Fletcher Cox became somewhat of a mystery on cleanout day after a disappointing end to the 2023 season for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Cox, a pending unrestricted free agent, himself had no answers regarding his future, and some of his teammates, most notably nose tackle Jordan Davis, went to the past tense when speaking about the six-time Pro Bowl selection who has developed into one of the best defensive players in franchise history.
The word “retirement” was even thrown about by some behind the scenes, a nod to Cox’s veteran status. Should he decide to play in 2024, it will be the Mississippi State product’s 13th season and he will turn 34 by the end of it.
None of that should throw Philadelphia off at all because the organization has been and continues to go through this sort of thing each year with All-Pro center Jason Kelce and has similar decisions to make when the calendar turns for Cox’s locker-room neighbor Brandon Graham.
The Graham decision is far easier for the Eagles, however, because he’s farther along, has a clear goal in his head (15 seasons with the same team that drafted him), and will come cheaper for the organization (another $5 million should get it done for a player who still contributes positively on a pitch count).
This week while doing the rounds on radio row at Super Bowl week, Cox seemed to at least somewhat slow down the the retirement rumors when he mentioned to Cam Heyward that he wouldn’t mind playing with the Walter Payton Man of the Year winner in Pittsburgh next season.
“It’s all love,” Cox told Heyward on the latter’s ‘Not Just Football Podcast.’“Just respect that you got for the game, respect that I have for the game. The way that you play the game, the way that I play the game, like we definitely could. That would’ve been nice. We could make some things happen.”
The Steelers’ assistant GM Andy Weidl is also the Eagles’ former personnel chief so some dots connect there as well.
Last year Cox turned down more money from the New York Jets and potentially the Kansas City Chiefs before turning to the Eagles on a $10 million deal. Both of those organizations gave familiarity with Cox as well tied to Joe Douglas, Andy Reid, and Brett Veach.
Ultimately, Cox is a very savvy player and understands what has been going on in Philadelphia.
Despite using premium picks at DT over the past three years in the draft – Milton Williams (No. 73 overall in 2021), Jordan Davis (No. 13 in 2022), and Jalen Carter (No. 9 in 2023) – Cox remained the most important player at the position in the 2023 season and the one who played the most with 721 defensive snaps. The veteran also was effective, being graded No. 21 of the 130 DTs who played enough to be ranked by Pro Football Focus.
The knuckleball is that the young players Philadelphia has invested in have also played well. The immensely talented Carter was runner-up for NFL Defensive Player of the Year to Houston’s Will Anderson and was graded out as the fifth-best DT by PFF in 599 reps. Davis was No. 30 in 530 snaps, and Williams was No. 32 in 522.
"If I learned one thing being here my 12 years, the head man, they love the draft picks,” Cox said.
The strategy of building a roster also includes difficult decisions that involve valuation as well as evaluation.
In the latter category, Cox deserves to be back but when you include that he will want and deserve by demonstrated performance – another eight-figure contract – with all the other talent in the room, it could evoke a situation where the Eagles make the difficult decision that it’s better to give up on a player a year early, that a year late.
… Even a franchise great.