Joe Banner Is Brilliant

Even if local scribes still think he’s a jerk

It’s weird, the disconnect.

The clearer it is that Eagles president Joe Banner is a brilliant guy, the dumber our local sportswriters look. They like to beat him up. Owner Jeff Lurie, too. Banner and Lurie are arrogant and unlikable, especially Banner. Our local scribes cling to that line. At the moment, it’s making them look really stupid.

The Eagles bragged that they were going to take an aggressive approach in signing free agents this off-season. For a few days last month, once the lockout ended and it was back to business, nothing happened. Of course, that gave Angelo Cataldi and the local writers license to laugh at Banner and GM Howie Roseman, the little Jewish out-of-towners who don’t seem opposed to the idea that they’re a little quicker than most other people.

You know what happened: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Jason Babin. Vince Young. Cullen Jenkins. Ronnie Brown. Ryan Harris. Nnamdi Asomugha. Steve Smith. And more.

An incredible haul, even with a few players Banner and Roseman wanted getting away. Plaxico Burress had an Eagles contract in hand that he never signed.

Nobody in the Philly media seemed to know how this barrage could possibly happen. In fact, pretty much everybody was mystified, including other teams—Banner started getting texts from execs around the league wondering how he was affording all these players.

Then, a week and a half ago, I was up in Vermont, kicking back on Lake Champlain, and happened to pick up the New York Times. There, I got an answer.

The Eagles started putting together all these moves in 2008, wrote Judy Battista, the Times NFL reporter. That’s when the owners decided they were going to opt out of the collective bargaining agreement with players. And that meant 2011 would be a wonderful opportunity for signing free agents, and a lot of them, if you planned it right.

Here’s the deal: Last year, players who would normally have been free to sign with other teams—unrestricted free agents—could not, which made this year’s class of available talent a two-year pool. Much bigger, in other words.

But at the same time, many teams had boxed themselves in financially. That’s because there was no limit on what teams could spend on players last year, which brought many of them close to the reinstalled salary cap this year. But the Eagles had opened up cap room specifically for this year. They structured multi-year contracts in 2008 and ’09, including big ones for Asante Samuel and Jason Peters, with low cap numbers for 2011. Typically, it isn’t done that way—the low cap numbers come at the beginning of contracts.

It wasn’t all that difficult, Banner told the Times, “to figure out there’s going to be huge opportunity. You can’t have increased supply and reduced dollars and not have it. We didn’t know the names, but we did it to take advantage of what was clearly going to be a very team-friendly marketplace.”

To the Eagles, at any rate. The team came up with a long list of free-agent players they were interested in, a range of what they would pay for each, and then went after them fast. And kept going after them, as pretty much everyone watched in amazement.

Meanwhile, our local scribes kept up the local sport of beating up on Lurie and Banner, because we just find them so …  annoying.

For example: On August 9th, the Daily News’ Sam Donnellon returned from his vacation in wonder at all these new players the Eagles had gotten. So naturally he went on to write about how unlikable Lurie and especially Banner are. Why, Banner had the audacity to equate his strategy (whatever it was) to the Boston Red Sox’ GM Theo Epstein. Why not the Phillies? Well, we all know how jealous the Eagles brass is of their more successful rivals across the parking lot.

That’s the story?

Four days later, the Times clued us in to a different angle. And then finally, last Thursday, the 18th, the DN’s Paul Domowitch regurgitated what the Times had already broken: That this rash of free-agent signings, a quick-strike sweep that stunned the league, was years in the planning.

Imagine that. Joe Banner and company, as awful as they are, might actually know exactly what they’re doing.

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