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No power struggle in Philadelphia; Banner merely seeking new challenge

by | Senior NFL Columnist
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There were no fake smiles in this conference: Joe Banner is leaving on his own terms. (AP)  
There were no fake smiles in this conference: Joe Banner is leaving on his own terms. (AP)  

PHILADELPHIA -- Let's get something straight: Joe Banner's departure as president of the Philadelphia Eagles was not forced, has nothing to do with the team's performance last season, has nothing to do with a power struggle and has nothing to do with conflict -- real or perceived -- with coach Andy Reid.

Nope, Joe Banner's departure is all about one thing: Joe Banner's ambition.

Banner made that clear Thursday when he said he needed "something more intense and competitive and challenging" to tackle than what he's doing now -- and, by his own admission, what he's doing now is spending "75 percent of my time managing the people who report to me."

So he wants something more demanding, and while that seems hard for him to define, it's apparent it isn't here.

It was once when Banner was in the middle of ambitious projects like the planning and construction of a new stadium or practice facility or the implementation of aggressive marketing programs. And it was when he was the team's only negotiator for promising young players who would become the nucleus of clubs that reached the NFC Championship Game four times in four years and five times in eight seasons.

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But that changed, and it changed so significantly that Banner first floated the idea of voluntarily stepping down when he met with owner Jeff Lurie after the 2010 season. Banner didn't say as much, but it sounds as if he got bored with his job, referring to it as "more passive now," and that can happen when you spend 18 years in the same place.

The stadium he helped plan was a success. So was the new training facility. And the negotiations and cap management he once handled -- and handled adroitly -- had been turned over to general manager Howie Roseman, now the Eagles' sole negotiator with player contracts.

Banner was OK with that. What he wasn't OK with was the next frontier ... because there wasn't one here -- at least not for him -- and at 59, he wasn't ready to assume what Lurie called "a slower version of retirement."

So he looks for the next hill to climb, and I know people who think it could involve part ownership of a club -- with Banner, say, the guy who pulls together a group of partners or plans the construction of the team's next home or gets involved with projects similar to what occurred on his watch in Philadelphia.

"What excites me," said Banner, "is doing those things people think are hard or difficult. It's more about waking up in the morning and [asking], 'What are you doing the next 8, 10, 12 hours?' Are you excited about what you're doing? Is it challenging? Are you making a real difference? Are you taking something and turning it around? Are you taking something that maybe was headed in the wrong direction and getting it in the right direction? It's just about what drives me personally."

Makes sense to me. Nevertheless, there are cynics out there who will speculate that his decision to step down was linked to a power struggle he lost with Reid or who will wonder if friction with the head coach drove him to the next exit. While that makes for good copy, it's not true.

First of all, Reid always had the power here, so Banner had no power to lose. When a decision is made, it's not Joe Banner who signs off on it; it's Andy Reid. And nothing changed there.

Second, despite rumors of a rift (see Asante Samuel), there was no fissure between Reid and Banner. I'm sure the two had their differences, but they worked together for 14 years, and each expressed admiration and respect for the other Thursday -- with Lurie later laughing off suggestions of a perceived conflict.

"I know the things that have been said about Joe and me," Reid said, "and that's not true. We've had a good working relationship over this time. We've shared many thoughts and ideas with one another and obviously had a lot of success doing it. I think the world of the man. Our families have been close and will continue to be close."

Banner is not leaving the team. He will maintain an office at the team's Nova Care Complex and will serve as something called "a strategic adviser" until he departs. When that occurs is up to Banner, replaced as president by the team's chief operating officer, Don Smolenski.

Reid's role will not change, though some speculate he will be more involved in negotiations. He won't. He'll be as involved as was in the past, which means he'll be called in when critical decisions are necessary.

The change will be with Roseman, who assumes more responsibilities, but that already happened. Where he was eased into negotiations on player contracts over the years, he now handles them. Nowhere was that more apparent than after the 2011 season, when the Eagles reversed their strategy from a year earlier and invested megabucks in their own players -- extending the deals of players like DeSean Jackson, Trent Cole, Todd Herremans and LeSean McCoy -- instead of unrestricted free agents from other clubs.

It's a blueprint that resembles what Banner did 10 years earlier, when the Eagles built one of the NFL's strongest and most successful franchises, and it's a signal that nothing much has changed around here. So what, on the face of it, first appeared to be a seismic shift in the organization really isn't one at all.

In fact, what just happened Lurie described as "old news" for the football side of his organization, with Reid and Roseman doing what they've done the past four months -- which is to oversee everything involving the Eagles' players.

I asked someone if this was more about Joe Banner than it is the Philadelphia Eagles, and he said it wasn't. It's all about Joe Banner, he said. The Eagles won't change what they're doing, but he will.

Simple as that.

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