Pride and disappointment aren’t necessarily incompatible emotions.
Just ask Joe Banner.
When the former Eagles president looks back on the Andy Reid-Donovan McNabb era, he feels both of those things – pride over the extended success the franchise experienced during that period, coupled with major disappointment over the fact that they never managed to win a Super Bowl.
“I’m proud of what we did,’’ Banner said. “I don’t have regrets in terms of my overall career. At the same time, it’s just very painful to spend all that time” and not win a Super Bowl.
“We dreamed of winning a Super Bowl and what it would feel like coming back to Philadelphia with that trophy. I’m never going to fill that void.
“Every time I watch a championship event, regardless of the sport, the emotions that it brings back that I didn’t get to feel that are very, very real. At the same time, we did some really good things together and worked together very well for a long time. We did things on the field and off the field that I’m very proud of.’’
— Marc Narducci (@sjnard) January 10, 2018
In 11 seasons from 2000 to 2010, the Eagles reached the playoffs nine times. They won six division titles. They made it to the NFC championship game five times, including four years in a row, and one Super Bowl. They had five straight seasons with 11 or more wins and eight seasons with 10 or more wins.
The plan when Banner and owner Jeffrey Lurie hired Reid in 1999 was to get good and stay good. If they could do that, they figured it would be just a matter of time before they won at least one Super Bowl, and maybe more.
Thanks to a lot of smart personnel decisions early on, including the selection of McNabb with the second overall pick in the ’99 draft, and the shrewd salary-cap machinations of Banner, which allowed the Eagles to hang onto many of their top players through second and third contracts when much of the rest of the league was dumping veterans to stay under the cap, they kept themselves in the Super Bowl hunt for more than a decade, even if they never were able to bag the big prize.
With Wentz, sky’s the limit
Which brings us to the here and now and the question of whether the current edition of the Eagles, who won 13 games, earned the NFC’s top playoff seed in just the second year of the Doug Pederson-Carson Wentz marriage, and will host the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday in the divisional round of the playoffs, will be able to be a year-in-and-year-out Super Bowl contender.
The short answer is yes.
Assuming Wentz makes a successful comeback from his ACL tear and doesn’t have Sam Bradford’s bad injury luck, they already have the most important piece to the sustainability puzzle: a franchise quarterback.
He is their McNabb, their Tom Brady, their Aaron Rodgers.
“It’s no secret that if you have a player like that at that position, the future is going to look bright,’’ former NFL executive Andrew Brandt said. “You look at the way the 49ers are feeling about their future right now with [Jimmy] Garoppolo. Even with what happened to the Packers this season, you’ve got to believe they think they can be a Super Bowl contender every year as long as they have Rodgers.’’
“It’s everything,’’ Banner said. “It’s why I look at them now and feel they are going to be very good for a long time.
“I don’t think [Wentz] is just a good quarterback. I think he’s a huge, difference-making quarterback that people are going to look back on his career and what they were able to do with him and he’ll be talked about with the best quarterbacks.’’
The key, of course, is managing your cap responsibly enough so that you don’t have to continually get rid of valuable veteran players with high cap numbers so that you can pay your franchise quarterback.
But the substantial growth of the salary cap since the last labor agreement in 2011 has made cap management a little easier than in the early 2000s.
“We never wanted to be in a position where we would have to go to Andy and say, ‘You have to cut somebody for cap purposes,’ ’’ Banner said. “We basically wanted to put the coaches in position where they could keep whoever they thought were the best players to give them a chance to win.
“They’re playing that a little tighter now than I ever did, and we’ll see how that goes. But it might not even be a valid goal anymore. There are many teams that have been successful that don’t have that as a goal. If they have to cut somebody for cap purposes, they just suck it up and do it. We always tried to avoid that.’’
The Eagles have seven players under contract who will have $10-plus-million cap numbers in 2018, including all-pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who will count $17.9 million against the ’18 cap, and offensive tackles Lane Johnson ($12.25 million) and Jason Peters ($11.66 million).
In 2019, when Wentz will be eligible to redo his rookie contract, they’ll have 12 players from the current roster with $8-plus-million cap numbers, including Cox ($22 million), wide receiver Alshon Jeffery ($14.72 million), defensive tackle Tim Jernigan ($13 million), Johnson ($12.85 million), and defensive end Vinny Curry ($11.25 million).
Trickle-down QB economics
Some teams have struggled after paying top dollar to their star quarterbacks. After winning the Super Bowl in 2012, the Ravens gave Joe Flacco a six-year, $120.6 million extension and missed the playoffs two of the next three years. They suggested a big reason for that was the cap problems created by Flacco’s deal.
Russell Wilson was a third-round bargain for the Seahawks for three years before they finally had to pay him big money, signing him to a four-year, $87.6 million extension 2 ½ years ago. Wilson’s deal has forced the Seahawks to make some difficult choices at other positions. After two straight Super Bowl appearances, they lost in the divisional round in 2015 and ’16 and missed the playoffs this season.
“The problem with what happened in Baltimore with Flacco is you’re paying top dollar for just a good quarterback,’’ Banner said. “When you only have a good quarterback, you’d better have a good roster around him or you’re going to be in really big trouble.
“Now, if you have a real difference-making quarterback and you overpay him, you can be a little short at other positions and still win. I think the Eagles are well set up to do that., assuming Carson ends up being as good as everybody thinks he is.
“If he ends up being just a good or very good quarterback, but not a difference-making one, then they’ll have a real problem if they pay him $30 million. I don’t mean they won’t still be good. But they’ll struggle to win Super Bowls because of the rest of the roster.’’
Wentz, the second overall pick in the 2016 draft, signed a four-year, $26.7 million rookie deal. Players can’t renegotiate their rookie deals until after their third season. His 2018 cap number is a very affordable $7.3 million.
$30 million a year for Wentz?
If Wentz picks up next year where he left off this year, Banner believes, the kid could be looking at getting $30 million a year on his next contract.
“I think it’s going to start with a 3,’’ he said. “They can’t do anything with him until after 2018. But I suspect right after that they’ll at least try to get him signed. I think they’ve positioned themselves well for when that happens to still not be in a position like Seattle is in now where [the Wilson signing] is affecting other things.
“The thing I think they’re actually doing best is, you want to sort of go for it [now] because you have this unique situation where you have a difference-making quarterback who’s still not making a lot of money.
“But you’re not doing so much that you’re going to put yourself in a hole when you actually have to pay him. They’ve put themselves in a position where they already are able to compete with the best teams in the league. And they’re still going to be OK when they get to the point where they’re going to have to pay Carson the really big money.’’