By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia (CBS)—He was often characterized as the cold, remote heart of the Philadelphia Eagles front office to the armchair pundits. He was the bookish, bespectacled scowl that burly NFL players feared in the negotiating room during contract time; the one who sporadically would speak up and cause ripples throughout the Eagles’ faithful.
But, overall, Joe Banner’s body of work as Eagles president has been a distinguished one. He is arguably the most successful, most accomplished Eagles executive in the team’s history.
It was Banner that was light years ahead of his contemporaries when it came to keeping the Eagles competitive in the modern salary-cap era. It was Banner that made Jeffrey Lurie’s venture to buy a flailing football team into a billion-dollar brand respected throughout the NFL.
Now the Eagles have announced Banner, who’s been with the Eagles since Lurie bought team in 1994, will step down as Eagles president to become a strategic advisor to the owner, and promoted chief operating officer Don Smolenski to president, succeeding Banner.
It seems that the choice to step down was Banner’s and Banner’s alone.
“It’s the time of my life to take on a new challenge,” Banner said. “I’m still here and likely to be here through this season, but it’s the time of my life that if I was going to take on a major challenge, and something significant in the sports world, it was the right time to do this.”
But it will be general manager Howie Roseman that will replace Banner in his responsibility in continuing to manage the team’s salary cap and contract negotiations. This structure has existed for some time, Lurie said Tuesday, and Eagles were just making it public that Banner has had a reduced role with the team.
“The evolution of this franchise with all of these young executives ready for all of this responsibility, you have a choice, let them go to other franchises, other sports, or you give them more responsibility and have real long-term stability,” Lurie said. “My allegiance has to be in the end to what’s best for the organization, because that’s what’s best for our fans. Long-term stability and promoting excellent people I think is the responsibility of the CEO and make sure that’s in place.
“There’s been no question that Joe and I implemented a plan after the season where Howie was going to take on the responsibilities that we would transition to, and he’s been doing it since the end of the season, so on the football side, this is nothing new. We’ve been operating this way for the past several months.”
While speculation ran rapid that there was a power struggle between Banner and Eagles’ coach Andy Reid, that perception was refuted quickly by Reid.
“I know what Joe has wanted to do and has the opportunity to do, now it’s time for another challenge, and he’s a bulldog, I’ve said that from day one,” Reid said. “The direction he goes, he will attack, he will seek, and he will defeat and make it right.
“I know there have been comments out there on conflict, and it would a sad note to say that there’s been 14 years of terrific conflict. We’ve gotten along as a group, we put things out on the table, we’ve shared, we kept an open book. We had a great time doing it, and we’re terrific friends, and in particularly, I know the things that have been said about Joe and I. There’s no truth to that. We’ve had a great working relationship over this time. We’ve obviously shared many thoughts and ideas with one another, and obviously had a lot of success doing it.”
Reid continued later to elaborate that “we always kept everything open and everyone has had a say, people have made a big deal that I had the final say, but we always made sure to keep it open and everyone was able to speak their opinion,” Reid said.
“Has everything been as successful as I wanted it to be, or we wanted it to be, no, particularly this past year. I take responsibility for that, and it’s not because of an extra person, or not an extra person in the mix. I think things will go well. I continue looking forward to working with Don and Howie.”
Recently, Banner has been more conspicuous in his absence from Eagles’ public functions like press conferences, in the Eagles’ post-game locker room.
Through the years, Banner often wore the badcop hat in the Eagles’ front office. At least when it came to the Eagles’ fervid fanbase, blaming Banner for jettisoning popular veteran players like Hugh Douglas, Troy Vincent, Duce Staley and Brian Dawkins.
Under Banner’s guidance, the Eagles built Lincoln Financial Field and the NovaCare Complex. Under Banner, the Eagles created the NFL template when it came to managing today’s salary cap.