Well, so much for the trade rumors.
Veteran superstar defensive tackle Fletcher Cox has been released. The shocking move threatens to fracture the fabric of the defense’s biggest strength. That being said, there is a chance that Cox returns to the Eagles on a restructured deal. However, releasing the big man to consolidate salary could prove to backfire on the Eagles.
We look at why the Eagles chose to make this move, what it can mean and what they will need to do to replace his presence if they cannot renegotiate terms.
Why Was Cox Released?
Put simply, Fletcher Cox was released to potentially save money and ultimately create cap flexibility. According to Mike Garafolo, cutting the defender avoids an $18 million salary guarantee. Furthermore, it keeps the door open for them to still renegotiate with Cox and iron out another deal that is more team friendly.
Reportedly, the Eagles are making progress on a deal to bring back Fletcher Cox on a one-year, $14 million contract according to Mike Garafolo.
Admittedly, the risk may be something that the Eagles were only willing to take due to the down year that Cox had last season. While he was still an effective lineman, he snapped his six-year streak of Pro Bowl selections. They had not been shy about shopping him on the trade market but perhaps did not get offers that were compelling enough to completely depart from the superstar.
Cox struggled mightily with the Eagles’ new defensive scheme in 2021. The first-year defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon implemented a more conservative playstyle that Cox expressed frustration with publicly. The defense, bolstered by a more time-effective run-first offense, did make a stark turnaround in the second half of the season.
This turnaround was led by Cox, who in his final three starts had eight pressures, 2.5 sacks, and three tackles for loss. It seems a pity to potentially not retain him as he began to find comfort and excel in the scheme later in the season.
What Will It Take To Keep Him?
Cox is now 31 years old and is likely looking for a mid-length deal that still reflects his production level. After not having an extremely productive 2021, he will look to piggyback off the home stretch of the season which saw him return to form nicely.
Look for the Eagles to find a deal that is team friendly and offer a three to a four-year deal at a sound $13-17 million range. The deal will likely be offered in a manner that allows for continued cap flexibility and manipulation. The Eagles have depth issues across the defense and do not want this deal to compromise their ability to plug those holes.
Who Will The Eagles Need To Fend Off?
There are plenty of teams across the NFL that will attempt to grab Cox off the market. Not only does he likely still have productive years ahead, but he is a terrific leader that can be invaluable in the development of a young defensive lineman. Two teams, in particular, will be strong in the market for Cox.
The most obvious threat is The Los Angeles Chargers. They are on a spending spree currently, namely on the defensive side of the ball:
- J.C. Jackson CB (FA)
- Khalil Mack EDGE (Trade)
- Sebastian Joseph-Day DT (FA)
- Christian Covington DL (FA)
The addition of Fletcher Cox could make this the most feared front in the league. It allows the Chargers to create a four-man front of Fletcher Cox, Sebastian Joseph-Day, Khalil Mack, and Joey Bosa. This will categorically put fear into the heart of every offense in the NFL.
In this context, the Chargers give him the best chance to compete for a Super Bowl and also simultaneously produce effectively. He is much more effective in an aggressive defense, and head coach Brandon Staley is not shy about taking risks.
Alternatively, Cox may choose to look elsewhere in the same division at the Las Vegas Raiders. The Raiders have Mason Crosby and new addition Chandler Jones on the edges of their front, and just need to improve the interior. Cox can provide significant push up the middle and thrive being aggressive with two premier edge rushers collapsing the pocket.
Cap space may be a limiting factor at some point for the Raiders after they splashed out on superstar receiver Davante Adams. Cox would be a significant upgrade to the interior of their line if the Raiders can afford it.
Who Steps In If Cox Is Gone?
If worse comes to worst and the Eagles permanently lose Fletcher Cox, they have ways to attempt to replace his production. Although his experience and veteran savvy cannot be quantified, the Eagles have avenues to replace elements of his strengths.
The first point of call for the Eagles will be the NFL Draft. Philadelphia has three first-round picks, and it will not be surprising to see the team use one on an interior defensive lineman. They have consistently prioritized the trenches throughout Howie Roseman’s tenure.
Available as premium options in the first round will be Georgia Bulldog teammates Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt. The Eagles’ reliance on their front four to generate pressure may steer them towards Wyatt as a better fit and higher upside player.
Wyatt had a terrific 84.0 PFF (Pro Football Focus) pass-rush grade, as well as an 81.9 PFF run grade. In juxtaposition, Davis had an almost identical 81.8 PFF run grade, but a 69.0 PFF pass-rush grade. The combine certainly helped to show the potential for Davis to develop further versatility, due to his 4.78 40-yard dash, but Wyatt seems like the choice here.
If the Eagles would prefer to use their first-round picks on other areas of need, Travis Jones could be a source of second-round value. Projected by PFF to go in the third round, the Eagles should not wait and snatch him at the 51st overall pick. The Connecticut Husky product had a staggering 86.8 PFF run grade. He can contribute against the pass also indicated by his 78.8 PFF pass-rush grade. Jones had 7.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in 11 games. He also has great physical traits at 6’5″ and 333 lbs.
Could They Replace Him In A Trade?
On the trade market, the Eagles could go after John Franklin-Myers. The 25-year-old player has significant promise yet may drop snaps to Carl Lawson and a possible draft choice. The Jets figure to potentially take a premier edge talent with one of their two top-ten picks.
The Eagles could slide Franklin-Myers permanently to tackle to allow him to flourish as a pocket pusher. He had 25 pressures and six sacks in 2021, as well as six tackles for loss. With the Jets likely to take a top-tier offensive tackle and edge prospect, they can afford to gain further draft capital by shopping Franklin-Myers. Look for the Eagles to attempt to pry him away from the Jets. It should not take more than a second-round selection and a future fourth-round pick.
Will He Stay Or Go?
Every Eagles fan reading this will hope that Cox returns. Hopefully, the Eagles can agree on a mutually favorable deal that allows the big man to return.
Prediction: Fletcher Cox signs with the Philadelphia Eagles on a two-year, $25 million deal ($20 million guaranteed).