Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox is widely considered one of the best at his position. Cox is a four time Pro Bowler and leads the league in fumbles returned for a touchdown. He’s made the NFL top 100 5 times. This season will mark his eighth year as an Eagle.
As the season starts, Cox’s season is marked by an injury sustained against the New Orleans Saints last year. He had to undergo foot surgery in the offseason, and sat out of practise throughout August. While he is currently a starter, the question around his health persists week to week.
His trajectory is on course to propel him into the Hall of Fame. How much could an injury hampered season affect his chances?
Fletcher Cox was originally selected by the Eagles with the 12th-overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft out of Mississippi State.
Back in 2011, the Philadelphia Eagles signed a slew of big name free agents, including Vince Young, who decided Philly needed a nickname — so he came up with one: The Dream Team. This team included newly signed free agents, defensive end Jason Babin, running back Donald Lee and of course, quarterback Vince Young. They combined to go 12-20 before Chip Kelly’s arrival in 2013, going 8-8 in the 2011 season under Andy Reid prior to Cox’s signing.
After the disappointing 2011 season, the priority for the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2012 draft was building their defense.
Philadelphia were struggling in the run game, so needed to add strength to their middle, especially after Dontari Poe went to the Chiefs. Fletcher Cox was exactly what they needed in the middle. At Mississippi State, he ranked fifth overall for tackles for a loss in the SEC in his junior year.
In his first year in Philadelphia, Fletcher Cox made the Rookie All Star Team after putting up great numbers. He had 5.5 sacks, 32 solo tackles and 10 quarterback hits. This was an impressive start to his career, and foreshadowed what was to come.
During his rookie contract, he was a key part of the Philadelphia rebuild after the team went 4-12 in 2012. During this time he had 285 tackles, a touchdown and 60 quarterback hits. The Eagles made the postseason once, and had two winning seasons.
As a result of his efforts, Cox signed a 6 year, $102,600,000 contract with the Eagles at the end of his 5 year rookie deal. This included a $26,000,000 signing bonus with $63,299,000 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $17,100,000. This made him the 27th highest paid athlete in the world and the third highest paid NFL star in 2017 just behind Andrew Luck and Drew Brees.
2017 Super Bowl title
Fletcher Cox was integral to the Philadelphia Super Bowl run. He set a precedent in week 1 of the season by returning a fumble for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Redskins. Over the rest of the games, he lead the team in quarterback hits.
In the division game against the Atlanta Falcons, Cox made the biggest impact of all defensive players. He sacked Matt Ryan and hit him twice, had two tackles for loss of yardage, and 7 combined hits. This success continued into the NFC Championship game against the Minnesota Vikings. Cox was part of the line that managed to hold the run game to 70 yards overall, after Minnesota had averaged over 120 rushing yards per game in the season.
The Super Bowl game against New England was less reliant on Philadelphia’s defense. The box score ended 41-33 to the Eagles, with a Nick Foles led offense tearing the New England defense apart.
Beyond the Lombardi to the Hall of Fame
In the season that followed the Super Bowl win, Philadelphia made the postseason again after another strong season campaign. Cox demonstrated why he was worthy of being the fifth highest paid tackle in the league. He had 10.5 sacks, 46 combined tackles and 34 quarterback hits, making first team All Pro.
He was injured in the second quarter of the Philadelphia divisional loss to the New Orleans Saints. His absence was noticed immediately, and the Eagles were unable to keep possession of the ball in the second half.
Despite his starts this season, his injury persists. Cox had surgery in the offseason and sat out until the week 1 matchup against Washington, where he only had 2 tackles. In Week two against Atlanta, he had an uncharacteristically quiet game, with the Philadelphia coaching staff deciding to keep him on the sideline to rest.
From these early glimpses, it’s unlikely he’ll put up the same numbers as prior seasons. Yet, it doesn’t look like this will affect his trajectory. He’s on course to be one of the all-time greats at his position. Hall of Fame Seattle defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy got 68 career sacks for Seattle in 11 seasons. Cox is 44.5 with 3 seasons to go to match this. Greatest defensive tackle of all time, Alan Page, had 168 sacks over his 15 year career, scoring 3 touchdowns and recovering 22 fumbles. Cox is halfway there for fumble recoveries, and a third of the way there for touchdowns. One season with his foot off the gas to recover is unlikely to sway him off his current course.
The 2019 season might not have the sunniest outlook for Fletcher Cox, but it’ll take a lot more than a foot injury to keep him from the history books.