Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A with Inquirer Eagles reporter EJ Smith. This week, the two discuss the team’s trade for quarterback Gardner Minshew, the decision to rest most of the starters for the preseason finale, and the likelihood of a Zach Ertz trade before the start of the regular season.
EJ: What are your thoughts on the Eagles trading for Gardner Minshew?
JB: I think it’s a smart move, and I’m actually surprised the Jaguars couldn’t get a little bit more in a trade for him. He’s a quarterback who can start and win. I’m not telling you he’s a quarterback that can put a team on his back, and carry them, but he’s a quarterback that can start and win and that’s actually a fairly small percentage of even the backups in the league.
EJ: Do you think Minshew is the presumptive favorite to take over the backup job?
JB: I don’t think they would have given up a draft pick, of course it’s contingent, so it’s not like it’s etched in stone, but I think it’s highly likely that he’s their backup quarterback, otherwise they wouldn’t have made this move.
EJ: What are your thoughts on Joe Flacco so far?
JB: I’m much more into the guys that have high football IQs and are really accurate with their throws. He appears to be a smart guy who plays hard and has the respect of his teammates, but if I’m talking pure talent level, I’d actually rather have Gardner. He’s obviously more mobile and they’re going into the season with risk on the offensive line, obviously more age-generated, but it’s good to be in a position to have two guys that are mobile, they’ll need to take advantage of that.
EJ: Do you view Minshew as a career backup, or do you think this is a move that the team views as something to increase the chance that there’s a franchise quarterback on the roster right now?
JB: I wouldn’t rule that out, but I don’t think that’s likely. He’s a pretty accurate passer, he certainly has a lot of energy and intensity. He seems to play pretty smart while he still has very little experience. I personally would rather have somebody better that I’m counting on, but I’d be a lot more hopeful if they have to play one of the backups, between him and Flacco, that he’ll win a game more than Flacco will.
EJ: Jalen Hurts only had two series and one preseason game played. Do you think that’s enough?
JB: I think people have to adjust how they evaluate this. If you asked me this question and they hadn’t had two weeks of practices with another team, I would say, “No, I don’t think he’s had enough.” But I think we factor that in, and it’s probably as intense and probably even more valuable than preseason reps. I expect that he’s gotten plenty of reps to get to where he needs to be and to be what he’s capable of being.
EJ: The starters, as a whole, didn’t play very much this preseason. What’s your take on that decision?
JB: I think over time we’ll figure out what the right number is, but I have always felt like the obsession with every rep, which comes mainly from coaches, was not properly balancing the importance of keeping a team healthy and getting them ready. It was all just skewed toward getting them ready. The truth is, the smart way to do it is to have some balance, so yes, you’re doing what you need to get ready, but you’re also at the same time not overdoing it and risking that some of the players you’ll need to get to the first game won’t.
Lingering hamstring pulls, high-ankle sprains that last forever, you just don’t want to have that happen. You put all this work into putting this team together and then you don’t even really get to see it play because you’re missing three guys for opening day. I don’t know what the exact right numbers are — I don’t think anybody does — but I think the move toward a better balance of practice time, getting ready time, and staying healthy time is much better than it’s been in the past. If I’m the Eagles, I’m not worried about how they handled the preseason. They could get off to a great start or a terrible start; I personally wouldn’t think it has anything to do with how they handled the preseason.
EJ: Are you surprised there’s not a consensus in how to handle preseason playing time? Some teams have played their starters in every game, while others don’t play them much at all.
JB: I’m a little surprised, but this is the way the league is. It’s a mixture of people who are trying to look forward and do what’s next and people that feel like, “This is the way I’ve always done it, why should I change?” The latter group is bigger than it should be and holds onto those principles for too long, but listen, some of those are the guys who are winning the most in the whole league. [Bill] Belichick isn’t a “Take it easy in the preseason” guy, Andy Reid isn’t a “take it easy in the preseason” guy. [Mike] Tomlin historically hasn’t been; he was a little better this year. These are the coaches that are winning the most in the whole league, we can’t disregard that. But I think, personally, there’s nothing wrong with a hard camp, but there’s also nothing wrong with taking the edge off to lessen the risk of injury.
EJ: We saw a lot of Andre Dillard Friday night. Do you think it was in an effort to show teams around the league where he’s at for a possible trade?
JB: I think the hope is that they get a value there, at least get something back. We’ll see whether or not that’s going to happen. It’s easier said than done. I thought he played OK. You have to really watch the tape two or three times on these linemen really closely to really know.
I was a little surprised he played, obviously [Jordan] Mailata’s still at a point where his development is very crucial, but if they could walk away with even a late-round pick for Dillard, if that’s what ends up happening, it would be an OK outcome. Not what they were hoping for when they picked him, but better than where they sit right now.
EJ: Dillard’s had significant struggles during training camp the last two years, but obviously the people who’ve seen those struggles is limited to people in the organization, reporters, and a small group of fans. How much of that gets out around the league? Is that weighed at all with preseason tape?
JB: It’s a combination, but mostly it’s preseason tape. Teams have relationships on other staffs and sometimes you can get some insight to what’s going on by talking to your buddy who works wherever, in this case the Eagles. The way this works is, every team will have a group of people assigned to a preseason team. The Eagles probably have between two to four people watching every single preseason game and maybe even more watching if they’re seeing people they think may be waived and they may consider claiming them.
The first band of people are just trying to write up reports, be up to date, have the latest information, determine if there’s anyone they’re interested in for a late-round-pick trade or possibly claiming on wires, they’ll write up an extensive report and get some additional eyes on it. Every team is watching every player on every other team and has multiple eyes on that.
EJ: How often do teams hide players? This year, Kayode Awosika has had several bright moments in practice but played sparingly in the first two preseason games. Is that commonplace?
JB: I would say in the 18-odd years that I was with the Eagles, almost every year, there was at least a guy or two. Now, we weren’t always right about them, sometimes we thought we had a sleeper and a few years later we realized we didn’t. I would say every year, there was somebody we were trying to figure out, “How can we keep control of their rights and not have to use up a roster spot right away?” Sometimes that’s just impossible, the word gets out. There are some times you get somebody that you do get a chance to develop.
EJ: Is the relationship side of this difficult at times? Does the player typically understand the perspective of hiding them?
JB: We had times where we’d actually share this information with the player. We’d actually tell them, “Listen, we think you’re a good player, but you’re not really ready to go right now. We’re hoping to keep you on the roster.” Then you give them the reasons why, “We know you like your position coach.” That kind of thing.
There are other times, that’s your plan but you’re just keeping it quiet because you don’t trust the situation or you’re not sure how it will play out, but we had times where we’d literally tell the player that that’s where we were at and see if they were comfortable working with us to keep them on our team. Some players don’t want that, they’d rather get cut and get a chance to start somewhere else. Some players get comfortable where they are, they like the coach, they like the city, and they’d like to actually work with you.
EJ: How do you think the likelihood of Zach Ertz getting traded has changed since the start of training camp?
JB: It seems highly likely that they tried to trade him or at least were listening to offers. He’s coming off a bad year, he costs a lot of money, it wasn’t clear from the beginning whether they were going to take a year or two to rebuild the team or if they were going to try to rebuild on the fly and win in the meantime. I think it’s obvious now they’re trying to win short-term and long-term. That creates a better reason for Ertz to stay. On the other hand, they do appear to have a couple of backup guys who are developing, [Dallas] Goedert obviously looks like a really good player, this is probably their last chance to get some value for Ertz. If I had to guess, I’m still guessing they trade him, but I’m less confident than I was at the beginning of training camp.
EJ: J.J. Arcega-Whiteside had a touchdown catch Friday night, but was mostly quiet during training camp. How do you balance a flash of potential in a game like that with the big-picture evaluation of a player when making decisions about the 53-man roster?
JB: You’re hoping to not have it impact you. Every player that plays, or even makes an NFL roster, is capable of making really good plays. It’s just too hard to get to the league. The difference between the good players and the bad players is how often they make those really good plays. So you have a lot of players that are capable of making those plays that are like, “Whoa, we better look at that guy again.” What you really want to do is see them do it frequently. Maybe he’d been doing better at practice than it seems, and maybe he had a better shot going into it and that game kind of tipped him in, but it shouldn’t result in a dramatic re-evaluation. If he was on the fence, then he’s still on the fence. You really want to make your evaluations based on a basket of information as opposed to any one anecdote. Hopefully, that helps keep any bias out of the evaluations.