There is no question who’s in charge of the Eagles now.
When team president Joe Banner stepped down last week to focus on new opportunities - and that is indeed the main reason why he is departing after 18 years — it was a fait accompli.
Banner had lost influence over the team to coach Andy Reid, and now absolute power resides with him.
Banner had accomplished everything short of winning a Super Bowl, and that’s something that will continue to burn him.
“There is no doubt that there’s a huge hole in this experience, as amazing as it’s been, having not won a Super Bowl,’’ Banner said. “I think we have as good a chance this year, if not better than we’ve ever had, and I think there’s a reasonable chance I’ll still be here through that.
“That’s the biggest emptiness from the experience, to have not actually produced that thrill for this city, for the fans and for ourselves.’’
Other than that, the franchise Banner presided over was and is one of the best in the NFL. Perennial contenders, the Eagles have gone to the playoffs 11 times since 1994, when Jeffrey Lurie bought the team and installed Banner, a childhood friend from Boston, as the head of day-to-day operations.
Banner, 59, grew up in Chestnut Hill and graduated from the Rivers School. Lurie hails from West Newton, attended Buckingham Browne & Nichols, Clark (bachelor’s degree), Boston University (master’s), and Brandeis (doctorate).
Banner and Lurie met in the mid-1960s when a mutual friend invited Banner to Lurie’s house to watch — guess what — football. They have been friends ever since.
Buy they will soon part ways in business when Banner, who will continue to have an office with the Eagles (which is awkward), ends his run as an adviser to Lurie.
Banner, the only NFL team president to do every contract, revolutionized how teams manage the cap. The Eagles weren’t afraid to use younger players and had no qualms extending them early to help alleviate cap hits down the line. The methodology was a blueprint for most of the league.
The Eagles very rarely have to cut a player because of salary cap concerns, and there were always funds available to improve the team. That was Banner’s doing.
He was also the point man on Lincoln Financial Field and the team’s NovaCare training complex — two of the best facilities in the league.
In short, Banner didn’t have much left to do. So it was time to look for new challenges. He will be on the lookout to front another ownership group — perhaps Buffalo, Cleveland, or a new team in Los Angeles — and start all over again.
“I’ve been dreaming for the past few years . . . if I wanted to try and take on one more really big challenge in my life,’’ Banner said. “I decided that was something I wanted to do.’’
Yes, there was something of a battle for ultimate power between Banner and Reid. Reid had final say over everything except player contracts, and the two butted heads about that in recent years.
Banner was marginalized this offseason in favor of Reid and general manager Howie Roseman. Not coincidentally, the Eagles reached contract extensions with running back LeSean McCoy and receiver DeSean Jackson - positions Banner might not have been in favor of investing in long term.
The power struggle was only a small part of why Banner is moving on, but his departure will have an impact on the Eagles.
Many will say that since Reid has the power, he’s in the driver’s seat. That is true. But only if he wins this season. It’s put up or shut up time.
Reid has two years left on his contract. He will not be allowed to be a lame duck. If the Eagles play well, Reid will get an extension. If they struggle, it will be a very tough sell to bring him back.
It’s been groundhog day for Eagles fans. Every year they’re good but not good enough. With the Phillies slumping, the Flyers coming off a disappointing playoff loss to the Devils, and the Sixers exciting but not really talented, the city is primed for the Eagles to take over once again.
And without Banner - long scorned by a fan base that unfairly saw him as a number cruncher with no personality - the fans will be looking for a new person to blame if things don’t go well.
Reid now has everything he wanted. Every decision is his. That means the glory or the blame will be his as well.
It will also be interesting to see how the Eagles operate. Both Reid and Roseman are known for being friendly with players and agents. They’re both personable and want to do right by the players.
Banner served as the bad guy a lot of the time, and he understood that was his role. Somebody had to make sure the team was in the proper financial position to field a winner year after year.
Banner did that. Now it’s Reid’s turn. And there won’t be anyone else to take the blame.
Safe option is there, if players will just call
It has not been a good couple of months for NFL players and drunk driving. In April, former Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather and Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey were arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.
In the past two weeks, Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley, Vikings fullback Jerome Felton, and Jaguars rookie receiver Justin Blackmon were arrested for DUI.
The arrest of Blackmon, the fifth overall pick, was the most troubling. His blood-alcohol level was 0.24 — three times the legal limit in Oklahoma. And Blackmon also had a DUI arrest in college at Oklahoma State.
A solemn Blackmon told the Jacksonville media, “I want to apologize to the whole organization and teammates for my bad judgment over the weekend. I want to let people know that’s not who I am and that’s not who I am going to be.’’
The most ridiculous thing is that none of these arrests had to happen. The players have options to get home from a night of drinking. Most teams, including the Jaguars, have some sort of safe ride program in which the players can call a number and get picked up.
Players naturally think the team will use the information against them so the Players Association took control of the Safe Rides program in 2009. The NFLPA Player Transportation Link is a confidential program, available to both active and former players.
Stickers with the 24-hour number are placed on the back of all NFLPA membership cards.
There are two ways to use the service. The first is for prearranged transportation, when the driver remains with the player for the duration. There is also emergency response, in which a driver is immediately dispatched anywhere in the United States or Canada to the player.
Players are responsible for payment, but it’s significantly discounted from other avenues of transport (cabs, limos). There is a confidentiality agreement among all parties, so there’s no reason for players to get behind the wheel drunk and put lives in danger.
A GOOD READ ON THE PLAY
Insider books take you beyond the X’s and O’s
With mandatory veteran minicamps getting under way next week, the NFL “dead period’’ will soon commence. Nearly the entire NFL world takes vacation from the end of June until the beginning of training camp. It’s the only vacuum in the schedule (something I’m sure the league is working on).
So I encourage you to do a little reading. And if you want to understand the nuances of the game a bit better, you should start with “Take Your Eye Off the Ball’’ by Pat Kirwan, then follow up with the just-released “The Essential Smart Football’’ by Chris B. Brown.
Kirwan, a former personnel executive featured on NFL.com and Sirius NFL Radio, released his book a few years ago, and it’s a terrific primer. It gives you a real insider’s look at not only schemes and techniques, but how and why the NFL is run the way it is.
Brown’s book, which features some of his work from Grantland.com and also his smartfootball.com blog, is a bit more advanced, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Patriots fans will be interested in the chapters involving their team: on how the Patriots use Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez to thwart the Jets; on Tom Brady and the no-huddle attack; and how they can use Vince Wilfork to play two different styles of defense — one-gap and two-gap — during the same play.
There is also mention of Hernandez in the chapter about Urban Meyer’s offense at Florida, and of Wes Welker in a section describing the rise of the innovative version of the Air Raid offense by then-Texas Tech coach Mike Leach. Leach replaced the running back in the BYU Air Raid offense with a slot receiver who just happened to be Welker.
“Indeed, a lot of the evolution of Leach’s offense at Tech was designed around ways to play to Welker’s strengths, whether it was running stick concepts to his side . . . or using four vertical [routes] with an immediate read element to play to his natural ability to find creases in the defense wherever they are,’’ Brown wrote.
Sound familiar? That’s exactly how Welker thrives in the Patriots offense.
Practice restrictions create pressing issue
Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer made an excellent point last week when he talked about the offseason practice restrictions on drill work when dealing with cornerbacks. “The one thing that limits us is we can’t work on our press technique with the corners,’’ he said. “Everything is free-access throw. For some of the guys, it is good to work on off coverage. If we want to be real good, we have to press people, and it’s hard to do it by not practicing it.’’ Under the new collective bargaining agreement, there can no longer be one-on-one drill work between offensive and defensive linemen, and receivers and cornerbacks. That’s the way it should be. Since they aren’t in pads, more guys get injured in those drills than any others. And every team rushes the passer the same way, so no one is gaining or losing an advantage. Everybody has to wait until training camp to work on one-on-ones. It’s not the same in the secondary, however. Some teams use a lot of press coverage, others use more zone coverage. The new rules hurt press-coverage teams that can’t get that important one-on-one technique work. The only time they can work on it is during seven-on-seven or 11-on-11, and those are not true teaching drills; they are competition drills with coaches and players flying all over the place between plays. Another reason why pass coverage lags far behind the offenses during the season.
1. The Patriots should be commended for getting contract extensions done — first Jerod Mayo and then Rob Gronkowski — before players face free agency. Not sure why they didn’t do it previously. It makes too much sense financially for the team.
2. Gronkowski is the third client of Drew Rosenhaus (following LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson of the Eagles) to sign a contract extension this offseason that was criticized by some in the agent community for being too friendly to the team. Could be just jealousy. Rosenhaus, who reps more players than anyone else, gets a lot of that.
3. Don’t fault the Patriots for taking a chance on Chad Ochocinco. Physically, he can still be dangerous, though not as a field stretcher. They just relied too much on film in their evaluation and not enough on finding out exactly how he processes information. Lesson learned.
4. It’s still a ways off from coming to a head, but fans should be nervous about the lockout of officials. If this drags deep into the preseason — let alone the regular season — officials won’t get the usual prep courses and on-field practice before hitting the field. You think the NBA had issues . . .
5. Totally agreed with ProFootballTalk.com pooh-bah Mike Florio when he pushed for more uniform enforcement of offseason practice contact rules. Basically, there can’t be any. Teams get caught - the Seahawks were docked two practices - usually because of media reports. Technology is so advanced that there is no reason why practice film can’t be sent to a central source and evaluated every day by the Players Association and the NFL. Someone should be watching - not just the knights of the keyboard at one out of every three practices.
The Dolphins had some internal discussions about Ochocinco. They’ll need to figure out whether he can grasp their offense - also complicated and being installed for the first time - after striking out in New England . . . Newly elected Patriots Hall of Famer Troy Brown will be among 23 current and former players taking part in the NFL Broadcast Boot Camp at NFL Films June 18-21. The camp trains players for media roles . . . Congratulations to Blake Beddingfield, who was promoted to Titans director of college scouting in his 14th year with the team. He is well-respected around the league . . . You know it’s time for the NFL to take a break when Giants tight end Martellus Bennett does an interview shirtless to show that his “new’’ 291-pound body isn’t fat, it’s muscle. “I’m looking like Atlas, not Professor Klump,’’ said Bennett, who did acknowledge that his body fat is about 4 percent higher than normal. The former Cowboy, who signed a one-year contract with the Giants, is known for being a bit of a knucklehead. Heck of a blocker, though . . . Speaking of knuckleheads, Bennett’s former AAU basketball teammate in Texas, Packers tight end Jermichael Finley, had this to say about Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham of the Saints to ESPNMilwaukee.com: “In this league, you’ve got to do it consistently. If you’ve shown that you can do it one time, you have to come back and do it. They’re going to have to show me something.’’ This coming from a guy who didn’t play all 16 games until last season, his fourth in the league. He played 32 his first three years.