Shock was the first thing that went through my mind when I heard about Jeff McLane’s scoop that Joe Banner was out as Eagles president – followed by a whole lot of hindsight, questions about Andy Reid’s future, how the team changes now and Banner himself. Here, in no particular order, are some gut reactions from one beat reporter.
Shock … then hindsight: As is often the case, the foreshadowing seems even more obvious now that we know the ending. Banner had been unusually quiet this offseason while Howie Roseman took on a more and more visible role, and there was a Los Angeles Times report that indicated Reid had won an internal power struggle – a report downplayed by the Eagles and local media.
But beyond those cosmetic differences, there was a change in approach that now, more then even before, seems to have Reid’s fingerprints on it and Banner left at arm’s length. The new contracts for Trent Cole and Todd Herremans, even though they each had time left on their existing deals, seem like the moves of someone closer to the locker room than the board room. The deals rewarded two of Reid’s most long-serving and dedicated players rather than sticking to the management metric that it is unwise to commit significant new money to players nearing 30. Paying DeSean Jackson meant the Eagles resolved a locker room and on-field dilemma and took care of a player Reid is very fond of, even though the team could have forced Jackson to live with the franchise tag.
Agents have said Reid was increasingly involved in negotiations. Now we have a better sense of why, and how the Reid-Roseman tandem may operate a bit differently.
Is Andy next? Banner in 2010 said that championships had to be part of the equation when the team decided whether to give Reid another contract extension. That couldn’t have sat well with Reid and one way to interpret Banner’s departure is that Reid has gained a stronger foothold and more power in the organization. Maybe, some speculate, he can one day move up to Banner's old job. (Regardless of how many times people within the organization say it was a mutual decision).
But my initial reaction was the opposite. If owner Jeffrey Lurie can move on without his long-time friend, an adviser who has been with him every step of the way with the Eagles, is there anyone he won’t part ways with? Maybe Reid suddenly gets an extension, but to me this says no one has a job with the Eagles for life and that Reid has to show vast improvement this year, as Lurie said he expected in his January press conference. Especially now that it seems he has even more power to shape the team as he sees fit.
Did Banner take the fall for the Dream Team? When Lurie said the 2011 season was “unacceptable” and then made no changes, I was one of many reporters left scratching my head. Now it looks like maybe Lurie did shake things up after all. (The team and Banner say otherwise, describing the president’s departure as mutual and saying it has long been in the works; maybe, but it sure seems odd for Banner to voluntarily step down now on the brink of another season that seems to hold much promise).
What we don’t know is how much of the free agent spending spree was Banner’s brainchild. The Eagles, once a decision is made internally, present a united front in public. But Banner was probably the most visible executive celebrating the team’s big moves last year, which, of course, were made possible by prudent cap management and advance planning, two of his hallmarks.
Reid has long had final say on personnel moves, so he bears much responsibility for last year’s decisions, but so far Banner is the only one who will go on with a reduced role.
It’s worth noting, though, that even though 2011 was a huge disappointment, it’s still possible that last summer’s spending spree will pay dividends. Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Evan Mathis and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie remain big parts of the team. Whatever their performances in year two, all the people behind their acquisitions will deserve credit or blame.
A lighter touch? On the morning of DeSean Jackson’s press conference announcing his new contract, the buzz among reporters was that he had signed a lowball deal, that after all the histrionics between the two sides, the Eagles had gotten him on the cheap. Howie Roseman was well aware of this, and he pulled DeSean aside before the press conference, rubbing his shoulders and talking to him about what questions he might face. Roseman didn’t want a victory lap for the team – he wanted Jackson to enjoy a day in the spotlight.
Banner was not the Scrooge he is often painted as, but it’s hard to picture him having the same interaction with Jackson. In fact, in 2010 Banner told the Inquirer that he purposely kept a distance from players, knowing that he had would have hard business decisions to make regarding their futures.
Roseman does not seem to keep such distance, handling agents and players with a lighter touch. He has often said football is a relationship business, that he wants to get a good deal for the team, but also wants to make sure the other side also walks away feeling happy. That seems to be the direction the team is headed.
More to Banner than many think: It didn’t take long on the beat to realize that Banner was the bad guy as far as many fans are concerned. They picture him as a cold-hearted accountant managing the Eagles like it’s a spreadsheet, not a team of individuals playing an emotional, physical game.
Banner made missteps that contributed to this image, including public comments that were often out of touch with the mood of the city.
But my personal experience with Banner is that he is a smart and competitive man who desperately wants to win big. It bothers him that the Eagles haven’t won a Super Bowl on his watch. Yes, he often focused on the cap and money, but it wasn’t a focus on money for money’s sake. It was a belief that by managing the salary cap he gave the Eagles the best chance for sustained success, for having the resources to keep swinging for a championship year after year, hoping that finally the pieces would fit together right and they would get over the top. As I wrote above, those players the Eagles added and who will be starters this year were all within reach because the Eagles had cap space; extending Cole and Herremans and acquiring DeMeco Ryans required having the money to pay them and the team was able to pick up Demetress Bell after Jason Peters’ injury again because they had maintained the flexibility needed in case of emergency.
You can argue with Banner’s decisions and approach – maybe it would have been better to roll the dice big on one season, even if it meant crippling cap problems down the road – and you can certainly criticize some decisions that emanated from his office, but his choices were not created out of some acceptance of moderate success without a title.
The other knock on Banner was that he is too arrogant, an outsider. And it’s true, as Les Bowen once wrote, that you can’t just agree with Banner 90 percent of the way. If there is an issue he really believes in, he wants you convinced that he’s right on every single point.
But in private conversations he was often willing to admit that while the team might have done its homework and truly believed in the decisions it made, no one could be sure of how the choices would turn out. He readily acknowledged that it’s possible the team could make mistakes and that only results on the field would say whether their ideas were smart or not. Whether it was a draft pick or a big new contract, he would tell you why the team went in the direction it did, and say he hoped they were right, but that if they were wrong, he accepted that criticism would be deserved.
Lastly, Banner does reach out to people around the team and show his personal side when personal and professional issues arise. He sends flowers to funerals, he sends e-mails checking in when the newspaper goes through one of its many convulsions. He is a tough businessman, but has more heart than people give him credit for.
Many will be happy to see Banner go, and for most the only concern is whether or not it helps the Eagles win, but he wasn’t the caricature many believed.