Farewell, Joe Banner

Joe Banner is out as the president of the Eagles organization. This is shocking news to me at least as it seemed to me that Joe Banner was an unimpeachable figure. He showed up when Jeff Lurie bought the team back in 1994 and he’s been around ever since and now, 18 years later, he’s stepping aside. Kind of shocking that a guy who’s had a big hand in shaping this franchise over the past two decades is just leaving.

I can’t really speak to specifics but Joe Banner is widely regarded as one of the premier ‘capologists’ in the NFL, so much so that he helped shape the new salary cap structure in last year’s lockout. He’s largely credited as the maestro behind the Eagles’ cap savvy and his tough negotiating style is notorious amongst Eagles fans.

But some might say Joe Banner isn’t simply stepping aside, rather that he’s lost power within the organization and that there is hostility between Andy Reid, Howie Roseman and himself. Quite frankly, I don’t buy it but it doesn’t appear that doing so would be completely unreasonable. As a matter of fact, a quote from Joe Banner might just attest to that theory (link).

Banner, 59, said Wednesday that he hoped to “get involved with the world of buying and selling a sports team with the possibility of becoming part of a group that buys a team.”

If Joe Banner was riding into the sunset, ready to relax in his backyard sipping his Boston Lager while chowing down crab cakes, why is he saying he wants to buy a team? Wouldn’t that suggest he wants to go somewhere where he would have more of a say? His desire for more influence would certainly line up with reports that Andy and Howie have been the primary negotiators and personnel evaluators this offseason.

The media has been stirring this particular conspiracy pot for a while now. In February of last year there were reports that suggested Joe Banner was “lukewarm” about Andy Reid and about two months ago, an L.A. Times report suggested that Andy was in direct conflict with Joe Banner saying that Andy was “ready to walk away from the Eagles if he didn’t get more personnel control, and now he has it”. If these reports have any inkling of truth, chalk this battle up to Andy Reid and cross Joe off of Andy’s Christmas Card list.

How does this affect the Eagles? It’s impossible to say at this point but one of the primary influences in recent Eagles history is out the door* (he’s still an advisor by title but I’d assume it’s just that, a title and nothing else). His replacement is reportedly Don Smolenski and he’s not new to the Eagles organization, he’s been working with the Eagles since 1998. Lets hope Smolenski’s run as president of the Eagles is as good as Banner’s was because I’m already dreading the Smellenski jokes.

 

A Closer Look at the Eagles Backup RB Situation

Just the other day, Kyle wrote a post about the Eagles depth at running back.

As you can see from that post, the Eagles have a number of talented, young running backs behind the Eagles All-Pro starting RB LeSean Kamel “Shady” McCoy. These aren’t guys you want starting for an extended period of time obviously, but they have the ability to contribute in a limited number of snaps. That’s exactly what backup RBs for the Eagles have been: players who don’t get many snaps.

Recent Eagles Backup RB History

Since McCoy took over as a full time starter in 2010, the Eagles have had 3 backup RBs: Mike Bell (2010), Jerome Harrison (2010) and Ronnie Brown (2011).

In the 5 games Mike Bell played as an Eagle, he had a mere 16 attempts. After those 5 games, the Eagles traded Bell for Jerome Harrison. Harrison recorded 40 attempts in 8 games played, although he did start 1 of those games in a meaningless Week 17 match against the Dallas Cowboys. In 2011, the Eagles backup was Ronnie “The Man Who Saved Jerome Harrison’s Life” Brown. He registered a mere 42 attempts in 16 games played. It is worth noting Brown started 2 of those games.

This confirms what we should already know by now: the Eagles don’t use their backup RB often. And this isn’t likely going to change. McCoy is too good of a player to keep off the field.  Although Andy has said he wants to reduce Shady’s reps, I doubt it will be any kind of significant decrease. But maybe a closer look tells us something else  – that the Eagles like to have a veteran as the backup RB. Bell, Harrison, and Brown were all considered veterans  in their time as Eagles. So might the Eagles be looking for another?

Kyle wrote:

A lot of people were expecting the Eagles to draft a running back fairly high in the draft after not adding a veteran in free agency and the logic behind that is pretty sound. [...] But, the Eagles never added a free agent nor did they draft one. Whats the deal? They’re comfortable with their backups. At least that’s what Andy Reid says. And if what he says is actually true (you never know), you can see why. The Eagles have some talented young bodies at the running back spot who should be given a chance to make an impact.

And after acquiring those talented, young RBs, I was convinced the Eagles weren’t interested in adding a veteran at the position. After all, they hadn’t been linked to having interest in a veteran RB the whole off-season.

But then that changed. (More after the jump…)

The running back depth

At 5'11" and 223 pounds with 4.37 speed, Bryce Brown is one of a couple talented young backs on the roster.

A lot of people were expecting the Eagles to draft a running back fairly high in the draft after not adding a veteran in free agency and the logic behind that is pretty sound. Last year LeSean McCoy played more snaps than any other running back in football and that was despite missing an entire game against the Redskins. If the Eagles want McCoy to be around for a significant amount of time, it would be wise not to run him into the ground like the Chiefs did with Larry Johnson, like the Ravens did with Jamal Lewis and like the Titans did with Chris Johnson.

But, the Eagles never added a free agent nor did they draft one. Whats the deal? They’re comfortable with their backups. At least that’s what Andy Reid says. And if what he says is actually true (you never know), you can see why. The Eagles have some talented young bodies at the running back spot who should be given a chance to make an impact.

Dion Lewis: I’m actually pretty excited to see Dion Lewis get more carries, he flashed some electric moves and good potential all year. He’s a small guy who won’t push the pile or punish defenders but he’s got great quickness and he reaches top speed quickly, he’s shifty and hard to grab in the open field, he’s small and can hide behind the offensive line and he’s got a good feel on inside runs and isn’t your typical “bounce it outside” scat-back. He’s got some Tiki Barber in him.

Bryce Brown: This guy is a talent, thats for sure but he’s talent with issues. He smashed county records in high school and he was the #1 overall recruit at any position according to rivals back in 2009. He produced a bit in his freshman year at Tennessee but after the season Lane Kiffin skipped town for his dream job at USC and Brown’s college career was completely thrown off track. Brown then transfered to Kansas State to play with his brother, linebacker Arthur Brown. At Kansas State he got hurt early, he was upset with his playing time and he decided to leave the team. Issues.

But after everyone wrote Bryce Brown off as an overrated high school talent, he lit up his pro-day. At 5’11″ and 223 pounds, Brown blazed a 4.37 40 yard dash time. Combine his stellar pro-day with solid tape as a freshman and Brown found himself being picked late in the draft. Wes Bunting, scout for the National Football Post, was a guy who liked Brown despite his past issues saying:

Possesses natural girth and muscle tone through his upper body. But, looks a bit thin and lean through the lower half. … Displays a good first step when pressing the line of scrimmage and runs initially with a good forward lean. He displays a good feel when asked to press the line of scrimmage or edge on perimeter runs and looked very comfortable in Tennessee’s zone scheme in 2009. Felt defenders well around him, displayed good lateral quickness when asked to put his foot in the ground and accelerated quickly into the open field. Showcased some natural wiggle as well as a cut back guy, setting up blocks and using his foot quickness/burst and make a man miss and burst into the open field. Once he collected his feet, did a nice job finishing runs, lowing his pad level and falling forward on contact.

Who remembers watching LeSean McCoy dance around and broadcasters saying that “He’s really good but Mudd wants him to follow his blockers and go to green”? I do. Thats what Mudd wants out of his running backs, he wants his backs to follow his blockers, get to the second level and attack cut back lanes. Bryce Brown is a guy who does those things well when he’s at his best.

Chris Polk: This guy, was an absolute steal in undrafted free agency. His injury concerns are vastly overrated, they didn’t stop him from carrying the ball on Saturdays and they won’t stop him from carrying the ball on Sundays either. He had a shoulder issue last year and had surgery but that isn’t an issue this year or moving forward according to Dr. James Andrews saying that “”If I thought Chris had a problem that needed fixing, I would have operated, but there was not a problem”.

Side note: I’m convinced that Dr. James Andrews has a surgery drive through

Polk played his ass off at Washington and he sacrificed himself for the team. He ran hard and he carried that team’s running game, providing both Jake Locker and Keith Price with a consistent running game to rely on.

Polk isn’t a picture perfect running back, he’s not super bulky, he’s not ripped and he runs high. But when those pads go on, he punishes people. He throws his body into contact and he’s without a doubt the most physical running back west of the Mississippi in college football (Trent Richardson claims the east). He’s just a natural with the football. He presses the hole, he allows his blockers to get into position, great patience, he knows when to accelerate and he doesn’t fumble the ball. He’s a downhill force who pushes the pile and once he hits the second level and gets to top speed, its like a runaway freight train. Chris Polk should have been drafted much earlier but I’m happy he ended up in Philadelphia because his running style compliments LeSean McCoy’s and Dion Lewis’ perfectly.

At Washington he put up 4049 rushing yards, 26 total touchdowns and had 3 straight 1000 yard rushing seasons. And despite carrying the ball 799 times, he only fumbled the ball 5 times and he had a 23 game stretch where he didn’t fumble the ball at all.

His disciplined and physical running style combined with his reliability and consistency have earned him comparisons to Arian Foster. I’m not sure he’s that good yet but Polk really is a player that we’re lucky to have gotten. He’s closer to Pierre Thomas than he is Foster IMO but I can see why people make the comparison.

Graig Cooper: Cooper is another guy who slid into undrafted free agency because of injury issues. In 2009 he tore his ACL and he struggled to return in 2010 and because of it, he slipped in the 2011 draft. He’s now 3 years removed from ACL surgery and he should be 100%. Prior to tearing his ACL, he was seen as a good all-purpose back who would likely end up being drafted fairly early in the draft.

Tony Pauline of Sports Illustrated said this of Cooper:

 ”Cooper rated as one of the best running back prospects in the nation until his injury. At the top of his game he justifiably reminds many of former Miami star Frank Gore with his ability to create yardage and elude defenders. Cooper looked like a shell of himself last year when he was just eight months removed from major knee surgery. He may take a while to return to form, if he ever does, but Cooper is capable of producing at the next level if he gets his game back.”

At Miami he was the starter over stellar running back recruit LaMar Miller and he finished his career at Miami with 465 carries for 2383 yards (5.1 YPC), 66 receptions for 402 yards and 16 touchdowns on offense. When taking into account his return numbers, Cooper finished with 3864 all-purpose yards and 17 total touchdowns (1 kick returned for a touchdown).

 

Return Men

One of the most underrated problems last year was the Eagles inability to flip the field on special teams and put the team in good starting field position. Last year the Eagles average starting field position was incredibly mediocre, finishing 18th in the NFL. But that doesn’t really highlight how horrible the Eagles were on returns last year, last year the Eagles were 29th in the NFL in both kick and punt returns. Not very good.

Graphic per Advanced NFL Stats

And for those of you prepared to argue that field position doesn’t matter, notice that ten of the twelve playoff teams last season placed in the top half of the NFL in starting field position.

The Eagles, seeing this really made it a point to beef up their return game. This offseason the Eagles have added Brandon Boykin, Mardy Gilyard, Cliff Harris and DaMaris Johnson, clearly showing their intent to improve on special teams. And they also have Ronald Johnson on the roster who is going through his first offseason as an Eagle after spending the season on the practice squad.

Just look at the kick return production these guys had in college:

Brandon Boykin: 110 kick returns for 2663 yards (24.2 yards per return), 4 kicks returned for touchdowns, 14 punts returned for 180 yards (12.8 per return) and 1 returned for a touchdown. The only player in SEC history with three 100+ yard plays. He’s the all-time leading kick returner at Georgia. He won the Paul Hornung award that is given to the “most versatile player in college football” in 2011.

Mardy Gilyard: 93 kicks returned for 2664 yards (28.6 yards per return), 4 kicks returned for touchdowns, 44 punts returned for 252 yards (5.7 per return) and 1 returned for a touchdown at Cincinnati. He was a two time Big East special teams player of the year.

Cliff Harris: 9 kickoffs returned for 192 yards (21.3 yards per return), 38 punts returned for 614 yards (16.1 per return) and four punts returned for touchdowns. He was a first team all american in 2010 for his work on punt returns and he was named the best punt returner in college football after the 2010 season at the College Football Performance Awards.

DaMaris Johnson: 134 kickoffs returned for 3417 yards (25.5 yards per return), 2 kicks returned for touchdowns, 47 punts returned for 571 yards (12.1 yards per return) and 2 punts returned for touchdowns. Johnson is the all time leader in career kick return yardage at the NCAA level.

Ronald Johnson: 56 kicks returned for 1351 yards (26.4 yards per return), 31 punts returned for 312 yards (10.6 per return) and 1 punt returned for a touchdown.

In total, these 5 players combined for 10,287 kick return yards, 10 kicks returned for touchdowns, 1921 punt return yards and 9 punts returned for touchdowns at the college level. None of these players has much of any experience at the NFL level and they should all be given a shot as a return specialist.

Nick Foles

The Eagles took the NFL Draft version of a hail mary in the third round when they drafted Nick Foles. Foles isn’t much of a QB now (I’ll get to that) but he’s a guy who certainly passes the eyeball test and it never hurts to invest in the QB spot and Andy Reid knows that (see Matt Hasselbeck, Mark Brunell, Kevin Kolb, AJ Feeley). If he develops, you got a QB and if he doesn’t you cut your losses.

More after the jump…

Hugs

You know whats really important? How long a player hugs the commissioner after they’re drafted. Thankfully, Deadspin took the time out of their day to time out the hugs so I didn’t have to. And what did they find?

Here’s all 20 players drafted who were in attendance last night, ordered by length of hug—from Kendall Wright’s 2.26 second come-and-go to Fletcher Cox’s any-longer-and-it’ll-be-ranked-PG-13 lovefest.

So, I guess you can say officially that Roger Goodell and Cox have a special bond.

A Mock Draft – Just For Funzies

1 – Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck QB Stanford
-He really is Peyton Manning part two, his intelligence is just off the charts. I remember reading that Luck would call three plays and then depending on what the defense showed him he’d choose one. That’s Manning level stuff. He’s going to be a problem in the NFL for opposing defenses. And unlike Manning, Luck is actually athletic and he moves really well for a QB. This guy is a mortal lock to be a franchise QB unless something goes horribly, horribly awry.

2 – Washington Redskins – Robert Griffin QB Baylor
-The Redskins draft the flavor of the month, Robert Griffin shot up in the draft with a huge Heisman season and the Redskins jump all over the charismatic athlete and make him the face of their franchise. He’s got a really good arm and he’s a heck of a scrambler too but he’s got some development to do. He could be an all-pro if he puts it all together and the Redskins could hit a home run shot. Personally I think that he’s a little skittish in the pocket and that his accuracy drops a lot when you get pressure. And another thing you notice when watching Griffin is that he take a lot of unnecessary punishment, he holds onto the ball, he doesn’t slide, he runs the ball quite a bit and as noble as it is to try and block, it isn’t smart and this is all especially concerning when you realize that Griffin already has already torn his ACL once. I think Robert Griffin is the next QB in the long line of super athletic QBs who are good players but they never quite nail down the mental part of the game. He’ll make some highlights though and he’ll put people in the seats.

3 – Minnesota Vikings – Morris Claiborne CB LSU
-The Vikings throw the first curve ball, Claiborne is a big time corner with a really good all around skill set and really smooth athleticism. Claiborne can play press and off coverage in both man and zone. He locates the ball in the air and he makes some really nice interceptions. He could develop into a shut down corner for the Vikings and they need one in a division where they face Rodgers, Cutler and Stafford and their barrage of weapons two times a year.

Jim Washburn tipped his hand

 

Dontari Poe’s Journey via The Memphis Commercial Appeal

“Jim Washburn, who coached the defensive line for the Titans for a long time and is now with Philadelphia, said he saw Dontari on film and thought he was better than Albert Haynesworth at this stage of his career,” DuBose said. “If Dontari had been in our system at Alabama (where DuBose was once the head coach), he’d be a top three or top five pick.”

Yep, coach Washburn is smitten. He spent a top pick on Haynesworth coming out of Tennessee and he says that Poe is better. He’ll look pretty good in Midnight Green.