Lurie accuses Banner of fueling negative perception of Roseman

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Lurie accuses Banner of fueling negative perception of Roseman

Jeffrey Lurie is not happy, and the object of his scorn is his boyhood best friend.

Lurie, owner of the Eagles, said former Eagles executive Joe Banner, his boyhood friend, top adviser for nearly two decades and now CEO of the Browns, appears to be the source of anonymous comments sharply critical of Eagles general manager Howie Roseman that appeared recently in a story on a national sports web site.

Im very supportive of Howie, and if theres any criticism coming from afar about Howie, its just off-base, and so I will support Howie completely, because thats not right, Lurie said.

And, you know, if there are league sources that are really based in Cleveland, thats not right. We see through it all.

In a Jan. 14 story that appeared on CBSsports.com, NFL reporter Jason La Canfora, quoting an anonymous source, wrote that Roseman was drunk with power and woefully out of his depth and was a detriment to the Eagles search for a head coach.

Banner released a statement through Browns spokesman Neal Gulkis denying in the strongest terms that he was the source of the comments in La Canforas story.

It is always difficult to comment on a quote that may or may not be accurate or in context. In this case, from the comments which Jeffrey made that were communicated to me, it is necessary for me to make this clear, unambiguous statement. Any implication that I had anything to do with Jason La Canforas story is completely false, outrageous and borders on being libelous.

I had absolutely no conversation with Jason La Canfora. Having demonstrated my character over the last 44 years to Jeffrey and the last 14 to Howie, it is beyond disappointing that they would suggest such a thing. As tempting as it is to go further, other than defending myself, I will continue to take the high road on all such matters as I have since the day I left the Eagles.

The Eagles and Browns both targeted coveted Oregon head coach Chip Kelly for their head coaching openings, pitting Lurie and Roseman against Banner in a very public, high-stakes battle among former friends for one of the most successful college coaches of the past decade.

In the middle of all this, La Canforas story compared the Browns coaching search favorably to the Eagles search and suggested that the Eagles search, led by Lurie, Roseman and team president Don Smolenski, was meandering and bizarre.

When the Eagles hired Kelly as head coach on Wednesday, it was widely seen as a strong measure of vindication for Roseman and evidence that the anonymous source who told La Canfora that Roseman would prevent the Eagles from landing a prominent coach was off-base.

Kelly said in Philadelphia on Thursday that the Browns were never in the mix, that he knew all along he would either return to Oregon or take the Eagles job.

It was evident to me that I was either going to go to Philadelphia or stay in Oregon, Kelly said. When I met with Jeffrey and Howie and Donald right there, I knew obviously I thought that this was the best spot.

Although the La Canfora story successfully fueled strong anti-Roseman sentiment in Philadelphia, it apparently had no effect on the Eagles search to replace long-time coach Andy Reid.

Lurie said he, Roseman and Smolenski were aware of the story and aware of mounting anti-Roseman sentiment but tried to ignore it.

For these two weeks during the search, we werent going to pay much attention to anything, Lurie said. But if Howie did, he just completely was able to deal with it.

He was annoyed by the unprofessional aspect. He was really annoyed. And hurt by it. But he wouldnt let that get in the way here. He was not going to deal with these people.

In a group interview with reporters on Thursday, Lurie said the three-man search committee was determined not to be distracted or discouraged by the growing hostility toward Roseman.

They knew eventually they would hire either Kelly or Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, their second choice, so they knew eventually the negativity would end.

We knew strategically what was going on with league sources and stuff like that, Lurie said. This was such erroneous reporting it was insane.

The people we interviewed and the people who called the people we interviewed were so positive that I think it dwarfed any of the individual agendas of anybody that was quoted as league sources. It was a joke to us, really.

Lurie said he and Banner have maintained a cordial relationship since their working relationship fractured.

He said he and Banner exchanged texts on Thursday, with each congratulating the other on their head coaching hires Kelly in Philadelphia and Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski in Cleveland.

He also said he believes the relationship between him and Banner can be salvaged.

Im intending to have an excellent relationship with him moving forward, he said.

Lurie said he hasnt spoken to Banner recently to discuss his suspicion that Banner was the one who planted negative quotes about Roseman in La Canforas story.

I havent done that, he said. But if I have to do it I will.

To put the depth of the bitterness between Lurie and Banner in perspective, its important to understand how close they once were.

On May 7, 1994, one day after Lurie officially became owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, he hired Banner as his top adviser.

For 19 years, they worked together to carry out a shared vision of the Eagles franchise. They got a state-of-the-art stadium built. They got a world-class practice facility built. They transformed the Eagles into the second-winningest franchise in the NFC from 1995 through 2010.

But Banner left the Eagles in June after losing a bitter power struggle with Roseman, his one-time protg. A few months later he joined Jimmy Haslams ownership group in Cleveland, soon becoming CEO of the Browns.

Reid alluded to the Lurie-Banner fracture earlier this month when he was asked in an interview with Philadelphia media about the Eagles decline in recent years, a decline that ultimately cost Reid his job.

I would tell you the most important thing is that everybodys got to be pulling in the same direction, Reid said after accepting the Chiefs head coaching position.

When that gets out of whack, bad things happen. Thats how this league works. If you get a little bit out of whack, youre not going to be successful.

As for Roseman, Lurie said the third-year general manager actually had outstanding relationships with all the coaching candidates.

One of the things I learned -- as an owner you learn as you go -- was the really great respect that Howie had across the league, Lurie said. People were calling our candidates to say, This is a young GM, but he is a very, very sharp guy.

Andy Reid also called some of the candidates and told them what Roseman is like to work with.

The benefit we had here, and I cant underestimate it, and it wasnt even our doing, but some of the real iconic names in the sport were telling our candidates before they came in that this was by far the best organization to come in and work for.

Roseman refused to call the Kelly hiring vindication. He said he tried to stay positive throughout the search process and stay focused on the ultimate goal.

Finding a coach who could restore the Eagles winning tradition.

I dont want to make this about me, Roseman said. I think its about our organization, our team and giving the fans back the kind of team theyre used to. That would be vindication for me.

E-mail Reuben Frank at rfrank@comcastsportsnet.com

Eagles-Bengals: 5 matchups to watch

Eagles-Bengals: 5 matchups to watch

The Eagles (5-6) have lost six of their last eight games and travel to Cincinnati to face a Bengals team that dropped to 3-7-1 last week. 

Judging by the records, this is a game the Eagles should win easily, but of course it's not that easy. And these two teams aren't that far apart (see story)

The Eagles are absolutely desperate. They would likely need to win their last five games to make the playoffs. 

It'll have to start with a win in Cinci this weekend. Here are five matchups to watch. 

Wendell Smallwood vs. Bengals' run D
With Ryan Mathews (knee) out again this week, expect to see plenty of rookie Smallwood on Sunday afternoon (see story). He carried the ball just nine times against the Packers, but the Eagles barely ran the ball. On Friday, Doug Pederson said Smallwood wasn't the reason why. 

There should be some decent opportunity for Smallwood this weekend against a Bengals defense that has given up 120.5 yards per game on the ground, the fifth worst average in the NFL. They've given up 100-plus yards on the ground if four of the last five weeks. 

Allen Barbre vs. Carlos Dunlap
Dunlap leads the Bengals with 6½ sacks and he'll get to face off against Barbre, who's a veteran but is now out of position. With rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai still out with his knee injury, Barbre is the new right tackle. 

Another matchup will be Geno Atkins vs. the Eagles' guards. Atkins lines up on both sides of the line, but he'll likely see plenty of Stefen Wisniewski instead of Brandon Brooks. 

Tyler Eifert vs. Malcolm Jenkins/Nigel Bradham
With the injury to A.J. Green, whom Eifert said was the Bengals' best player, Eifert has become Cincinnati's No. 1 target. 

He was targeted 11 times and had five catches for 68 yards and a touchdown last week against the Ravens. 

He'll see a mix of Jenkins and Bradham on him this Sunday. 

Cedric Ogbuehi vs. Brandon Graham
The Bengals have one really good offensive tackle on the left side of the line (Andrew Witworth) and Ogbuehi on the other. So far this season, Ogbuehi, according to ProFootballFocus, has given up eight sacks, three quarterback hits and 29 quarterback hurries. Only three offensive tackles have given up more sacks than Ogbuehi this year. 

With Witworth likely shutting down Barwin and with Fletcher Cox likely getting double-teamed inside, Graham vs. Ogbuehi might be the Eagles' best opportunity to create pressure. 

Jeremy Hill vs. Eagles run defense
The Eagles, at times this season, have had trouble with running backs who run hard. And they've at times had trouble with missing tackles. 

That could be a problem against Hill. This could be a grind-it-out type of game for both teams, which means Hill could play a huge role. Of his 644 rushing yards this year, 404 have come after contact. To put that into perspective, Ezekiel Elliott leads the league in rushing yards after contact, but 62.7 percent of Hill's yards have come after contact, compared to 57 percent of Elliott's.

Eagles' rookies adjusting to NFL life while contributing in key roles

Eagles' rookies adjusting to NFL life while contributing in key roles

Their quarterback is a rookie, of course, but so is their current lead running back, two offensive linemen who’ve started games, two of their wide receivers, their cornerback who’s played the second-most snaps and one of their more surprising defensive linemen.
 
There are rookies up and down the Eagles’ roster. But not just rookies. These are guys in key roles.
 
With Carson Wentz starting all year, Wendell Smallwood currently at tailback and Bryce Treggs starting last weekend in place of Nelson Agholor at wide out, this became only the second season in the last 30 years the Eagles have had a rookie start a game at quarterback, running back and wide receiver.
 
It also happened in 2012 with Nick Foles, Bryce Brown and Damaris Johnson.
 
Throw in Jalen Mills, second on the team in cornerback reps; Destiny Vaiao, the Eagles’ first undrafted rookie since Sam Rayburn in 2003 with two sacks in a season; offensive linemen Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Isaac Seumalo; plus special teamers like Kamu Grugier-Hill and C.J. Smith, and rookies really make up a significant portion of the roster.
 
“All of us being in the same situation, it really helps just knowing we’re all rookies and we’re all out here trying to make plays and help the team,” said Smallwood, whose 4.4 rushing average would be fourth-highest ever by an Eagles rookie if he gets 31 more carries.
 
“It kind of keeps us together. Looking at each other and seeing the other guys doing good, that gives you the confidence that you can make plays, too. They’re in the same position as me being rookies.
 
“I look at Carson and he’s got so much on his plate, man, and he’s going out there and doing it, why can’t I do it? I look at Jalen, he plays a lot. It goes unsaid but we definitely watch each other and it pushes you to do well as well.”
 
After a 3-0 start, the Eagles are 5-6 going into their game Sunday against the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
 
Their playoff chances are dwindling but if nothing else this season could be serving as a launching pad for a number of rookies who seem to have bright futures here.
 
Wentz should be the Eagles’ quarterback for the next decade. Smallwood is their most promising rookie running back since LeSean McCoy in 2009. Vaitai will be a starter whenever Jason Peters decides to retire. Seumalo has a shot at becoming a starter somewhere along the interior of the O-line. Mills has been uneven but never stops battling. Treggs hasn’t done a lot but at least he can run and did reel in one 58-yard pass.
 
On a roster decimated by years of terrible drafting and Chip Kelly’s talent purge, the Eagles had to get contributions from their rookies this year to be competitive, and they have.
 
“Rookies, in unchartered territory for some of them, but really for us, in one respect, we say there are no more rookies,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said.
 
“You've been into it this far. The expectations are high on them from themselves, and of course as coaches we put high expectations on them. We just want to focus on today. Let's go out there today and have a good practice today, because we believe what we do today will show up on Sunday.”
 
There are two big challenges facing rookies. No. 1 is on the field, No. 2 is off the field.
 
On the field, rookies are dealing with a 16-game season that runs into January after playing 11 or 12 games in college and finishing the regular season in mid-November.
 
“The college football season is winding down so they kind of hit that wall just a little bit now with us,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “We have five games left and they are either getting ready for a bowl game or not going getting ready for Christmas break. So that's obviously a challenge with the young players, just keeping them plugged in mentally and physically going down the stretch.


 
“And then just the grind of how important every single rep in practice is, to get it right in practice, and that corresponds to the game. And you just can't show up and go through the motions during the week and expect it on Sunday. Not at this level. 
 
“You might get away with that in college because you're a better athlete or you're a better team than your opponent, but here, everybody is good. The challenge is for them to practice well because then it helps them when crunch time comes in the games.”
 
Mills isn’t a starter, but he has played 454 snaps, which is about two-thirds of the Eagles’ defensive reps this year. That’s 10th-most on the team, fourth-most in the secondary.
 
“It’s a grind, for sure,” he said. “My body’s used to right now getting ready to shut down or go to a bowl game, so physically you have to learn how to take care of yourself and how to recover. The older guys help me through that. 
 
“That means for me getting a minimum of nine hours sleep every night and making sure I eat healthy. Our cafeteria does a great job getting us healthy food. Just have to take care of your body and eat healthy.
 
“Mentally it’s a grind. Being mentally sharp the same way I was in Week 1, that’s tough to do. Just stay focused. Anything negative or anything that could cloud my judgment or anything that doesn’t have to do with football, I have to just eliminate that from my life right now.” 
 
Wentz, of course, is the centerpiece of the Eagles’ 2016 rookie class. 
 
Even though his numbers have dipped after a very hot start, he’s still on pace for the fourth-most passing yards in NFL history by a rookie, the seventh-best intereption ratio and the seventh-highest completion percentage.
 
Wentz said when it comes to making sure the other rookies are grounded and stay positive, he takes the lead from the veterans on the offense.
 
“I think we all have a hand in it,” he said. “When things are going poorly, in the huddle all eyes are on me, but we have some really good leaders. Jason Kelce, Brent Celek, Darren Sproles, Jason Peters, they’ve been around, they get it, they do a great job, and I try to follow the lead a little bit and take the lead a little bit. 
 
“That’s one thing we don’t lack is leadership on both sides of the ball.”
 
There’s a football adjustment for these kids but there’s also a hidden non-football aspect that fans don’t see.
 
Remember, these are kids — 21, 22, 23 years old — who all of a sudden are making an enormous amount of money, have tremendous demands on them from outside and are thrown into a foreign city without friends or family trying to make a living.
 
“The hardest thing for me was adjusting to life,” Jason Kelce said. “You’re in a whole new city, for the first time you’re off on your own, paying taxes and doing all these other things and it’s easy to kind of get overwhelmed in your thought process instead of really focusing just on the little things. 
 
“It’s a tough just getting to the point where you feel comfortable because there’s so much drastic change everywhere. There’s all this chaos around you outside football and it can be a little much. 
 
“For me with young guys, you just tell them to keep staying with it, keep improving it, keep paying attention to the details. 
 
“You can run into certain situations where guys over-think things and it can really affect how they’re playing out there and if you’re an older guy you try and take that burden off of them and just try to remind them to go out there and play hard and focus on the minute details that allow you to be successful and just go play.”