“We're terrific friends. There's no truth whatsoever to the things that have been said about Joe and I. We've had a great working relationship over this time. We've shared a lot of thoughts and ideas with one another, and obviously, we've had a lot of success doing it.''
And yet, there they all were Thursday — Reid, Banner and owner Jeff Lurie, along with innocent bystander and new club president Don Smolenski — trying their best to convince us that the real reason Banner is taking a powder has nothing to do with him losing a power struggle to Reid, and everything to do with Banner wanted to pursue “one more challenge in my life,'' even as his old challenge — helping the Eagles win a Super Bowl title — remains unfulfilled.
In typical ownerspeak, Lurie called the announcement “an executive succession plan.'' Which sounds a lot better than saying, “It was time for Joe to go.''
Truth is, I believe Reid when he says he and Banner are friends. But for the first time since he was hired in 1999, Reid's job is on the line. And survival trumps friendship.
Reid had grown weary of having a locker room full of players with bad attitudes because of the way they had been treated at the bargaining table by Banner. He tought a kinder, gentler approach was needed. At some point, probably right before he announced in early January that Reid would be returning for at least one more season, I think Lurie came to the same conclusion.
That kinder, gentler approach has belonged to Banner's former protégé, general manager Howie Roseman, who has handled all of the significant contract negotiations this offseason. He negotiated new deals with free agents DeSean Jackson and Evan Mathis. He got a deal done with All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy. He signed loyal and productive veterans Todd Herremans and Trent Cole to contract extensions.
Suddenly, there's no more bitching in the Eagles' locker room. Suddenly, it's a hap-, hap-, happy place.
“In the past, it's no secret, guys in the locker room, the media, even fans always knew the Eagles were a cheaper organization, for lack of a better term,'' Herremans said. “They got young guys [including Herremans] to do those [below-market] extensions early in their careers. The players were the ones who agreed to those extensions, so you can't really fault the front office. They were being smart in that respect.
“But it's definitely a little different feeling in the locker room now. Guys realize that if they play out their contract, they're not going to just get sent away. They now seem to have a take-care-of-their-own mentality.''
Agent Drew Rosenhaus tried in vain to get a new deal done for Jackson last year.
“The team really wasn't aggressive as it related to DeSean's negotiations until this offseason,'' he said. “I don't know if there was a power struggle or not. There's no way for me to know that. But it wouldn't surprise me, based on reading the tea leaves. I do know that things changed in terms of the Eagles' approach to DeSean after the season.''
Reid will never acknowledge it publicly, but he believes letting the immature Jackson go into last season without a new contract was one of the many reasons the Eagles missed the playoffs. Jackson let his contract problems affect both his attitude and his play. It had a ripple effect in the locker room.
After the season, Reid made it clear he wanted Jackson back. My sense is Banner didn't agree. Reid got his wish. The team franchised Jackson, then Roseman eventually signed him to a long-term deal.
“I've always enjoyed working with Howie,'' Rosenhaus said. “He definitely is a general manager who wants to get deals done, who really has a lot of energy and has a positive approach towards negotiating that, in general, works really well.
“One of the reasons we've been successful in working out deals with Howie is that he's really a straight shooter and he works at it.''
Both Roseman and Reid benefit greatly from Banner's departure. It enables Roseman a chance to escape the shadow of his former mentor and make his own mark as a front-office executive.
For Reid, it means he finally is a Bill Belichick-like king. When the Los Angeles Times reported in March that Reid had threatened to quit if he wasn't given more control, Reid dismissed it by saying that he's had “final say for a number of years.''
That was true and not true. While Reid largely has had final say in personnel decisions since Banner and Lurie fired Tom Modrak in 2001 and made him executive vice president of football operations in addition to head coach, Banner had a great deal of influence over many of those personnel decisions in his role as salary-cap wizard and chief contract negotiator.
While Smolenski will replace Banner as club president, he will have little involvement in football matters, including salary-cap management and contract negotiations. So this truly is Reid's ship now, for as long as Lurie chooses to keep him around. Which could be only one more season, or 10 more, depending on what happens in the next 7 months.
“There no longer is any doubt who the most powerful guy in the organization is,'' an executive with another NFC team said. “It's Andy Reid. And apparently, there wasn't room for both of them any longer.''
Said Rosenhaus: “I'm not sure what happened [with Banner], but it does look like Howie and coach Reid have proven they're very capable of running this organization themselves.''
Banner's mastery of the salary cap helped keep the Eagles perennial playoff contenders for most of the last 13 years. He disagreed with the popular thinking that a team had a 3- or 4-year window to win a Super Bowl, then had to crash and burn and rebuild. He structured contracts to help avoid the crashing-and-burning part. The Eagles have missed the playoffs only three times in the last 12 years.
But the cap no longer is the Great Mystery it once was. Particularly with a collective bargaining agreement in place through 2020.
“I just don't know what Joe brought to the table anymore,'' another agent said. “In terms of scouting and personnel, you get that with Howie. In terms of negotiations and managing the cap, between Howie and a guy like [manager of football administration] Jake Rosenberg, where is his value at this point? Especially if he's not on the same page as the head coach.''
Said another agent, who has represented Eagles players for a number of years: “There's no question that a lot of the Eagles' success, no matter how you measure that success, was because of Joe and his philosophies. The Eagles did things a lot differently than other clubs did, and that had a lot to do with him. But I also think their inability to take the final step [and win a Super Bowl] also had a lot to do with him.
“The way he dealt with things, the way he had to win everything, and the condescending approach he often took with players, that didn't help them. I just feel he could have done some things a little differently from the personal side that would've allowed them to have even more success than they did.''
Contact Paul Domowitch at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PDomo. For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.