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Joe Banner has some thoughts on what the Eagles can do with a D-line that will take up nearly half of their salary cap space next year

The NFL salary cap could be $175 million next year. The Eagles' defensive line could end up gobbling up half of that. A major salary cap crisis? Not necessarily, says Joe Banner.

Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (left) prepares to tackle Cowboys wide receiver Cedrick Wilson on Nov. 1. Cox presents financial challenges to the Eagles.
Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (left) prepares to tackle Cowboys wide receiver Cedrick Wilson on Nov. 1. Cox presents financial challenges to the Eagles.Read moreTIM TAI / 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 how the Eagles are going to deal with a high-paid defensive line that could take up nearly half of their salary-cap space next season, the NFL’s two recent announcements on possibly expanding the playoffs and awarding draft picks for developing minority head coaches and general managers, the Houston Texans' firing of the league’s one and only female PR chief, and more good stuff:

Domo: The NFL announced this week that it will expand the playoffs from 14 to 16 teams if the COVID-19 pandemic prevents it from playing its full 256-game regular season. Good idea?

JB: I’m just not sure what it accomplishes. I mean, what’s the thought process aside from the economic benefit of adding three more playoff games? Why would having less (regular-season) games and more concern about keeping players healthy result in suggesting more teams play longer?

Listen, I continue to applaud the job they’ve done to get to this point. I’m not surprised at all that they’re thinking carefully through all possible options going forward. The doctors have been telling the league from the beginning that the early part of the season was likely to be OK, but as the season goes on, it’s going to be tougher and tougher. And it looks like that was good advice.

Domo: In an attempt to incentivize the development of minority assistant coaches and executives, the league announced this week that a team that has a minority assistant coach or executive hired by another team as a head coach or general manager will be awarded two third-round draft picks. Good idea?

JB: I’m torn about my reaction to this because I usually feel that if you’re going to criticize something you at least should have a potentially better idea, and I don’t. I really do think this is something important to address. The league is highly visual and affects perceptions and reality. Success in this area would matter, and I think that’s important.

My initial reaction, which was negative to the specific idea, came from having been in the seat of hiring these people (head coaches and front-office executives). The hardest thing to do in figuring out who to hire is getting trustworthy references. Coaches don’t like to say negative things about other coaches. Sometimes, teams have somebody else they’re trying to promote and they’re trying to clear a path for them. There’s all kinds of reasons why [they’re not being totally honest]. And frankly, you’re competing against all of the other 31 teams.

So it’s extremely hard to do research and really get trustworthy information when you’re conducting these searches in general, no matter whether the candidate is a minority or not. That’s just a real challenge in searches. It’s one of the reasons you see most new owners not succeed initially. They don’t have the relationships to step through that and try to get at least some useful information.

One of the consequences here that worries me is whether it makes it even less likely that you’re going to be able to get really good, honest feedback. Obviously, the best feedback comes from the people where the person is currently working. It’s not the whole research package, but it’s very relevant and important. So I just worry now, if you call somebody up and ask them about somebody on their staff who’s African-American, can you trust the feedback you’re getting?

I mean, two third-round picks is a lot. You’re going to be really highly motivated. I’m not suggesting people are going to be out there lying. It’s really more a matter of giving you incomplete information. They might say, “Listen, he’s a good guy, and while it’s hard to project whether he’ll be a good head coach, I really think he’ll do really well,” when they’re really sitting there and maybe don’t know or maybe actually don’t think he’s the right answer for that team, but want those two third-round picks.

So I’m just worried that they made what I consider the hardest part of a search for somebody at that level essentially harder. But I’m totally there on what they’re trying to get done. I just worry about what I would call the unintended consequences in this particular moment.

Domo: The top five players on the Eagles' defensive line – Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Malik Jackson, and Javon Hargrave – are going to count a combined $80.6 million against a salary cap that could be as low as $175 million next year. Is that manageable? Or is Howie going to have to make some hard choices?

JB: It’s not a manageable number, especially if the cap is going to be in that $175 million range. But as I’ve said before, I think it will end up being a little higher than that. There are a number of relatively easy ways to deal with the situation, some of which they’ve already been doing. They will be able to essentially borrow (cap space) from 2022. In spite of all the challenges, with new TV deals kicking in and everything, there likely will be a sizable jump in the cap (in 2022). So they could use some of those future cap dollars to help them out next year.

My point there is that they don’t have to start cutting players because of that number. There are other ways to do it. But unto itself, you’re talking about a number that’s going to be just short of 50% of the cap if it’s $175 million. And it’s not like they have a quarterback playing on his rookie deal either. So, they may have to make some tough choices, but there are ways to restructure deals. As I’ve said before, the cap challenges that they have on paper, the situation is better than it looks. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have some tough decisions to make. But it is manageable without really gutting key players or key groups.

Domo: Cox’s cap number next year will be $23.9 million. Could you envision them trading or releasing him?

JB: Honestly, Fletcher is playing pretty well, but not at the level he played a couple of years ago when he was right there with Aaron Donald as one of the two best defensive tackles in the league. But the cost of getting rid of him would be quite significant. Even if he’s not playing at an All-Pro level for you anymore, I can’t see that being the best choice of the choices they would have to make.

Domo: Jerry Jones dismissed the notion this week of drafting a quarterback if the Cowboys end up with a high first-round pick. He said Dak Prescott will be their quarterback in 2021. Do you believe him?

JB: I do. If they can’t work out a contract, they will put the franchise tag on him one last time. I’m confident Dak will be a Cowboy through at least 2021. And I still think the odds of them getting a long-term deal done with him, but at much higher numbers and with much higher guarantees than they could have done a year or two ago, is a highly likely outcome there.

Jerry made a mistake by not signing Dak sooner. It’s going to cost him a lot of money. It’s a competitive disadvantage to the team that they continue to do this. They do this with every one of the players they’ve ended up re-signing over the last few years. They wait and wait until all of the leverage is in the hands of the player.

Jerry is a much smarter, more pragmatic person than people see in his public image. So it’s surprising to me that over the years he hasn’t learned the lesson of the value of signing people even a little bit earlier than he does.

Domo: Doug Pederson’s buddy Brett Favre surfaced this week long enough to rattle Eagles fans. He said the Eagles should’ve kept Nick Foles instead of Carson Wentz. Doug was asked about Brett’s comments at his Wednesday news conference and didn’t initially swat them away firmly enough to suit some people. Much ado about nothing?

JB: Yeah, much ado about nothing. Brett, in my mind, made a foolish, not-well-thought-through comment, and I wouldn’t turn it into any great indictment of Doug because of the way he reacted. In retrospect, he probably wishes he had been more forceful the first time he was asked about it. But you’re up there. You probably have a million other things on your mind. You’re just trying to get through the press conference. Big deal, is kind of my reaction.

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Domo: The Houston Texans fired their VP of communications, Amy Palcic, this week. Said she wasn’t a “cultural fit.” No one’s quite sure what they meant by that. But the bottom line is Amy was considered one of the league’s better comms people. She also happened to be the one and only woman running an NFL PR department. Given the emphasis on diversity right now, what the hell were they thinking?

JB: The headline there – and what people should pause on – is the fact that she was the only female communications head in the league. In a field where there’s a very large number of extremely qualified women, the fact that she was the only one out of 32 – and now zero out of 32 – that’s embarrassing. That’s not where we should be at.

I have two reactions to the firing itself, and both are from the outside because, while I know of Amy, I don’t know her at all. On the one hand, the team has won a decent number of games the previous couple of years and has received a lot of terrible publicity. It’s understandable why, given everything that’s gone on with their coaching and front-office situations. But it’s not inconceivable to me that you might hold somebody in the PR department somewhat responsible for that and want to try somebody else. I get that.

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On the other hand, if you look at the behavior of the organization over the last couple of years, it does seem like they’ve made a lot of impulsive, knee-jerk decisions without a macro plan driving the whole thing. Once you start making a lot of bad decisions, it’s very easy for people to assume the next decision you make also is bad until you start to prove you’re going to consistently make good decisions.