Eagles Wake-Up Call: Reading the Cox Situation
It’s been more than four months since the first, big wave crashed ashore. Upon his return to power, Howie Roseman made re-signing his own the first order of business. Within a span of nine days, he handed out new deals to Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Lane Johnson and Vinny Curry.
Some thought Fletcher Cox was on deck. But days turned to weeks, weeks to months, and still nothing. The offseason training program is now coming to a close. The three-day mandatory minicamp begins on Tuesday, and as of time of publication, there is still no clear read on whether Cox is going to attend.
We’re nowhere near code red here, but the lack of resolution has left many feeling uneasy and wanting answers. We went out in search of them over the last few days, speaking to a handful of league insiders to try and get a feel for what’s going on behind the scenes. Here’s what we came away with:
Why are these negotiations dragging on?
The Eagles and Cox’s camp have both built arguments on solid ground, but in two different zip codes.
Todd France knows that he reps one of the top defensive players in the game. Cox is young (25), he’s ascending, he’s considered a great teammate, and he carries little to no baggage by all accounts. France also reps Marcell Dareus, who does tote some baggage. He has been arrested on drug-related charges and has faced team discipline, yet still netted a six-year deal last season that includes a $25 million signing bonus, $60 million guaranteed and an average of $16 million per season.
At the end of the current year, estimates suggest that the salary cap may be $20 million higher than it was when Dareus inked his deal. It makes sense on multiple fronts that France would shoot north of those numbers, and several insiders have heard he’s doing exactly that. The top defensive tackle deal out there belongs to Ndamukong Suh, who averages $19 million with $60 guaranteed. You can argue that Cox is a more desirable player than Dareus and Suh. With a rising cap, is it that out of line to want a deal that hits the $60 guaranteed and puts Cox near Suh territory?
The Eagles have a strong counter to any attempts to get into the Suh realm — he was a free agent at the time of the deal while Cox still has a year to go. That’s no small detail. The Eagles currently have Cox under contract for 2016 at a little under $8 million, and can place the franchise tag on him in 2017 if they so desire. It’s important to note that Cox will be considered a defensive tackle in Jim Schwartz‘s 4-3 as opposed to a defensive end in Billy Davis‘ scheme. The franchise tag for d-ends was $15.7 last season compared to $13.6 for DTs. If we assume the number for defensive tackles will be around $16 million next year, the Eagles will control Cox at an average of $12 million over the next two seasons.
If they’re going to take on more financial burden than necessary over the next couple years, shouldn’t that be reflected in the asking price?
Multiple sources indicate the Eagles have a sizable contract on the table. A safe bet would be around the $60 million guaranteed mark, and not far from Dareus’ $16 million per season. They have a solid argument as to why that’s fair; France has a solid argument as to why it’s not, and the dance goes on.
Will he show up?
Well, there was a photo snapped of Cox boarding a plane allegedly headed for Philly.
Doug Pederson says that he thinks “deep down” that Cox (and Darren Sproles) will report to minicamp, but had not received definitive word as of late last week.
Players are set to check in for physicals today in front of the team’s three-day mandatory minicamp. The majority of insiders we talked to did not think the minicamp would be a motivating factor. Others lean slightly towards Cox reporting. The Eagles were mum on the subject Sunday night. The suspense both for the team and the outside world has lasted up to the final minute, which is likely exactly how France wants it.
If Cox does punch in for work, it won’t be because of the $76 thousand in fines he could face for skipping the mandatory sessions. When weighing risk-reward, the best business decision is probably to stay away. With $60 million-plus guaranteed on the line, avoiding injury trumps that level of fine (which may not even be enforced). The impetus for showing up, rather, would be team-oriented — a gesture suggesting that he doesn’t intend on letting his contract situation keep him from doing what’s required of him.
If he skips this week it likely signals that he’s allowing France to do the driving, wherever that may lead.
Will this get resolved? If so, when?
Both sides are genuinely interested in making a deal happen by all indications. When that is the case, the chances of a deal (obviously) go through the roof and an accord can be struck in a day.
I do believe that the two sides will come to an agreement. Forecasting the timing of a deal is a little trickier. Deadlines spur action, as Andrew Brandt likes to say. The clearest one is the start of training camp. The Eagles don’t want this interfering with the season, Cox will be itching to turn the focus to football (while avoiding the big hits to the wallet for holding out) and the atmosphere will be right to strike a deal. There will also be opportunity in-season when a new contract can be beneficial to a team’s current cap situation.
The Eagles will soon be faced with this question: is the standoff worth it? The longer this goes on, the greater chance it becomes a distraction and that negative feelings between team and person develop. This is the best player on the team we’re talking about — a homegrown talent who has proven to be both a game-wrecker and a locker-room fit. How firm should they be over what could equate into about $10 million over the life of the contract?
Both Roseman and France (who have a good relationship, we’re told) can be tough negotiators, but Roseman has a reputation for being generally fair when it comes to contracts while France is known for honoring his client’s wishes. Considering both sides want to get a deal done, it seems like all the ingredients are there.
Then there’s this: some feel Roseman has been pretty giving in his deals of late. You can argue that he got in front of the curve by locking in the players he did this offseason, but not everyone agrees that he’s been the clear winner in those negotiations. He’s placed value in keeping his core players happy. And it doesn’t get any more core than Cox. Our guess, then, is that Roseman ends up giving before too long to put an end to the unrest.
WHAT YOU MISSED
“People say, ‘Oh, he’s too small, he’s too small,’ but just check my tape.” NFC East Roundup.
“Outcome: Bradford starts seven games before getting injured. Wentz takes over and never relinquishes the starting job.” Weekend Reading.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Les Bowen wrote a good piece on the Cox situation, and mentioned one plus as a result of the DT’s absence.
In the meantime, Cox’s absence has helped the Eagles get a better feel for their depth at defensive tackle, one of the positions most affected by the switch from 3-4 to 4-3. Beau Allen, drafted in 2014 as a gap-filling nose tackle, has pared his body-fat percentage in an attempt to be more viable in a 4-3.
Asked about spring standouts on Friday, Pederson spoke of “some defensive linemen in there that have really shown flashes of giving us depth at that position.”
Center Jason Kelce, asked Friday who has impressed him, said: “Mike Martin . . . has given tremendous effort, each and every day. I would be doing him a disservice if I didn’t point out how much he has stood out in these OTAs, the effort level he has brought.”
Tommy Lawlor writes about the positive vibes surrounding Sam Bradford right now.
We pick on Bradford for a lot of reasons, but the bottom line is that he is a talented QB who played well down the stretch last year. The Eagles were 7-6 in games that he started and finished. Bradford got better as the season went along.
With an improved O-line and a group of WRs that should be better, Bradford could also be better in 2016. No one is putting the guy in the Hall of Fame, but this could be a breakout season for him. The key will be getting off to a better start.
In the first 7 starts of 2015, Bradford only had one game with a QB rating of higher than 90. In 3 of those games, his rating was 66 or lower. You don’t have to be an analytics guru to know that’s bad.
Bradford is healthy in June for the first time in a while. That’s helping him to practice, learn the offense and build some chemistry with his teammates. If Bradford can get his mental and emotional health to match his physical health, 2016 might be a good year for him.
Josh on how Kenjon Barner fits into running back picture.