The Philadelphia Eagles have signed multiple players to long-term contracts this offseason, and defensive lineman Fletcher Cox became the latest on Monday. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported it’s a six-year deal for $103 million, but as always with a big NFL contract that total is a facade and Cox will get $63 million guaranteed in his new deal.
Cox had the best season of his career in 2015, setting career-highs in sacks (9.5) and tackles (71) along with three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. The analytics angle also thinks highly of him, as Pro Football Focus graded Cox as their second-best 3-4 defensive end in 2015 (behind J.J. Watt) as well as ninth among 123 qualified interior defensive lineman.
The $63 million in guaranteed money is the most ever given to a non-quarterback in league history. While it can and will be debated if Cox is worth that kind of investment, the contract’s impact on the overall market for front-seven defenders is in line to be big.
Contract talks between franchise-tagged Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller and the Denver Broncos reached a new point last week, with Miller reportedly rejecting a six-year, $114.5 million deal that included $39.8 million guaranteed. Miller may now have another reason to dig in further in contract talks, including the possibility of sitting out all or part of the 2016 season. The Broncos surely want to work closer to the franchise tag number of $14.1 million, in terms of average annual value in a long-term deal, but that seems to be out the window now.
A better comp for Cox is Muhammad Wilkerson, who is looking for a long-term contract from the New York Jets and may sit out into training camp. Wilkerson is also a top-level 3-4 defensive end, but like Miller he has not signed his franchise tender for 2016 and could theoretically hold out until Week 1 while still collecting his full salary. An argument could be made that Wilkerson is a more proven player than Cox right now, with two double-digit sack seasons on his resume, though he’s also a year older at 26.
Along with their NFC East brethren New York Giants, and the big contract they gave defensive end Olivier Vernon this spring, the Eagles have changed the financial bar for NFL defensive players who are set to cash in on a second contract. Other teams now have to up the ante until further notice, for better or worse.