How much longer will Fletcher Cox remain in the Eagles’ long-term plans?

PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 27: Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (91) celebrates a sack during the game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Philadelphia Eagles on September 27, 2020 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

The Eagles have undergone a turbulent offseason and left a trail of devastation in their wake. From a change at quarterback to an entirely new coaching staff, there won’t be much in the way of familiarity when it comes to next season. The theme of 2021 so far has been getting under the cap and it feels as though every highly-paid player has agreed to a restructure with the exception of one – Fletcher Cox.

With two years remaining on his $102.6M deal signed in 2017, Cox counts for 11.54% of the team’s 2021 salary cap. That will jump to 12.35% in 2022 when his cap hit reaches an astonishing $23M. There’s no denying that the Mississippi State product is one of the greatest Eagles of an entire generation, but how much longer will he remain with the team?

Howie Roseman has long targeted Cox as a potential restructure target but the issue with doing so is beginning to present itself. After consistently tinkering with the contract of the 30-year-old defensive tackle, the Eagles GM now finds himself in a situation where his prized DT will be earning more than Aaron Donald in 2022. Is Cox worth the hefty price tag?

At face value, it’s hard to say. Under Jonathan Gannon, we can expect an implementation of the Mike Zimmer cover-2 defense. The Eagles have $70M wrapped up in the defensive line this season, which is by far the most in the NFL. The Colts have $38M and the Vikings have $36M, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given the similarities in scheme.

What doesn’t help matters is that the team have struggled to find a consistent running-mate for Cox. Timmy Jernigan couldn’t stay healthy, Malik Jackson was given a very short lease, and Javon Hargrave eventually proved his worth after a very slow start. Hargrave was made the highest paid NT in the NFL last offseason, all but kicking Malik Jackson to the curb. But with Cox’s contract set to rocket in value next year, one has to wonder whether or not the team would consider trying to cash in on the Pro Bowler while his value is still high.

Howie Roseman did a fantastic job of finding cornerstones on both sides of the ball at the beginning of the Carson Wentz era. That era has now passed as have many of the players who were given sizeable contracts. The ones that remain either all have huge cap hits in the future or question marks over their health/production. Cox isn’t excluded from that.

He may have ended 2020 with 6.5 sacks, but the opening half of the season was worryingly slow for Cox, who had just 1.5 sacks in 7 games along with 4 QB hits…3 of which came against the Bengals and their cardboard offensive line. You can’t measure the impact of Cox on production alone, but when he’s rivalling Aaron Donald for a pay check it surely has to come up.

His 18 QB knockdowns in 2018 dropped to a measly 3 in 2020. His 45 pressures that year dropped to 21 in 2019 and 2022 one year later. It’s plausible that as Cox gets older that he isn’t able to fire on as many cylinders as he would’ve a few years ago…which is expected. But at the end of the day, the Eagles are trying to build for the future and having such a scary amount of money wrapped up in one player, regardless of who it is, is a concern.

It would be difficult for Cox to restructure again because he’s already been there and done that on several occasions. At some point or another, the Eagles are going to either have to pay up or pack up and given the sudden switch in mindset to accumulate high draft-picks for the future, it would hardly be surprising to see the Eagles at least explore potential trade scenarios within the next two offseasons in a bid to dramatically lower their cap and accumulate young talent with high potential who can grow into that role over the next few years.

Up to this point, Fletcher Cox has been excluded from all scenarios that don’t involve a happy ending. How much longer that can go on for is rapidly becoming a question that nobody really knows the answer to.

Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire