Fletcher Cox’s monster contract extension cements a new direction for the Eagles

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Earlier this week, The Philadelphia Eagles announced that they had signed Fletcher Cox to a monster six-year extension that not only reflects his level of play, but the belief the team have in him. The birds were smart to invest so heavily in a player both as young and as talented as Fletcher Cox, but the deal isn’t just about the 25 year old. The extension completes the transition into a new direction in Philadelphia..a direction that that has been subtly taking shape since the announcement of Doug Pederson as Head Coach.

The first steps were taken in the days after Pederson’s arrival in Philadelphia. The former Chiefs Offensive Coordinator  made it clear very early on that he wanted to draft a project quarterback to marinate in his scheme and one day take the reins of the franchise. With the perfect coaching system in place, it was only logical that Pederson fulfilled his vision and signed a quarterback who possessed all the fundamentals to excel in his hybrid west-coast Offense.

The next step came just before Sam Bradford saga. The Eagles didn’t have much in the way of cap space at the time in which contract negotiations took place, which led us to believe that Howie Roseman was being very smart in his way of thinking and not paying Bradford the money his agent Tom Condon believed he deserved. They penned Bradford to a two-year deal before moving up to in the draft to sign NDSU’s Carson Wentz..a move that proved to spark a brief controversy at the quarterback position.

It could well have been at this point that the direction almost began to form itself. With Wentz onboard, the Eagles had not only secured the long-term future of a quarterback they believe can lead the franchise to success, but had two senior quarterbacks to tutor Wentz until he’s ready to take the field. More important than all of this? In comparison to what the team are paying Bradford or potentially would be if he succeeds in 2016, the cost of having Wentz as the long term starting option with age, ceiling and fit taken into account is incredibly cheap. It’s that huge saving that allows the Eagles to spend so freely on the other side of the ball.

Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry, Malcolm Jenkins. It’s no coincidence that three of the players who were rewarded with new deals during the offseason are three of the most important going forward. By securing a leader in the Secondary in Jenkins, a ferociously dominant Fletcher Cox and the tremendous upside of Vinny Curry, the Eagles are beginning to put the pieces of a top-1o Defense in place..a Defense that will not only be impressive in 2016, but has the cornerstones to build around in years to come.

Lane Johnson and Zach Ertz? They are just as important. Pederson’s Offense is being built from the ball out, not the ball in. In Johnson, they are giving Wentz long-term security on the right hand side when he does eventually take to the field..in Ertz? A reliable tight end who not only produced a historic end to the 2015 season, but is regarded as one of the most exciting talents in his position.

In terms of building from the ball out, Pederson is much further along in the process than you might think. With Sproles not getting any younger and the injury concerns of Ryan Mathews, the Eagles have a stacked backfield when you factor in Barner and Smallwood. Sproles in his last contracted year and could save the Eagles $4.6M if not resigned. The birds have already turned their attentions to the bigger picture..giving Smallwood plenty of time to develop and potentially one day take the reins of what is now a committee backfield. If he doesn’t, the Eagles could be well compensated in terms of draft picks from potential trades in order to find that franchise back.

Isn’t it interesting how the position furthest away from the ball could be considered the weakest? With Matthews leading the charge as the team’s number one receiver, the Eagles currently have a mix of low-risk, high-reward receivers..from rookies to revitalization projects, and guys who have plenty of potential and haven’t yet been in a position to unleash it. It’s very much a corps that’s going to require patience and experimentation..especially in the near future.

The Eagles were set to have around $2.4M in cap space heading into 2017 prior to yesterday’s staggering extension. The likelihood of Sam Bradford staying beyond 2016 now Cox has signed a monster deal is minimal. The birds could free up $11.5M in cap space with a trade and he may not be the only player on the move.

Jason Peters? A degenerative injury hampered his progress in 2015 and with a potential saving of $7.2M in cap space, Peters could well be in his final year. It’s also no coincidence that with this “from the ball out mentality”, the Eagles solidified the right hand side in signing Brandon Brooks, attained Stefen Wisniewksi and drafted Isaac Seumalo to compete for a starting spot at left guard. With Johnson the heir to the LT throne, the Eagles have numerous versatile linemen who could act as effective, athletic plug-and-play guys until the team can afford to sign a long-term solution.

Suddenly, the direction makes sense. The Eagles are confident in the ability of Jim Schwartz and have spent massively this offseason with the intent of securing the futures of players to create a dominant top-10 Defense while the Offense establishes its identity..something that just would not be possible without knowing that Fletcher Cox is here for the long run.

Under Chip Kelly, the Offense was his identity. The players were pieces and the plays were predictable. On Defense, it’s much harder to create that level of success when you’re constantly putting your unit at a disadvantage due to excessive 4th & outs. So the Eagles had explosiveness in just about every position..but failed to utilize it.

By ensuring guys like Jenkins, Curry and Cox are not only secured, but their cap hits are minimal in 2016 and gradually increase over time, the Eagles are buying themselves time both on and off the field. The Defense has every chance of emerging as a top-10 unit which would allow Wentz to find his feet upon his arrival in the NFL without too much pressure on Offensive success. It allows the backfield to find its identity, the receivers to re-align themselves into a cohesive, efficient unit and more than anything..it gives Pederson time to build the team he envisions.

It’s easy to forget among the constant headlines, the controversies and the extensions that this is still Doug Pederson’s first season as an NFL Head Coach. With a Defense that has elite/elite potential players locked down for the duration of his tenure, it at least gives him time to implement his DNA on Offense and establish his coaching identity. With potential cap space on his side regardless of the huge extensions for Cox and company, Pederson can continue to shape his Offense after year one. It’s only really then when we will know what works and what doesn’t, what needs changing and what the real areas of need are. Once those are realized, Pederson will have the assets to improve the Offensive situation while comfortable in the knowledge that the other side of the ball will retain its heart and soul.

The Defense already has its persona. Mean, aggressive and simply dominant. The players who personify that better than any are now going to do so for five years or more. Pederson needs time to build from the ball out. Something that was done very subtly in the draft and will only become clearer and effective as time progresses.

The Eagles may have spent more than any other NFL team since the start of the calendar year, but they’re also much further down the road of progress than many are giving them credit for. It may not be reflected in current cap space and it may not even be reflected truly in 2016. But in the years’ to come, this team has every chance of becoming a legitimate Championship contender due to the attention to detail and drastic change in situation that occurred this offseason. The Eagles aren’t building to win a Super Bowl this season. They’re building a team that can achieve sustained success in the NFL. Signing Fletcher Cox to a six-year deal worth $103M was the final piece of the puzzle in establishing the foundations of a new direction. The Doug Pederson era is finally underway in Philadelphia.

 

Photo credit: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

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