Making Sense of Joe Banner's Departure

Making Sense of Joe Banner's Departure

I've always felt the rampant conspiracy theories that often dominate newspaper headlines were signs that a civilian had spent too much time in the cloak-and-dagger world of the NovaCare Complex. To this outsider, the heavily-guarded access to the Philadelphia Eagles has more to do with the secretive nature of any well-run pro football organization, not the diabolical plots of a penny-pinching mastermind named Joe. Cynical readers eat it up though, and for the front office's part, they fueled that distrust through a variety of actions and inactions.

So when a respected reporter from the Los Angeles Times described a power struggle within those walls from nearly 3,000 miles away -- mind you, not the first instance a conflict of that nature was rumored -- I chalked it up as more of the same. After all, when Sam Farmer's story was filed back in March, who predicted it would serve as the backdrop for the departure of Joe Banner less than three months later?

Given the circumstances, the Eagles team president of 18 years could never walk away gracefully.

Banner was already viewed as something of an ogre by the fan base, every misstep remembered with careful detail, even events he likely had little or nothing to do with -- the franchise's inability to win a championship chief among them. The contentious nickname "Nickels" recently began to take, an homage to fiscal responsibility that mostly sent prominent-but-aging veteran players packing when their contracts were up for renewal. His association with the other unpopular kids (Lurie, Reid, Roseman) didn't do him any favors, either.

But after Farmer's entry into the fray, no amount of press conferences or candid interviews will make people forget about the alleged animosity behind closed doors. Never mind that to this day, part of the yarn stands out as particularly ludicrous, that the Eagles were in any position to seriously consider pursuing Peyton Manning. Somebody wanted to push the idea that Banner and Andy Reid weren't getting along, and now that one of them is suddenly out the door, observers are clamoring for Tom Smykowski's 'Jump to Conclusions' mat.

Everyone jump to "Joe Banner was pushed out"

Removed, demoted, dismissed -- whatever makes his exit sound controversial.

I can't refute there was a rift between Banner and Reid, and there's actually a compelling case for there being plenty of truth to that. The two of them became increasingly divided over some of the biggest changes inside the Eagles locker room in recent years, well documented during DeSean Jackson's contract drama, and before Donovan McNabb was ultimately traded as well. Additionally, Banner personally cited losing Brian Dawkins to free agency as a regret, and it's hard to believe anybody on the coaching staff was fully on board with that.

Others would suggest Banner especially strained relations with the head coach when he basically announced to the world that Reid needs to win the Super Bowl in order to earn an extension from the club. With Andy's deal set to expire after 2013, there aren't too many folks who would bother to disagree with that assessment, but it's a vastly different approach than the big guy takes in dealing with the media. A man who has a reputation for constantly shielding his players from criticism could not have appreciated being left under the spotlight to squirm by his own superior.

Chances are it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows in the front office. Still, something isn't quite lining up here. How did Andy Reid, head coach and director of personnel, defeat Joe Banner, chief operating officer and lifelong friend of owner Jeffrey Lurie, in a power struggle? That could only mean Lurie finds Reid more vital to the success of his franchise than Banner, who has been his right-hand man from the very beginning, right?

You buy that?

Critics be damned, Reid is a great coach, but he is an interchangeable piece of the puzzle. Win or lose, eventually he'll move on, and another one will take his place. That person will win or lose, and then another, and so on. All head coaches, to some degree, are propped up or dragged down by circumstances beyond their control, which explains why certain men do poorly in their first job, then win championships elsewhere -- think Bill Belichick -- while others build a trophy case, but can't duplicate the results in a new locale -- a road Mike Shanahan could be headed down at the moment.

Banner, on the other hand, might be one of just a handful of executives in professional sports who could achieve the magnitude of what he did in Philadelphia. He turned a dysfunctional organization into one of the most profitable franchises in the NFL. He is credited for being the key figure in the building of Lincoln Financial Field and the NovaCare Complex. He helped develop a structured front office that fields a competitive team season after season, and he shouldn't have to apologize to anybody for that. Finally, he managed the salary cap in such a brilliant, precise manner, the Eagles never had to cut players or let one go via free agency simply because money got too tight.

If anything, Banner might have been a victim of his own success, because truthfully the Eagles don't need him any longer. The franchise will have a license to print money long after he's gone. There are no more buildings to construct. They have a qualified front office in place to handle day-to-day operations. The one football-related job Joe had left, negotiating player contracts and managing the cap, he ceded to Howie Roseman, who was described as a "Banner guy" when he was promoted to general manager in 2010.

When you look at it from that perspective, it almost makes sense why Banner would be pushed out the door: he made himself obsolete. That ignores the fact that he and Lurie are pals, and everything the owner has, he owes to Banner... but it is controversial!

Legacy

The final goal Banner had left to accomplish was delivering the Lombardi Trophy to Philly, but obviously he recognizes now that was always out of his hands after a certain point. Banner will never lace 'em up, and he'll never grab a headset and call in a play to the quarterback. While he may know how to assign a dollar value to a player, he's not a full-time talent evaluator, so he's not going to set the depth chart or run the draft, either. He hired people to do all of that for him. That was never his area of his expertise.

Which is why I don't understand why anybody would doubt the sincerity of his motivations. What can he do here to bring the Eagles closer to that elusive Super Bowl championship? Apparently nothing, so why not embark on a new endeavor while he's 59 years old and up to the task? The fact is, even if the Birds finally reach football's pinnacle in the immediate future -- anytime over the next five to ten years at least, and perhaps for far longer -- Banner's work over the past two decades will have been instrumental to that end, no matter where or how he lands next. You can't take that away from him.

Maybe there was a power struggle, maybe there wasn't. I haven't had the luxury of being one of the shadowy figures lurking around the hallways at the Birds' facilities, trying to catch Lurie, Banner, and Reid hatching their next evil scheme. I do have my own theory though: Joe Banner, not Andy Reid's camp, was responsible for the leak in the LA Times story, and in making the head coach look strong on his way out, he did his last great deed for the Eagles franchise.

Given his history here, I'm not so sure that's any less plausible.

Best of NFL: Redskins notch 1st win vs. Giants; Cowboys rout Bears

Best of NFL: Redskins notch 1st win vs. Giants; Cowboys rout Bears

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.  -- Dustin Hopkins kicked a 37-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter for his fifth of the game and the Washington Redskins avoid a near-disastrous 0-3 start with a 29-27 win over the penalty- and error-prone New York Giants on Sunday.

Kirk Cousins threw touchdown passes of 44 yards to DeSean Jackson and 55 to Jamison Crowder as the banged-up Redskins (1-2) handed new coach Ben McAdoo his first loss with the Giants (2-1).

Su'a Cravens ended the Giants' final drive with an interception in New York territory. It was Eli Manning's second pick of the quarter, with the other coming in the end zone by Quinton Dunbar after New York got to the Redskins 15 on a big play by Odell Beckham Jr.

This was a wild NFC East matchup that see-sawed the entire second half after Washington rallied from a 21-9 deficit (see full recap).

Prescott, Cowboys rout Bears on SNF
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dak Prescott led scoring drives on all four Dallas possessions in the first half before throwing his first career touchdown pass, and the Cowboys beat the Chicago Bears 31-17 on Sunday night to snap an eight-game home losing streak.

With his second straight win, Prescott doubled the number of victories the Cowboys (2-1) had in 14 games without injured quarterback Tony Romo over three seasons before the rookie fourth-round pick showed up.

Prescott's first TD pass was a 17-yarder to Dez Bryant for a 31-10 lead in the fourth quarter, and he's up to 99 throws without an interception to start his career. Philadelphia rookie Carson Wentz has 102, and those are the two highest career-opening totals in NFL history.

Brian Hoyer had trouble moving the Chicago offense early with Jay Cutler sidelined by a sprained right thumb as the Bears fell behind 24-3 at halftime and dropped to 0-3 for the second time in two seasons under coach John Fox (see full recap).

Vikings stop Newton, snap Panthers' home win streak
CHARLOTTE, N.C.  -- The Minnesota Vikings keep finding ways to overcome injuries --and keep finding ways to win football games.

Sam Bradford threw a touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph, Marcus Sherels returned a punt for a score and the Vikings snapped the Carolina Panthers' 14-game home winning streak 22-10 on Sunday.

The Vikings put the clamps on Cam Newton, intercepting the league's reigning MVP three times and getting eight sacks, one of those resulting in a safety by Danielle Hunter. The eight sacks were the second-most ever against Newton.

"We have a great team -- the best team I have been a part of," said Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen, who had three sacks. "We come from every area on the field and we get sacks."

Said Newton: "They were dictating to us after they got the momentum."

The Vikings improved 3-0 despite losing running back Adrian Peterson and offensive tackle Matt Kalil to injuries last week. They lost starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the preseason (see full recap).

Bills bounce back with win over Cardinals
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.  -- LeSean McCoy scored twice and safety Aaron Williams returned a botched field-goal snap 53 yards for a touchdown in leading the Buffalo Bills to a 33-18 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

Quarterback Tyrod Taylor also scored on a 20-yard run at a time the Rex Ryan-coached Bills spent the past week taking the brunt of criticism after opening the season 0-2.

The win also came on the heels of Ryan firing offensive coordinator Greg Roman and replacing him with running backs coach Anthony Lynn.

McCoy scored on 24- and 5-yard runs, and finished with 110 yards rushing after combining for just 117 in his first two games. Taylor had 76 yards rushing, including a 49-yarder, the longest by a quarterback in team history (see full recap).

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Doug Pederson: For the Eagles, 'this was a good benchmark'

Doug Pederson: For the Eagles, 'this was a good benchmark'

On his way to the locker room following his team's stunning 34-3 victory over the Steelers, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson reacted, well, like you probably did.

Pederson had to be surprised by what had just transpired. After all, this wasn't the Browns or the Bears. This was the Steelers, who entered the game with the second-best odds behind New England, per Bovada, of winning the Super Bowl (the Patriots were first). 

And the Eagles didn't just beat them. They clobbered them.

But minutes later, when Pederson met the media for his postgame press conference, he tried his best to act like it was no big thing.

“I told the team way back in OTAs that it just takes a little bit of belief," Pederson said. "Belief in themselves. Trust the process. Believe in the coaches and the coaches believe in one another. That’s what they did tonight. 

"Am I surprised? A little. But at the same time, I know that locker room, I know those guys and I know what they are building. By no means have we accomplished anything yet. The season is still extremely young. But what they did tonight just proves that they are coming together as a football team.”

Yeah, yeah. Sorry, Doug. It's OK to be surprised. Scratch that. Make that stunned. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year. But now? Forget that. 

At least for the next two weeks. The Eagles are on their bye week and don't play again until Oct. 9 at Detroit. 

“It is still a young season, only three games. This was a good benchmark," Pederson said. "That’s a good football team, the Steelers are a great football team. They are going to be there at the end, they always are. Coach (Mike) Tomlin always has those guys ready to play. 

"But for our guys, it is just a little glimpse of that belief that I have been saying since the spring and summer. If they just do their jobs, I just feel that good things can happen. We just protect each other in that dressing room in there and keep coming to work everyday.”

Pederson is the only head coach in team history to win each of his first three games. It's only the ninth time the Eagles have started 3-0.

And of course, a big reason they've done so is their prodigy quarterback Carson Wentz, who became only the second rookie in team history to record a 300-yard passing game (Nick Foles is the other).

More impressively, Wentz now has attempted 102 straight passes without an interception, the longest streak ever begin an NFL career (per ESPN). Dallas'  Dak Prescott is at 99 after the Cowboys beat up the Bears.

But don't ask Pederson to admit he's amazed by Wentz or the fact he had the presence of mind to make plays like the riveting 73-yard TD pass to Darren Sproles (much more on that here).

“You know, you just put on his college film. Just watch him," Pederson said. "We exhausted his college tape and those were the plays that he made at North Dakota State. That play tonight was just a tremendous play by both he and Darren Sproles. Those are the types of things that we know he can do. He just keeps gaining confidence every single week.”

As does the defense, which kept one of the league's most potent offenses out of the end zone

"They just weren’t going to be denied," Pederson said. "They just weren’t going to bow their necks. They weren’t going to let them in the endzone. It just came down to our will versus theirs and I was just so happy with the way the guys played. Just a great team effort.”