Banner understands how the fans feel during this very difficult time for everyone. He is waiting to see what happens next. He wonders how long it will be before a deal is struck between the players and the owners.
In the meantime, he stays busy running the business operations of the Eagles, which includes the blockbuster summer at Lincoln Financial Field and the preparations for a football season that everyone believes will come eventually.
"It's been very frustrating, with more anxiety, frankly, than when you are using this time to try to build a team in free agency and through the draft. I feel the same way the fans do," said Banner, who has been running the franchise's day-to-day operations since Jeffrey Lurie purchased the team in 1994 and who has been the team president since 2001. "I'm here because I love football. If I wanted to run a business, I would find something else. I'm here with a lot of other people who love football. We're all wondering what is going to happen and when it is going to happen."
Banner would normally have his plate lined with rookie contracts, with free-agent dribs and drabs, and with the start of training camp setup at Lehigh University. That, of course, isn't the case now. The work stoppage has lasted for nearly three months. All of the plans the Eagles have for the free-agency period are on hold. Teams are not permitted to contact players.
And there isn't much of a difference between how Banner feels and how the fans feel about the great game of NFL football.
"I'm like everybody. I have to stay optimistic and believe it will work out. But I don't know anything that anybody else doesn't know," said Banner. "I have a lot of faith in the league people in their understanding of what we need to get done and in their ability to deliver on that and in their appreciation on how important it is to be successful."
Banner hears the fans loud and clear. They have made themselves heard over and over again during these three months of non-football operations (other than the NFL draft). Banner participated on a Fan Forum Conference call with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell recently and fielded questions from Eagles season ticket holders. They expressed their frustrations loud and clear.
Banner knows the feeling.
"I'm sympathetic. They should be frustrated. I understand that. We have to figure this out. We have to get this done as soon as we can," he said. "I think there are some aspects to this situation where fans have a vested interest -- the draft, free agency, salary cap, competitive balance, things like that -- and they should have a vested interest. I don't think the fans care about who gets what share of the money. The people, and I'm speaking about Philadelphia in particular but it's true across the country: Fans are passionately connected to the teams and the joy of having the rhythm of the offseason is something that they cherish. The fact that they have missed out on it is not fair and we're going to try to correct it as soon as we can."
We could talk about it all day. How is it going to play out? (Banner doesn't know, but he is remaining hopeful) What is the end game to the strategies of both sides? (Again, it's all a guessing game) What are the Eagles' plans to improve this team once a deal is in place and we grow into the pace of business as usual? (The Eagles have an "aggressive" plan, says Banner, but it makes no sense talking about it before the team has a chance to execute it).
So here we are. Everyone is losing right now, and in Banner's mind, the fans are the ones hurting the most.
"Everyone involved has to accept responsibility that what we've done here is not fair to the most important people in what we are all doing – the fans," said Banner. "Hopefully, we get into the mode where fans enjoy being fans because they love the game, rather than having them feel the frustration that they feel right now."
You want to know what the Eagles are going to do once the doors open again, and so do I. It has been a long, agonizing offseason. Even with the June 3 hearing in St. Louis in front of us, does anyone know when the end of this work stoppage is in sight? The clock is ticking as the cadence of the offseason continues out of whack. This is usually the time when teams have their OTAs and then take vacation time before the thrill of the start of training camp.
The fans feel it, for sure. So do NFL executives like Banner, who is in the business for the love of the game and the challenge of winning a Super Bowl. The Eagles have had more than their share of success over the recent years, but they have not captured the Lombardi Trophy. That is the goal for everyone here, one that hopefully resumes in enough time to salvage 2011 and what promises to be thrilling times ahead.
In the meantime, there is work to be done for Banner, for the Eagles. The football side continues to prepare as best it can without the players on the premises. The business side has a summer of events at Lincoln Financial Field and a training camp and a season to ready for, optimism still there for football this season.