ANDY REID was sitting around a big table in the executive dining area at the NovaCare Complex, sitting with club president Joe Banner and a group of Daily News reporters, talking about the Eagles' great organizational mystery, even after a decade: How do Reid and Banner, football guy and money guy, work together?
They talked about open communication and mutual respect, but those are nebulous concepts. A concrete example was suggested: the decision to acquire left tackle Jason Peters this offseason from the Buffalo Bills in exchange for first-, fourth- and sixth-round draft choices, as well as a big, new contract.
"It was probably a year ago, yeah," Reid said, beginning the story. "I think this is how [it started], because he was holding out. All players where there is a problem, we're always going to go back and take a peek at them. That doesn't mean we're talking with the people, but we'll go back and look at them from a personnel standpoint."
So Reid read about Peters' holdout in the newspaper, or saw it on television, and the conversation with Banner began?
"Yeah, or vice versa," Reid said. "I don't remember who saw what first, but it doesn't matter. That's what we do."
Conversations followed, some involving bigger groups (general manager Tom Heckert, vice president of player personnel Howie Roseman and others), many just Banner and Reid. Banner says the day when they don't talk is rare. Sometimes, he said, it can be three or four times a day.
"It's normally preventing fires," Reid said, nodding over at Banner and laughing. "Smokey."
"If I'm talking to an agent, for example," Banner said, "every single time I hang up the phone, the first chance I get, I call him and fill him in on what happened on the call. So I never feel like he doesn't know exactly what I'm doing . . .
"Sometimes it's really just mundane, 3 minutes to fill him in on something. Sometimes it's a long conversation about, 'We're going to have this much money left, here are the guys whose contracts expire in the next 2 years, who do you want to extend?' That can take hours and hours and involve half a dozen people."
For people who grew up in a different NFL, this is a unique setup. It wasn't that long ago, for instance, when the Eagles' football and business sides were literally and figuratively separate, one on the first floor of Veterans Stadium and one on the fourth floor.
"I'm big on communication, Joe's big on communication,"
Reid said. "We throw it out on the table. He has respect for me, I have respect for him, and we go. There's not a wall there. I think that's probably the difference between the new era of football and the old era. There was always a division. When I first got in the league, there seemed to be a division between ownership, personnel and football. There were these walls that we built up between the three groups. That's not how it is here. We don't have that. It's put it out on the table, keep open communication, just make sure we all kind of understand each other's world there and make it one and let's go.
"I think that's one of the neat things. I presume that's the way other teams are doing it, I'm not sure that's the way it is. But that's the way it is here."
In the case of Jason Peters, after Reid and Banner consulted, Banner said he made a phone call to the Bills, who promptly rebuffed him, saying they weren't interested in a trade. But Banner asked if the Eagles could be their first call if they changed their minds, and the Bills agreed.
So Peters was on their radar but the situation was dormant. There was a season to play. Months would go by. There still were discussions, though. There always are.
"Here's what happens," Reid said. "Every player has a grade on them. We know, before it ever gets to that point, we kind of know that player. That's knowing the league. Joe knows the league, I know the league, Howie and Tom know the league. All of those guys are graded. They all have a little color grade on them, where they sit. If there's a problem that we either read about or hear about, we're right there. We know."
The color for the best players, as has been the case for decades: blue. Reid said he knew Peters was a blue player when the Eagles called the Bills last summer, and he said he knew Peters was still a blue player when the Bills called to restart the talks this offseason.
"We stay up on all of that,"
Reid said. "He was done as far as the evaluation process . . . I have a book that they constantly update for me, a notebook. It has every team in there, in alphabetical order. It has the roster in there. I'm staying on top of the league, staying on top of the players . . .
"If I see that a guy went from a red to a blue, then I'm going to take a quick peek at that guy . . . If there's somebody that makes a large jump that I'm not familiar with, I just shoot it out, knock it out. All I have to do is watch a game or two to see where [the revised evaluation is] coming from."
But in Peters' case, Reid said that when the Bills called this winter, "By that time, we knew. By that time, it was done. The only thing we needed to talk about . . . was what the compensation was."
"I went to Andy," Banner said, "and said, 'They called. I assume that's where we're still at. Do we need to discuss this?' [He said], 'No, we're there. Go work on it.' And then, in this case, we did get together to decide, 'OK, what's the most we pay [in salary]?' "
They had already decided they were willing to give up more than a first-round draft choice to get Peters. That meeting had been held months earlier. That one involved a bigger group, Banner said.
"I remember somebody said, 'You're not going to get a guy like that without at least a first-round pick, and probably more,' " Banner said. "In this case, everybody agreed that they'd do that in a second. Sometimes, somebody will say, 'I wouldn't give that much for that guy.'
"We have a pretty regular meeting of all the people who are going to be involved in that kind of a discussion. We never really have a vote. Sometimes people talk about Andy being controlling, but if you were in these meetings, that's crazy. You don't need a vote. Everybody says everything they have to say. If there's a discussion or a debate - an argument is probably stronger than we ever get to - you know what everybody's thinking by the time you get to the end. Usually, there's a pretty clear consensus. Sometimes there isn't."
This time, there was. Again, it was "all queued up" (Banner's term) well before the Bills' phone call this winter. Most things don't work out so neatly, though. Most of their scheming is for naught. But through it all, through more than a decade of successes and disappointments, Banner said his relationship with Reid is still comfortable. He says that one can challenge the other without concern for the relationship. Listening to him, it sounds almost symbiotic at this point.
"We're both very, very driven," Banner said. "And we know that we can't really be successful without each other." *
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