Fletcher Cox’s extended reps are going help his Defensive Player of the Year bid

Fletcher Cox’s extended reps are going help his Defensive Player of the Year bid

This spring, when Fletcher Cox revealed that his goal for the 2018 season was to be the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year, there were skeptics. 

Through three games, there are fewer skeptics. 

Because while Cox was already playing at a Pro Bowl level in previous seasons, he has somehow raised his level of play to a new level. He has three sacks through three games, but more importantly, he’s been an absolute game-wrecker for opposing offenses. 

It all starts with playing more snaps and a higher percentage of defensive snaps than he’s played in recent years. 

“So far,” Cox said coyly, “I’ve played a few.” 

It’s pretty simple: The more Cox plays, the more opportunity he has to change games. We’ll see if it’s sustainable. But if it is, the extra time on the field can only strengthen his Defensive Player of the Year bid. 

Through three games, Cox has played 163 of 187 defensive snaps. That translates to around 52 per game but an incredible 87.2 percent. 

Jim Schwartz noted that while Cox’s percentage is way up, his snap totals aren’t. He attributed the increased percentage to the minimal snaps the defense has gotten so far this season. That’s partly true. 

But Cox is on pace to play 869 snaps this regular season. That would be significantly more than the previous two seasons in Schwartz’s defense. Last year, he was on the field for just 66.5 percent of snaps of games he played in the regular season. In the playoffs, he played 86 percent. That’s the type of workload he’s taking on right now — at least percentage-wise. 

Here’s a look back at Cox’s career snap counts: 

2012: 509 snaps (48.6 percent)
2013: 885 snaps (73.5 percent)
2014: 926 snaps (79.6 percent)
2015: 983 snaps (81.0 percent)
2016: 772 snaps (75.8 percent)
*2017: 608 snaps (59.0 percent)

*Missed two games

You clearly see the spike in the Chip Kelly years before Schwartz came in and implemented the rotation (and a better defense that’s on the field less). But it’s important to note that Cox can play more snaps than he did last year. Heck, he did it for the three seasons under Chip. The question becomes: Can he keep the same level of play while playing that many snaps? 

We don’t have a ton to go on yet after three weeks, but the early returns are good. Cox thinks he’ll be able to sustain this all year if need be. He said he’s good with 50, 55 snaps, even up to 60 per game:

“I’m pretty sure I can handle it. I know I can. But we’ve got other guys like Destiny and Bruce Hector who can come in and know the scheme and know what to do.”

Cox proved last postseason that he can play extra snaps. He was a monster in the Eagles’ three playoff games on the road to winning the Super Bowl. But one of the reasons for his extended play this year is because of depth. Even Schwartz admitted the Eagles are missing Timmy Jernigan, who is out until at least Week 7 and possibly much longer. Without Jernigan, the Eagles have Cox, Haloti Ngata, Destiny Vaeao and Bruce Hector on the bench. While Ngata and Vaeao play, the Eagles have been hesitant to put Hector on the field. 

Fans have noticed a new level of play from Cox, but so have his teammates. They credit him for putting the work in to become truly great. Brandon Graham thinks Cox just needs to stay healthy. If he does, … maybe that DPOY is realistic. 

“Man, I’m telling you, the way that Fletcher’s playing right now is unbelievable,” Vaeao said. “He’s playing at another level. It’s crazy where he’s at right now. I think he’s going to continue to do what he’s been doing the whole season.”

That would be very good news for the Eagles. 

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How Eagles helped Nigel Bradham by cutting him now

How Eagles helped Nigel Bradham by cutting him now

The Eagles formally released linebacker Nigel Bradham on Wednesday, one day after it was initially reported that the team had decided not to exercise his $8 million contract option and a month before they had to.

Bradham’s contract requires the Eagles to decide by the last day of the 2019 league year — in this case March 18 — whether to extend his deal by a year and pay him $8 million in base salary for 2020 or not exercise the option, allowing him to become a free agent.

But by releasing him on Wednesday — a full four weeks before they were required to — the Eagles give Bradham the opportunity to begin talking to teams and potentially negotiating a new contract before the start of free agency, which is also March 18.

Now that he’s no longer the Eagles’ property, he’s an unrestricted free agent a month before all the other linebackers hit the market.

It's a courtesy that gives him a head start on the mid-March free agency frenzy.

The Eagles and Bradham renegotiated his contract in March of 2018, and that renegotiation ran through 2022 but gave the Eagles an escape clause in the form of option years after the 2019, 2020 and 2021 seasons.

Because there’s no remaining guaranteed money in Bradham’s deal, the cap ramifications are no different if they release him now or formally decline his option next month. 

Bradham will count about $5.3 million in dead money under the Eagles’ 2020 cap, according to Spotrac, instead of the $9 million he would have counted if the Eagles’ kept him.

Bradham, who turns 31 in September, spent four years with the Eagles and started 64 of a possible 70 games, including the postseason.

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NFL trade rumors: Why Stefon Diggs makes sense for the Eagles

NFL trade rumors: Why Stefon Diggs makes sense for the Eagles

On Tuesday night, receiver Stefon Diggs sent the internet into a tizzy when he apparently erased any mention of the Vikings from his Instagram account. 

We’re taking a bit of a leap here (gotta love 2020) but if this is Diggs’ somehow voicing his frustration with the Vikings it wouldn’t be the first time. And it would also basically be a Bat Signal to the other 31 NFL teams: “Come and get me!” 

The Eagles should. 

It’s funny. Before all those rumors began to swirl on Tuesday night, I was on NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Quick Slants and was asked for one potential trade target for the Birds. The name I gave was Diggs. He made sense even before this. While there’s no guarantee the Vikings trade him, it’s worth finding out. 

If you haven’t noticed, the Eagles are in desperate need of help at receiver. It’s why about 85 percent of mock drafts have them taking one in the first round of the draft in a couple months. But any player they pick in the draft is an unknown. Diggs is not. 

There are three big reasons why Diggs should be attractive to the Eagles: 

1. He just turned 26 back in November

The Eagles are committed to getting younger this offseason and getting Diggs now would kind of be like signing a free agent after his rookie deal. The Eagles have been getting older but Diggs would help them get younger. No, he’s not a 21-year-old anymore but he is arguably entering his prime. 

2. Diggs is already one of the best receivers in the NFL

Despite his targets dropping from 149 in 2018 to 94 in 2019 (ostensibly one of the reasons for his displeasure), Diggs still managed to have more receiving yards this past season. Since the 2016 season, Diggs has 313 catches, 3,903 yards and 26 touchdowns. There are just six players in the league with better stats in those four seasons: DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, Travis Kelce and Michael Thomas. 

What has been impressive about Diggs is that he’s been successful in different ways. After averaging 10.0 yards per catch in 2018, he averaged 17.9 (a career high) in 2019 and was a tremendous deep threat. Just three players in the NFL had a higher yards-per-catch average in 2019. 

The Eagles certainly saw what he can do. In Week 6 against the Birds, he had his best game of the 2019 season. He caught seven passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns. That was the only time this season he was targeted over 10 times in a game. 

3. Diggs is relatively cost-controlled for another four seasons

While trading for Diggs will cost draft equity (we’ll get to that soon), his salary will be cheaper than that of a free agent of the same caliber because he’s already locked up. While multiple teams will out-bid each other for free agents and end up over-paying, Diggs has a contract that runs through the 2023 season and it’s a very reasonable contract. By the end of it, there’s a very good chance he’ll be extremely underpaid. Even though he just signed the five-year extension in the summer of 2018, he’s already just the 13th highest-paid NFL receiver in terms of APY, according to OverTheCap. 

Check out his base salaries for the remainder of the contract: 

2020: $10.9M
2021: $11.4M
2022: $11.4M
2023: $11.4M

No, that’s not exactly cheap like a rookie contract would be but it’s very manageable. And once the new CBA is eventually worked out, those prices will probably look even better. And there are some performance escalators written in, but if Diggs hits them, both sides would be happy. 

So what will it take? 

This is the big question. I think we all agree that Diggs is a good player and the Eagles would love to have him. But what would they have to give up in a trade? 

Well, the Vikings are going to start any negotiation with a first-round pick at minimum. They should. All those reasons I listed above are reasons why they should have teams lining up for Diggs. It’ll be interesting to see just how bad things really are between Diggs and the Vikings, though. There was definitely frustration during the 2019 season but he finished out the year. Is it bad enough that it’s an untenable situation? If so, then the Vikings would lose some leverage. 

If it’s a second-round pick, this is an easier conversation. The real question is whether or not the Eagles would be willing to give up a first-round pick. I kind of doubt they’d be willing to but you can make a real case for it. It’s easy to say the Eagles should just focus on the draft and take one of the many talented options with the 21st pick but there’s no guarantee they’ll hit. In fact, their history picking receivers, especially in the last decade, shouldn’t instill much confidence. They have drafted four Day 1 or Day 2 receivers since 2010: J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Nelson Agholor, Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff. 

None of them ever became what Diggs is right now. And there’s a good chance any player taken at 21 won’t become what he is either. 

Maybe GM Howie Roseman and the Eagles will be worried about Diggs’ fit in the building; after all, he has created enough drama in Minnesota to bring all of this up in the first place. Would that eventually happen here? Hard to say. This isn’t a no-brainer but it’s worth a call or two. 

Pick up the phone, Howie. 

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