Image via DAVID MAIALETTI/ STAFFPHOTOGRAPHER Philly.com
Fletcher Cox is aware of the social media landscape. He has noticed his team spending millions upon millions of dollars to lock up the future core of the Eagles. Yet, the fourth-year player enters the 2016 season in the final year of his contract.
Despite playing out of position as a 3-4 defensive lineman, he set career highs in tackles (71), sacks (9.5) and forced fumbles (3), and earned himself his first trip to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl.
Next year, Cox will start as a defensive tackle, his natural position, in new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s attacking defense.
Since the Eagles officially hired Doug Pederson as their head coach on January 18, the team has doled out contracts to tight ends Zach Ertz and Brent Celek, right tackle Lane Johnson, and most recently defensive end Vinny Curry. Those contracts cost the Birds $159 million with $85.5 million of that guaranteed.
One can imagine what Fletcher Cox is thinking: everybody is getting paid but me. But if I were the Eagles, I wouldn’t be so quick to dole out the money that it is going to cost to sign Cox to an extension.
At least not right now.
As a first round pick, Cox signed a five-year deal with the Eagles in 2012. 2016 is the final year of that deal and the contract will pay him just shy of $7.8 million. Here’s the kicker, the Eagles don’t have to do anything with Cox’s contract after next year, as the team can easily apply the franchise tag to the defensive lineman. The franchise tag, which takes the average of the five highest paid players at his position. Following the 2016 season, the average would be approximately $14 million. That number will surely rise based on what the New York Jets pay impending unrestricted free agent Muhammad Wilkerson.
So the question becomes, why wouldn’t you sign Fletcher Cox to a long-term deal? After all, he is a top five player at his position, perhaps even top three. He is young and appears to improving every year. Imagine what he will be able to do when he is playing the right position.
But, the issue that remains is the terms of the contract.
Now, this is not to say that the Mississippi State product is not deserving of such a contract, but what kind of ramifications will that kind of deal have on the team? The Miami Dolphins are already in a predicament due to the enormous $114 million contract given to Ndamukong Suh last offseason. Suh, who counts $28.6 million against the Dolphins cap this year, will certainly have the team use the option in his contract to restructure his deal, which converts $23.485 million into a bonus. Suh is not the only defensive tackle that received a bloated contract and failed to produce. Washington once signed a player by the name of Albert Haynesworth, who quickly proved he was not worth the money spent.
By signing a defensive tackle to a mammoth contract, is it worth the risk of entering salary cap hell further down the line?
Cox is certainly worth the amount of money he is bound to get. Even more so, without signing him to a long-term deal now, the Eagles risk Cox increasing his value with another dominating season. But, the Eagles have many needs, including the most important position in football, quarterback. For the Eagles, it is not fiscally responsible to pay Fletcher Cox now, or maybe even in the future.