PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles are taking a $63 million risk on defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. That is how much guaranteed money is included in the six-year, $103 million contract agreed to on Monday.
The deal was first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The $63 million is the most guaranteed money in a non-quarterback contract in NFL history. That is a lot of money for a defensive lineman who has 22 sacks in four NFL seasons.
But if the Eagles are taking a risk, it is a calculated one. They believe Cox can become the kind of difference-making defensive player that justifies the money he is promised.
Cox, the Eagles’ first-round choice in the 2012 NFL draft, is just 25 years old. He will not turn 26 until December. So this contract was negotiated just as he is entering the prime seasons of his career. Cox will turn 32 at the end of the 2022 season, the final year of this contract.
During his first four seasons, Cox earned $10.2 million. The Eagles used the fifth-year option on his contract to secure his rights for the 2016 season. Cox would have made $7.79 million on the fifth-year option.
But the Eagles made it clear they had every intention of locking Cox up for the long term with a new contract. Everything fell together nicely for Cox.
Howie Roseman, the general manager who traded up to draft him in 2012, was reinstated as the head of the Eagles’ football operations earlier this year.
Roseman quickly negotiated contract extensions for Lane Johnson and Zach Ertz, the Eagles’ top two picks in the 2013 draft. Roseman was in charge of the 2012 and 2013 drafts, and it was a priority for him to lock up the players he drafted.
Cox’s contract puts him in the same neighborhood as Miami’s Ndamukong Suh, who signed a six-year, $114 million contract two years ago. Suh, a free agent who had been drafted by the Detroit Lions, received just under $60 million in guaranteed money as part of that deal.
It is fair to ask whether Cox has proven himself at Suh’s level. The answer is more complicated than comparing the players’ statistics. For example, Suh had 27.5 quarterback sacks in his first four seasons, 5.5 more than Cox.
But Suh had the advantage of playing the same position in the same defensive scheme. Suh was freed up to pressure quarterbacks and make big plays as a defensive tackle in Detroit coach Jim Schwartz’s aggressive scheme.
Cox played in a similar scheme as a rookie in 2012 and had 5.5 sacks that year. The following season, though, the Eagles hired Chip Kelly as head coach and brought in defensive coordinator Bill Davis to run a 3-4 scheme.
Cox had three sacks in 2013 playing as a defensive end in a 3-4. He had four more in 2014. By last season, Cox had found his legs in Davis’ scheme and earned a Pro Bowl berth with 9.5 sacks.
Cox sacked quarterback Drew Brees three times, forcing him to fumble twice, in a game against the New Orleans Saints in October. Cox said he “never” remembered getting three sacks in a game prior to that tilt with the Saints.
In December, Cox had seven tackles and a sack as the Eagles defeated the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo coach Rex Ryan took notice. Ryan’s father, Buddy, coached the Eagles in the 1980s, when they drafted a defensive tackle named Jerome Brown.
“That [No.] 91 is a good player,” Ryan said after the game. “I was laughing when I saw him being compared to Jerome Brown, but I’m not laughing now. The kid is a pretty good player.”
Bills guard Richie Incognito appreciated Cox’s performance from a different vantage point.
“He is a great player,” Incognito said. “I did not play my best, and he beat me early and often. You have to take your hat off to him. He had one on me. He beat me clearly, and I had to hold him to get him to stop. You have to be impressed by him.”
This season, Cox will be back at his natural position of defensive tackle playing for Schwartz, who helped shape Suh into a dominating player and is now the Eagles' defensive coordinator. The Eagles also hired defensive line coach Chris Wilson, who coached Cox for three years at Mississippi State.
Everything has fallen into place for Cox to be a truly dominating defensive player. That is what the Eagles believed Cox would become when they drafted him. That is why they took a $63 million risk on Cox -- because they don’t think it’s much of a risk at all.