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.

With new name, new number, Phillip Walker remains key for successful Temple season

With new name, new number, Phillip Walker remains key for successful Temple season

One would think that Temple’s all-time leader in touchdown passes, completions and total offense might not want to change much.

Think again.

Entering his senior season, Owls quarterback Phillip Walker is embracing plenty of changes, starting with his own name.

“It was a maturity thing for me,” Walker said last week during the team’s annual media day of the decision to ditch the nickname P.J. for his given name Phillip. “The older I get, the less I wanted to be called P.J. 

“It’s just something that I wanted to do. I didn’t mind being called P.J. or anything like that, but I feel like the more I get older and older and the more I’m about to get into the real world of being done with football in a year or whatever or at the next level or anything, I’d rather be called Phillip than P.J.”

While the name switch may take a while for Walker’s teammates to get used to, it shouldn’t be an issue for Matt Rhule. Temple’s head coach has routinely referred to Walker as Phillip over the years … when he was upset with the QB’s performance on the field.

“He told me, ‘Coach, you can keep calling me P.J. but I’m going to try to go by Phillip to everybody moving forward,’” Rhule explained. “I call him Phillip. When I get angry, I call him Phillip a lot. I call him P.J. probably on the practice field. There was a tweet I said I’ll call you Phillip if you call me Matt. I called Coach Paterno Joe. That’s what we did at Penn State, so he tweeted Matt and I are getting ready for a great year.

“I’ll call him Phillip. I’ll call him Walker. I’ll call him P.J. I’ll call him a lot of other things.”

The Owls are most proud of the fact that they can call Walker a leader. The quarterback has made great strides during his time on North Broad Street, both on the field and in the locker room.

No one knows just how far Walker has come more than starting running back Jahad Thomas. The two, who attended Elizabeth High School in New Jersey together and won a state sectional championship in 2012, are close friends and roommates.

“Unbelievable. I’m really at a loss for words on that question because where we’re from not too many guys get that opportunity,” Thomas said of his trek from high school to college with Walker. “To see friends and someone that’s like a brother to me just go through the journey that I’ve been through – the losing seasons, the ups and downs throughout our careers and our lives, the different paths that we took to get here – for us to just have that type of bond and to have another four years coming into college, playing here and winning that [American Athletic Conference East Division] championship, it’s just greatness. 

“Somebody like that you really cherish just outside of the field, not only for what they can do on the field but for who he is and what type of role he plays in my life. I’ve been excited for him since high school, since we started playing together, his freshman year playing, getting to start versus Louisville. Just seeing him blossom after that, man, it kind of brings tears to my eyes.”

The advancement in Walker’s maturation is exactly what TU is hoping for, but the quarterback isn’t about to pretend he is a finished product by any means.

Walker (5-11, 205) was able to throw for a career-high 2,973 yards with 19 touchdowns and cut his interceptions to eight — down from 15 — in 2015. However, his completion percentage was 56.8, a number he wants to bump up to 65.0 percent this season.

Getting Walker, who trails Henry Burris by only 121 yards and 72 attempts for No. 1 on Temple’s all-time list, to check the ball down when necessary is something quarterbacks coach and new offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas has stressed during the summer.

“I’ve gotten better at [checking the ball down] throughout the past couple days of camp,” Walker said. “It’s just something that Coach Thomas preaches every single day — completions, completions, winning plays. Just going up there with a purpose at the line of scrimmage, knowing what’s going on, knowing when to make checks, knowing when to change the plays and things like that, just having a purpose and knowing what to do on the field.”

Those decisions to check the ball down instead of forcing the big play are what TU hopes can take Walker to a new level on the field. And, frankly, the team will need it to have any chance of repeating last season’s historic success.

The Owls lost defensive back Tavon Young, defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis and linebacker Tyler Matakevich to the NFL draft. Those are three key pieces to a fearsome 2015 unit that helped lead the team to its second 10-win season and fifth bowl game appearance in program history.

That means the 2016 squad will flip its focus from having a powerful defense to being a force on offense, as Walker looks to become the first Temple quarterback ever to lead his team to two bowl games.

He’ll do so with one more change: a new number. Walker ditched his No. 11 and will play his senior season in a single-digit jersey, given out by the staff to the Owls’ toughest players. Walker will don No. 8, previously worn by stalwart LB Matakevich.

From the heart and soul on defense to his counterpart on offense.

“He’s the key. Phillip’s the key to us being a dominant offense,” Rhule said. “We’ve been really good on defense for a while. We’ve never really been a dominant offense. It’s not just his play. It’s him demanding that guys do things right all the time. There’s always been guys on defense who have demanded that we play at a certain standard every rep, every play of practice. What you’re seeing right now is you’re seeing guys like Phillip and like Jahad demanding that from the offense.”

“I put a lot of pressure on myself every day just to be out there to be the best player on the football field, be as good as I know can be each and every day,” Walker said. “I know if I’m at my best then guys around me will be at their best.”

MLB Notes: Yoenis Cespedes sits vs. Phillies because of quad injury

MLB Notes: Yoenis Cespedes sits vs. Phillies because of quad injury

NEW YORK -- Mets slugger Yoenis Cespedes again has soreness in his right quadriceps and was held out of the lineup for Sunday afternoon's game against Philadelphia.

Cespedes originally suffered the injury on July 8 after chasing Daniel Murphy's RBI double to deep center field in the Mets' 3-1 loss to Washington. He went 1 for 2 with a mammoth home run in the Mets' 12-1 rout of Philadelphia on Saturday. He walked and scored in the seventh inning but was pinch-hit for in his second at-bat in the inning, as New York sent 11 men to the plate. He leads the team with a .295 average and is among the National League leaders in home runs (26).

Second baseman Neil Walker is also out of the lineup with a stiff back. Walker returned to the lineup on Friday after being away from the team for three days following the birth of his daughter, Nora, on Aug. 23.

Orioles: Tommy Hunter signed; McFarland, Borbon cut
NEW YORK-- The Baltimore Orioles have signed right-hander Tommy Hunter, bringing him back for a sixth straight season.

The Orioles announced the move before Sunday's game against the New York Yankees. They also recalled righty Oliver Drake from Triple-A Norfolk and designated lefty T.J. McFarland and outfielder Julio Borbon for assignment.

Hunter was 2-2 with a 3.74 ERA in 21 games for Cleveland this season. He was in the minors rehabbing a recent back injury when the Indians cut him on Thursday.

The 30-year-old Hunter played for Baltimore from 2011-15, going 21-20 with a 4.22 ERA. He said he was thrilled to rejoin the Orioles, adding there were "a lot of smiles, a lot of hugs" when he walked into the clubhouse.

Manager Buck Showalter said Hunter brought a lot of experience, having spent so much time in the AL East.

"Felt fortunate to add him at this time of year," Showalter said.

Drake has pitched four games for Baltimore this year, giving up six earned runs in 5 2/3 innings.

McFarland was 2-2 with a 6.93 ERA in 16 games. Borbon went 4 for 13 in six games.

NFL Notes: Falcons sign safety Dashon Goldson

NFL Notes: Falcons sign safety Dashon Goldson

ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Falcons signed veteran free-agent safety Dashon Goldson on Sunday.

The Falcons will be without rookie starting strong safety Keanu Neal, the first-round pick, for at least the first two regular-season games with a right knee injury. He will have arthroscopic surgery on Monday.

Coach Dan Quinn has said that backup Kemal Ishmael would fill in for Neal as the starting strong safety.

Goldson, a 2012 All-Pro with the 49ers, had 110 tackles in 15 starts with the Redskins in 2015. He spent his first six seasons with San Francisco and played with Tampa Bay in 2013-14 (see full story).

Bills: Ryan says standing for anthem pays respect to military
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan believes standing for the national anthem is a way for NFL players and coaches to show respect and give thanks to members of the armed forces.

Ryan says he can appreciate how some players have personal or religious beliefs that lead them to not stand for the anthem. However, he adds people should appreciate the "gift" they have in playing football, which is the result of "the men and women that serve our country."

He was asked about his opinion before practice Sunday, a day after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said he is refusing to stand for the anthem because he believes the United States oppresses African Americans and other minorities.

Ryan did not specifically reference Kaepernick in his response (see full story).

Colts: Former Patroits RB Steven Ridley signs
INDIANAPOLIS -- Free agent running back Steven Ridley signed with the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

Ridley was cut Thursday by Detroit, which had signed the sixth-year veteran in April.

Ridley, 5-11, 220 pounds, has played in 60 career NFL games with 26 starts. He went to a Super Bowl with New England in 2011, his rookie year, when he was a third-round selection, and again in 2014, when he was hurt.

Indeed, he's been injury prone, appearing in six games for the Patriots in 2014 and nine for the Jets last year.

He has 685 carries for 2,907 yards and 22 touchdowns in his career.

Indianapolis also waived wide receiver Justin Berger, safety Alden Darby, guard Eric Herman, defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin, tight end Mike Miller, running back Chase Price, cornerback Winston Rose, defensive end Delvon Simmons, wide receiver Josh Stangby and inside linebacker Junior Sylvestre.