Joe Banner’s role in the Eagles salary cap management scenario…and MACH 10 analysis…

First off, due to popular demand, let’s congratulate the irrepressible BROZER for his winning ballot in the recent Eagles MACH 10 Challenge…a brilliant performance in which BROZ correctly picked Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry and Mychal Kendricks in his pre-Draft prognostication… To be fair, DR. FUNT had the same exact three winning picks also, but… since Brozer’s entry was posted prior to Dr. Funt’s, Brozer gets the nod…

A bunch of guys got no-hit and shut out, present company included… even the great Tommy Lawlor was 0-for-10… Guys who took the collar included myself (Lupes), Abe Linc, ATV, Poet, Eagle Nut, Freight Train, Dutch Rubb, PPW, Leo Pizzini, Spiffo, and Bruzer9.5…

Guys who came tantalizingly close to the prize were B. Quick, Boner, Genetic Freak, Palm Feathers, Brizorro, go_green (Prophet), and Harry Pianos, each of whom had 2 picks nailed down…

Those coming in at 1 pick correct included the great formerly fat JB99, Blasphemizer, Jerky, Fields ’69, Brizer, South Philly Ben, Kent Phil, Todd Orange, Hudson Hawk, BeanStalk, Somalia, Don Pardo, DDD, Afra, and Kenemeka…

Perhaps an honorable mention award should go to Prophet (go_green), who correctly predicted the drafting of QB Nick Foles…and Prophet was the only contestant of all who dared to make that leap of faith!

But back to Eagles football…

Joe Banner, “president” and money/salary cap/accounting manager for the Philadelphia Eagles…

There is a guy who makes sure all the moving parts of the Eagles conform to salary cap limitations…

Joe Banner is very good at one thing, and that is cutting-edge management of the salary cap, which he has overseen over the last decade-and-a-half. It’s the primary reason why the Eagles — although never winning the Super Bowl— have maintained a high level of performance in this century, earning nine trips to the playoffs in the past 12 seasons.

In many respects, the Eagles have become football’s version of the “Moneyball” Oakland A’s, using an effective system of determining values of all players and staying within their salary guidelines at all times to keep a contending product on the field year after year. Rarely, if ever, are the Eagles not in position to pounce on any free agent they really need without being forced to make some kind of drastic adjustment (such as cutting a valued player).

“From a cap perspective,” Eagles’ president Joe Banner said, “you want to minimize the limitations on a coach. You want him to be able, at the end of training camp, to pick the 53 players he wants to keep— as opposed to some teams that have to keep certain players because they cost less.”

“And you want to put him in a position where if he has an injury, he has the flexibility to go do something about it.”

Banner, 59, has long been considered one of the best in the business at what he does, despite arriving in Philadelphia 18 years ago with no experience whatsoever in managing a sports franchise. Banner was a clothing entrepreneur in Boston when his good friend Jeffrey Lurie in 1994 became the newest NFL speculator by purchasing the Eagles from Norman Braman for $195 million, considered a ridiculous sum at the time.

Today, Lurie and Banner preside over a franchise worth $1.164 billion as of last September, according to Forbes magazine.

More incredibly, Banner’s cap management has helped the football operation reach a mind-boggling consistency level. The Eagles have had just one losing season since 2000 and have missed the playoffs only three times in that span. Never under coach Andy Reid have they missed two years in a row. They finished with the third best regular-season win total (103) in the decade of the 2000’s while winning more playoff games (10) than their three NFC East rivals combined (eight).

Their cap management is achieved by a complex process of evaluating every player’s value and then getting the players to agree to the formula, resulting in long-term contracts that allow the team to have maximum flexibility from year to year.

Nick Fierro of the Allentown Morning Call has a brilliant piece on this subject today… it really is one of his best pieces of work ever.


Fierro writes: “That they haven’t been able to win a Super Bowl deeply disturbs Banner and his staff more than any of their most passionate fans realize. But the Eagles’ football version of Moneyball assures the franchise will get more chances than just about everyone else because there are no real down periods.”

This piece from Fierro rings especially true because Nick has been known to be critical of Eagles management in the past.

He details the Eagles philosophy of getting a deal done with a personal quote from Banner:

“It’s a very precise process of going through it with the personnel department and in our case with Andy on who we think are the comparable players [around the league] and when were their deals done and what was the value, and if it was two years ago, how much has the cap gone up since then to adjust kind of a present value,” Banner explained. “You look at their health history, how much of the deal is guaranteed, how much is paid out over the first two years and all those questions. And then you have a very football [oriented] analysis in translating it into dollars and cents.”

Wow, that’s already too much accounting noise for me!  But I’ll hang in for the chase…

Fierro explains: “Rebuilding has become an ongoing process in which the roster is turned over slowly but consistently, maximizing the Eagles’ football metabolism. Going up and down the roster, the Eagles are stronger now at nearly every position than their Super Bowl team of 2004-05, yet haven’t had to endure any long periods out of contention to get to this point.”

“This season, the second under a collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners struck last summer, the NFL salary cap is $120.6 million. The Eagles, despite all their offseason activity, including the emergency acquisition of Demetress Bell, are still well positioned to assure even more roster continuity. With more than enough space left to sign McCoy, who’s heading into the last year of his rookie contract, and the ability to easily get all their projected draft picks signed, they are in great shape once again.”

None of this assures success on the field, but it does guarantee that if the Eagles fail, it won’t be because they were stifled by any roster restrictions.

“The Eagles have always been good at planning ahead and not mortgaging their contracts,” said Andrew Brandt, a former NFL player agent and former cap manager for the Green Bay Packers. “They’ve avoided vicious cycles where you have to start over again.”

“I think the idea of cap jail and teams not being able to compete due to financial mistakes are becoming less of a concern than maybe 15 years ago, but there’s still a bit of an advantage to being well managed.”

Ready to pounce

The Eagles represent a perfect example of cap management almost every year.

Last season, for example, after a long lockout following the expiration of the former Collective Bargaining Agreement ended, the Eagles made the biggest free-agency splash of any team, signing Jenkins, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, defensive end Jason Babin, backup quarterback Vince Young and wide receiver Steve Smith, among others.

“Supply and demand,” Banner explained. “We realized that because of the rules from the year before, with an uncapped year heading into a lockout year, there were going to be an unusually high number of free agents and a little bit less dollars left in the league. … So the buyer has the advantage when there’s more players than usual and less dollars than usual.”

“So we went into it knowing this may be an opportunity to be more aggressive in free agency.”

The Eagles wound up turning over around a third of their roster, despite having won 10 games and a division title the year before. Although the approach was a departure from their usual operating procedure and perhaps was the reason why they stumbled on the field to an 8-8 record, they were able to get nearly every player they wanted. In that respect, they experienced tremendous success.

Their consistently good roster health starts with prudent cap management and ends with a philosophy that unfairly stigmatizes the organization as cheap.[Hence, the “Joe Nickels” shots…]

Truth is, the Eagles spend as much as they’re allowed just about every year—they just believe in spreading their money more evenly and not being trapped by any long-term guaranteed payments. For instance, that $100 million contract they worked out with quarterback Michael Vick last season amounts to no more than a two-year commitment. After this season, they can cut ties with him if they want without taking a significant cap hit and not having to pay him anywhere near $100 million.

The toughest part in the entire process, according to former agent Brandt, is getting all the decision-makers on the same page. “And that’s a tribute to Andy Reid,” he said. “He’s bought into that system.”

That system is simple, to hear Banner tell it. “I think the way smart teams look at it,” he said, “there’s three ingredients for being successful. You’ve got coaching, player personnel and cap.”

Banner first suggested that the cap is the least important of the three, before saying on cross-examination that the cap has a whole heck of a lot to do with the roster, at least the way the Eagles run it. Therefore … cap management is, by far, the most important component in play here.

“It allows you to go out and get better players,” said general manager Howie Roseman, Banner’s biggest protege. “When I came here,” Roseman said, “there was nobody in the league more respected [than Banner]. This was the person that I wanted to learn from.”

Fierro’s final take: “Year after year, Banner and Roseman execute cap and roster management to near-perfection. All that remains is for them to take that one final, elusive step.”

Thomas Jackson

About Thomas Jackson

Jax Sports Media has been reporting on NFL teams in the mid-Atlantic region since 2006. Thomas Jackson is its senior writer. Tom started covering the Philadelphia Eagles for the MVN Network in 2007. In 2009 he joined the Bloguin Network. He now also covers the Baltimore Ravens.