Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A with Inquirer pro football writer Paul Domowitch. This week, the two discuss the Fox Sports report that the Eagles are entertaining offers for some of their players; Carson Wentz’s running; the finger-pointing in Dallas; the Ravens' acquisition of Yannick Ngakoue; and the Raiders' COVID problems:
Domo: Carson Wentz is playing with a reckless abandon that we haven’t seen from him since before his 2017 ACL injury. He already has five rushing touchdowns and 18 rushing first downs. He’s on an 80-carry pace. He’s taking on tacklers like he’s Earl Campbell. How do you feel about the new Carson, and do you think he has the coaching staff’s blessing?
JB: They’re not playing collectively or individually like they’re afraid of him getting hurt anymore. They went to rollouts a few weeks ago. They didn’t do as much of that Thursday. But he took off on his own when it was necessary, and they also called some runs for him.
That’s what they need to do. That’s part of what makes him good, part of why it’s hard to defend him. To not include that aspect of his game in a meaningful way was part of what was holding him back. And clearly, they’re also saying, it’s early, but we’ve got nothing to lose. So let’s go for it. If he gets hurt, he gets hurt. And I think that’s the right thing to do.
Domo: Before the game on Thursday, Fox Sports' Jay Glazer said the Eagles are potential trade-deadline sellers. He said they have told teams they will listen to offers for some of their players. Truth or fake news?
JB: Well, I know for sure the Eagles have had conversations with teams about offensive linemen and linebackers that they are interested in acquiring in a trade. So that contradicts the notion that they’re going to be consequential sellers.
Now, I know what the philosophy of the organization has been for many, many years, and Howie (Roseman) obviously practices this. You never want to shut the door and not listen. So if you’re talking to teams about trades and they ask you if you have anybody you’re looking to move, the obvious correct answer is you say we’re open to looking at anybody if the price is right. Because why would you not at least listen and see if somebody’s willing to really overpay for someone you might have a different valuation of, or a contract situation that makes you interested in moving them?
But I think their mindset is to see if they can’t get a couple of wins here, try to get a little healthier, make a pickup or two before the trade deadline, nothing major, but maybe incremental improvements, and see if they can win the division and see what happens in the postseason.
Domo: Is Alshon Jeffery pretty much untradeable at this point?
JB: There are some ways the Eagles could do something so that the contract would help an acquiring team. But I don’t see how they can move him at this point. I’d be really surprised. And that’s even assuming that they’d be willing to take very little just to get him off the books. But it only takes one team. So you never want to say absolutely. But I would be very surprised if he’s marketable at this point.
Domo: Let me ask you about Brandon Graham. He might be playing the best football of his career right now. He’s got six sacks and leads the team in total quarterback pressures. But he’s 32 years old and has a $17 million cap number next season. I’m not suggesting they get rid of him. But what do they do next year when they’re going to be facing major salary-cap challenges? When a guy is coming off a bad year, it’s a little easier to tell him you want him to take a pay cut or restructure his contract. What do you do if Graham continues to play as well as he has been in the first seven games? Just swallow hard and work around his contract?
JB: Yeah, that’s what you do. Other than quarterback, the team’s top priority is clearly having a very good defensive line and enough depth to withstand injuries and keep a deep rotation.
Graham’s under contract, so the decision is completely up to them. Some of it will be affected by what they think of (Josh) Sweat and (Derek) Barnett. If they think they have two guys that are good enough that even if Graham is still playing well, maybe they can afford to make a change, then maybe they do something [in the offseason]. But their history does not indicate that defensive linemen, regardless of age, if they are still playing well and having a major impact, are guys they are willing to move on from. So if he stays healthy and continues to play like he is right now, I’d be inclined to believe they’re going to keep him another year.
Domo: There’s trouble in Big D. Anonymous Cowboys players criticized the team’s coaches this week to the NFL Network, suggesting among other things, that they’re unprepared. You’ve been critical of the Cowboys' new coaching staff, particularly defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. What was your reaction?
JB: This is, to me, further evidence of what seemed predictable behind the scenes. It’s a really big problem for the franchise. Jerry (Jones) tends to be quite patient. I think there was a lot of evidence at the time that he was making at least a debatable hire when he hired Mike McCarthy, and whatever weaknesses they had got worse when they put together the rest of the staff.
Domo: What do you think is going to happen there?
JB: They’re going to very forcibly tell people that if you’ve got a problem, it’s OK. We can talk about it, but it doesn’t need to get out of the building. So I think it’s highly unlikely that you’ll continue to see this kind of public verbalization of it. But I absolutely don’t think that means it’s not happening. Players aren’t dumb. They know they’ve got a coaching staff that isn’t giving them what they need. That they’re speaking out about it this early on is almost unheard of.
As we’ve discussed before, I have very strong opinions on the keys to building a team. What you’ve got there right now is a team with a bad defense and a very weak offensive line, partially because of injuries. Those teams that have those descriptions accurately assigned to them do not win a lot of football games.
I think that even if Dak (Prescott) were playing right now, with the decimation of the offensive line, it would be a huge struggle. They’d be better, but it still would be a huge struggle. I think their season is in deep trouble. And their immediate future looks to me like it’s in deep trouble as well.
Domo: The Ravens already had one of the league’s best defenses and pass rushes. Now, they’ve added Yannick Ngakoue, giving the Vikings third- and fifth-round draft picks for a guy with 42 ½ sacks in 67 career starts. Your reaction?
JB: That’s going to be a very, very good pass rush. They don’t hesitate to bring people from all over the place. And that’s going to be even more difficult to defend now that they have Ngakoue.
Domo: Ngakoue signed a one-year, $12 million deal with the Vikings when Jacksonville traded him in August. Will he be with the Ravens beyond this season?
JB: It’s very likely he’s just there for the rest of this year. They have a really challenging list of guys they need to re-sign. Their quarterback (Lamar Jackson) is going to need a new contract. Their left tackle (Ronnie Stanley) is going to need a contract. Their tight end (Mark Andrews) is going to need a contract. And then they’ve got two guys (Ngakoue and Matthew Judon) who are essentially playing under tags who are going to be free at the end of the year. So they’re going to have one of the more interesting and challenging offseasons as far as trying to keep this together.
I wasn’t surprised (they traded for Ngakoue) only because it was so public that they were one of the bidders when he went to Minnesota. I was surprised at that time because I thought this already was a strength of the team and because they blitz so much, they don’t have to have quite the same quality of defensive linemen. But they’re clearly all-in. They’re trying to take advantage of this last year before they have to give the quarterback a new contract and it changes the cap dynamics completely. I think this is a good move in that context (because) it gives them a better shot (to win in 2020).
Domo: More COVID problems, this time in Las Vegas. Offensive lineman Trent Brown tested positive for COVID. He supposedly also wasn’t wearing his mandatory tracking device that players wear to aid in contact tracing, forcing the Raiders to place the entire offensive line in isolation. In addition, other players reportedly held a gathering in which they weren’t wearing masks. Their Sunday night game against the Bucs was moved to the afternoon in case it has to be postponed.
JB: This is really unforgivable, basically. As we see the cases around the country surging, just being out in public has an increased risk in it. Many players aren’t taking this seriously enough.
It’s hard to imagine we’re not going to see more of these situations like the one with the Raiders. If, as this pandemic gets worse again, there are more players going out in public and not wearing masks, we’re going to be reading more and more of these stories every week.
Domo: My concern is that, as we get further into the season and some teams realize they have little chance of making the playoffs, players on those teams aren’t going to be as vigilant about following the COVID rules. And that’s when you’re going to see some major outbreaks that are going to wreak havoc with the schedule.
JB: Add to that the whole group of guys who are already practice-squad players and probably are being a little less diligent. You’re right to be concerned about the people that don’t have as much skin in the game.