Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Fletcher Cox should be more of a household name. However, most NFL fans do not know how good Cox actually is. The Eagles first preseason game has passed. Its already clear that Cox will continue to cause chaos in the backfield. The former Mississippi State Bulldog started off his 2016 preseason by stripping James Winston and recovering the fumble. During the off-season, the Eagles made a very smart choice to extend Cox’s contract. They made him the second-highest paid non-quarterback in league history. Cox is fresh off his first Pro Bowl appearance, he signed a new mega contract, but for some reason people are still unaware of what he is capable of. Cox is still vastly underrated. In 2016, Cox has the chance to show the NFL he is a superstar, and how dominant of a defensive player he truly can be.
Philadelphia Eagles Fletcher Cox is a Superstar
If you ask the average NFL fan if Fletcher Cox deserves to be the second-highest paid non-quarterback they will answer no. And Cox’s stats from last season will just reinforce the notion he doesn’t deserve that much money. In 2015, Cox finished with 71 tackles, 9.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles. While those are Pro Bowl worthy numbers, they probably don’t justify the extension Cox received.
To truly understand why the Eagles gave Cox that big of a contract extension you must take a further look into some of the things he had to deal with his first four seasons. As a rookie Cox played nine games, and finished with 5.5 sacks and one forced fumble. Although those aren’t the most gaudy numbers, a rookie tallying 5.5 sacks in only nine games is pretty impressive. It looked as if Cox’s numbers would only increase each season, but then his job on the defensive line changed completely heading into his sophomore season.
Change in Defensive Philosophy
Heading into the 2013 season, the Eagles fired longtime head coach Andy Reid and hired offensive guru Chip Kelly. When Kelly was hired he brought along Billy Davis to be his defensive coordinator. That hire lead to Cox being used improperly. Davis ran a 3-4 defense, which requires each defensive lineman to cover two gaps. Because of this, Cox’s sack totals dropped in the 2013 and 2014 seasons to three and four, respectively.
J.J. Watt plays in a 3-4 and puts up monster sack totals, so the question may be asked, “why can’t Cox do the same?” The answer to that question is simple. Cox is used to protect against the run much more than Watt. He is also much more effective in that capacity. In 2015, Cox broke out as a top tier defensive player in the league. He posted career highs in almost every stat category. To put up the numbers Cox did in 2015 in the defensive scheme he played in speaks to the caliber of player he is.
Some Believe Cox Still Does Not Deserve Contract Extension
Even after looking at the stats from Cox’s breakout season people are still going to say “he is not worth the money they are going to give him.” For most NFL fans, the only players worth that much money are the superstar quarterbacks. The most likely reason the Eagles gave Cox the contract extension they did was to reward him not for what he has done, but for what he will become. Chip Kelly was shown the door at the end of the 2015 season and Billy Davis was sent packing with him.
The Eagles then hired “Andy Reid 2.0,” Doug Pederson. He made the wise choice to hire Jim Schwartz as Philly’s defensive coordinator. Schwartz is made to be a defensive coordinator, not a head coach. The hiring of Jim Schwartz justifies the Eagles decision to give Cox a massive payday. Schwartz has not only coached top tier defenses during his time with the Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills; he also employs a 4-3 defense. This means Cox, depending on the play call, can focus on getting to the quarterback which he excels at. When Cox was allowed to forget covering “2 gaps” and just go after the quarterback last season, he was almost unstoppable. The switch to a 4-3 will allow Cox to focus on one thing. That should mean less double teams for Cox, who was swarmed with double teams all of 2015.
Cox Will Prove Himself in 2016
Of course, an injury or unforeseen decline in play could make the Eagles decision to give Cox a monumental payday a tough pill to swallow. Cox must continue to play at this level and the numbers will do the talking. The combination of his continued growth as a player and switch to the 4-3 scheme will make Cox a household name this season. It would not be surprising to see Cox’s sack total reach 15 this season. He should also to be on his way to his second straight Pro Bowl. He might not be a flashy quarterback or wide receiver, but Fletcher Cox is a superstar. That will become widely known in 2016.