There’s no reason to think it will stop.