Banner: Ineffective to be 'Lightning Rod'

The characteristic that defined Joe Banner during his 18 years was his singular loyalty to the Eagles. (Matt Rourke/AP)

Joe Banner appeared on the WIP Morning Show today, very possibly because the host was not Angelo Cataldi but Howard Eklund, excuse me, Eskin. Banner gave some depth and context to last week's surprising news that he was stepping down as Eagles president.

The headline for me came when Banner was asked by Al Morganti whether if he had it to do over, would he function so much as face of the franchise. Banner acknowledged that "frequently not fairly, I became a lightning rod" -- meaning fans came to perceive him negatively, through media mischaracterizations, in his view. "That's just not a constructive thing ... Once you become the lightning rod, you can't really be very effective," Banner said.

My view, this perception situation absolutely played a role in the events that led to Banner's departure.

Rhea Hughes got the heart of my puzzlement, voiced in a post here yesterday, when I said I still couldn't wrap my head around the idea of Banner leaving without having achieved the vindication of a Super Bowl.

"This was the very hardest part of the decision," Banner said. "I have said, though it's possible, I would be extremely surprised if I'm not here for this year's Super Bowl. Hopefully that blank will get filled in before I'm actually departing," except, after last week, fair or not, how much of the credit do you think the guy who stepped down is going to get, vs. Eagles coach Andy Reid or general manager Howie Roseman?

Remember when I wondered yesterday if part of the timing might just be that Banner didn't really see the Reid-Michael Vick Eagles winning the Super Bowl this year? Banner wasn't asked that today, but in continuing his answer to Rhea's question, he said: "The truth is, I was stuck at a point where I could forever --- you don't want to get stuck with waiting for something that may or may not happen."

Wow. Five or six years ago, if someone had showed me that quote and said it came from Joe Banner in regard to the Eagles' hopes of winning a Super Bowl, I would have refused to believe it. The Joe Banner of old had no doubt the Birds were going to win a Lombardi Trophy, sooner rather than later. He believed it, and he took offense if he thought YOU didn't believe it. Really interesting change there.

Eskin actually made a couple references to my post yesterday, which was reprinted in today's DN. At least I think that was what he was doing -- my questions were almost unrecognizable after passing through the Eskin filter, but he did address, with seeming incredulity, my stated desire to know whether we are now living in Andyworld or Howieworld. Eskin asked Banner why anyone would ever wonder about such a thing. Banner, to his credit, allowed that this "appears to be a relevant question" to a lot of people. (Ya think?) His conclusion, of course, was that Andy is in full charge, always has been, since Tom Modrak left 11 years ago, and presumably always will be.

Wonder when we can expect the Reid contract extension announcement, then?

There was a lot more in the 20-minute segment. A personal favorite of mine was when Banner was asked about the DeSean Jackson mess last season -- a reworking of DeSean's rookie contract never happened, and he sulked and slouched through a subpar year. After the season, Roseman took over the talks and a deal was struck almost immediately, even though the Eagles had franchised Jackson, retaining his rights without the risk of a longer-term commitment. (The sort of thing Banner might have seen as a prudent way to proceed.)

The answer to that one was vintage Banner. Joe opined that it was "not unusual for players to play in the last year of their contract," and that some of them handle it better than others. All true. Except, of those players across the league in that final year last season, how many had heard their teams admit at least a year earlier that they had outperformed their deals? How many had made the Pro Bowl twice while being paid under the paltry provisions of a second-round rookie pact? If you were to create a Venn diagram -- something I'm pretty sure Joe knows how to do -- the number of players in their final contract years who would fit in DeSean's exact part of the circle, and fit there happily, would be a really, really small slice of the old pie. And even then, you're not addressing the matter of whether it was ever NECESSARY for the player to play in the final year of his contract, whether the slow pace of talks came out of spite or pique or a disinclination to appear to be entertaining what Banner might have pereceived to be outrageous demands.

Of course, Banner is one of the smartest, sharpest guys around, as Phil Sheridan noted in the Inquirer last week. He knows all of this very well, even as he is glossing over it, which is what used to drive agents, players and sometimes reporters crazy.

Somewhere, sometime, Banner will resurface, running a franchise. He alluded in the WIP interview to "a lot of inquiries from basketball and hockey teams in particular," but said he would exhaust all opportunities in football before going that route. If there really is going to be an expansion franchise in Los Angeles, there might be no one on the planet better qualified to run it. But I'm not sure that laid-back media market is ready for the full Joe. What happens when he shows up in the Los Angeles Times offices demanding to know why the Dodgers or the Lakers got better play that Monday? Might be fun to find out.