Tommy asked me to write a little bit about my take on the departure of Joe Banner. My feelings on this are complex and are not likely to be well-expressed in this post, so I apologize in advance. Understand, I have been following Banner for nearly 20 years. I honestly believe he was one of the best executives in the league and had a profound impact on the team’s success. But, in my view, his departure will be a positive for the team on the field.
What you have to first appreciate about the man is the impact he had on the game. Much of what we take for granted in the NFL today was either innovated or adopted early by the Eagles. Cap space flexibility as a valuable tool and a weapon was his greatest legacy. The earliest examples of this that I think of are the signings of Troy Vincent from Miami, Rickey Watters from San Francisco and Kevin Turner from New England. All were restricted free agents entering their age 26 season — Vincent and Watters as Transition tag players, Turner as a player with only 3 years of experience. Both were signed to deals structured in a way that made it nearly impossible for their teams to match. Later teams used “exploding” bonuses to make the deals actually more expensive to the former team than to the Eagles, but Banner just made the deal hard to fit under the current cap unless the team had a lot of space … like the Eagles did.
Investing in young, ascending players. Using their ample cap space to attack teams that didn’t have enough. That was the early Joe Banner.
Later, he layered in ways to make sure that the talent on his roster was maximized, given the cap constraint. And remember this: the league was very cap constrained. Few teams had space, and if you wanted to be good, you had to overspend — that was what the 49ers and the Cowboys and all of the other top teams of the era were doing.
First, Banner aggressively signed his own young players to extensions. This kept guys on the team through their most productive years, and kept them at a price that was likely to be below market if they stayed healthy. He also innovated the use of phony incentives to roll otherwise unused cap space forward from one year to the next, which allowed him the flexibility to actually exceed the league-wide cap in a given year — something the Eagles did more than many fans appreciate.
Finally, he imposed a philosophy that sounds so obvious today that people accept it, but it was novel 15 years ago: pay as you go cap management. This meant that contracts were structured such that relatively little money was paid in the form of a signing bonus, and therefore spread out over the life of the deal. Instead, he tried to have the cash cost of the deal be similar to the cap cost of the deal. This meant that the players would have higher cap hits early in their contract, but lower ones later … and more importantly, if their skills declined and they had to be cut, their remaining “dead money” wouldn’t continue to burden the cap.
In many ways, I’ve always thought that the Eagles’ success from 2000-2004 was in large part due to Joe Banner. His financial management allowed them to have more talent wrapped up under the cap than a team should have had.
But the rest of the NFL caught on. And in 2006, a new CBA agreement raised the cap high enough that teams were no longer really constrained in their spending. Decisions to sign or not sign a player were made on the basis of whether a player was worth the price he was asking rather than whether the team could afford the price the player was asking given their cap room.
At that point, Joe Banner’s talent at managing the cap was no longer especially useful. Everybody went to pay-as-you-go cap management, because they could afford to under the higher cap. Young players never hit free agency, they were always wrapped up early.
To understand why Joe Banner is leaving, in my view, you have to understand what he became after the 2006 CBA. Like I said earlier, the new question in the NFL was whether a player was worth the price he was asking for. It was now all about putting the right dollar value on the available guys.
Of course, this had always been a critical part of the process. Now, however, it was an unusually large part. And Banner had a view on what a player was worth. Think about that for a second, though. Valuing talent is what you would want the GM types to do — this guy is good, this guy isn’t. What Banner should be doing is figuring out how to fit as much of the good players under his cap as possible, not figuring out what the guys are worth.
The Eagles struggled to innovate in the post-2006 CBA market. Sometimes, they tried to create value by not overpaying for low-usage skills (fullback, return specialist) or by taking advantage of a market discount created by an injury situation. Sometimes, they were willing to take a clearly marginal player who was fairly priced instead of moving a legitimately good veteran’s contract to a fair price (see the decisions to go with Ellis Hobbs over Sheldon Brown and Quintin Demps over Brian Dawkins).
As a result, Banner’s role became uncomfortable. We have long heard rumors of a rift between Andy Reid and Banner. We have seen ample evidence of Banner being the bad cop to Reid’s good cop. There are whispers that DeSean Jackson’s deal only got done once Banner was shoved aside.
To understand this, you need to view it in the context of what Banner’s job had been reduced to: he wanted to make sure that the Eagles didn’t pay more for a player than he was worth. And it wasn’t clear that he was the right man for that job anymore.
Last season, I was miserable with the performance of the team. I put up a pair of posts explaining this. In one of them, I set forth what I thought Jeffrey Lurie’s job would be after the season — to answer a series of difficult questions about the organization. The bottom line, to me, was “Who is responsible”? There were three candidates: Reid, Howie Roseman, and, of course, Banner. The guy who clearly didn’t belong at the table any more was Banner.
But I never thought he would be able to leave. And not just because of Lurie’s long friendship with Banner. I thought he would never leave because he was so important in the non-football operations part of the Eagles business. I thought he was here for life.
The time had come, however. Banner’s story about the timing and the reasons for his departure are surely true. What used to be the hard part of his job, on the football operations side, no longer was relevant. Running the business side also no longer required a tremendous amount of work, once Lincoln Financial Field had been built. So I am certain he was ready to move on. Once the lockout was over, the time was right.
So that is why it was good timing for him. But that is not why his departure was good timing for the Eagles. For me, Banner leaving also clarified a good many things about the organization. He had become a big part of the problem in the football operations department.
No, Banner wasn’t forced out. This isn’t about a coup. But that doesn’t mean the team isn’t better off without him. It is. I would not be surprised if, after carefully reviewing the team after the season, Lurie came to the same conclusion. I can imagine Lurie saying, “Your resignation comes as a great relief to me.”
That doesn’t mean that Howie Roseman and Andy Reid are the ideal team to be running the franchise. That remains to be seen. Each has their flaws and each has great challenges going forward. That said, the team is now being run with a more unified vision. That is clear from their moves this off-season and especially clear from some of the introspective comments that Roseman has made about learning from last year’s debacle.
So far I like the new vision. And I don’t think it would have been possible with Joe Banner still in the building.