It was the middle of the first round of the 2012 draft, and the Eagles knew the player they coveted the most, Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, would likely be long gone by the time they picked at No. 15.
They had a standing trade offer with the Seahawks to move to 12 if Cox was still on the board after the first 11 picks, but even that seemed like a longshot to Andy Reid, Howie Roseman and everyone else in the Eagles’ draft room.
“We didn’t really anticipate Fletcher being there,” Roseman recalled Thursday. “We didn’t think there was a chance for him to fall to 12.”
But somehow he did. Then, before the Eagles could officially select him, another trade offer arrived.
A tempting one.
“We were ready to make the pick, we had agreed to make the trade, and then we got a call from another team offering us to move back for a future (first-round pick),” Roseman said.
“And so we just kind of took a minute and just thought about Fletcher and what we projected him to be. And if he was that, how would we get that guy again?
“And all around the room, everyone agreed that to get a 6-foot-4, 310-pound guy, 35-inch arms, powerful, athletic, great character, 21 years old, we’d have to be in the top five. So for us, even if that future one was a 12 or 13 or 14 we thought it was a unique opportunity that we were able to get that kind of guy.”
Sometimes the best trades you make are the ones you don’t make. The Eagles felt so strongly about Cox they turned down an offer for a first-round pick in order to select him.
The Eagles went ahead and traded No. 15 to the Seahawks and picked Cox at No. 12. And in his first four years, he’s emerged as one of the NFL’s most disruptive interior forces.
On Tuesday, the Eagles and Cox ended a long and occasionally contentious negotiation when they agreed to terms of a six-year contract extension that will pay Cox more guaranteed money than any non-quarterback in NFL history.
The six-year, $103 million deal includes $63 million in guaranteed money and runs through 2022.
“It’s really mind-blowing,” Cox said Thursday. “You’re dealing with that much money, it’s really mind-blowing. I’m really, really excited about it.”
Cox, who would have become a free agent after the coming season without a new deal, made his first Pro Bowl after a breakthrough 9½-sack 2015 season.
He’s already considered one of the five best defensive tackles in the game, but he said there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
“I’ve got a ways to grow,” he said. “A ways to grow. I don’t think I’ve hit that ceiling yet. It’s going to start on the practice field. For me to be the player I want to be, it starts on the practice field.”
How does a $100 million player earn his contract? Cox said he can’t worry about proving he’s worth the money he got this week.
“I have high expectations for myself, but all I can be is Fletcher Cox and be really, really humble about it, come to practice every day, show up every day and let my teammates know I’m there for them,” he said.
“I’m willing to do anything to help this organization win football games week in and week out.”
Cox is only 25 and along with guys like Zach Ertz, Lane Johnson, Jason Kelce, Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry, he’s part of what Roseman believes is a crucial nucleus of young players the Eagles drafted and retained through second contracts.
That’s how the Eagles built the 2000 through 2008 teams, which won 10 playoff games and reached five NFC Championship Games.
Did the Eagles overpay Cox? Roseman said they couldn’t afford to lose him.
“He's got all the tools,” Roseman said. “We can build around Fletcher Cox. And the market is what the market is. You can try to distinguish this guy or that guy but it's hard to do that when there's more than one guy. We feel like it's just going to go up for him and that we're never letting him leave the building. And these are all his prime years.
“So when we looked at all those factors, it's a hard pill to swallow because of (the size of the deal), but it's also hard to find players that can change the game on either side of the ball and then represent what you are about.
“He’s got a chance to be a great player in the history of this franchise, and our responsibility is keeping as many great players as we can.”
Cox this fall will be back in the 4-3 front that he began his career in under defensive coordinators Juan Castillo and Todd Bowles as a rookie.
Although he had tremendous success the last two years, especially last year, playing defensive end in a 3-4, new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s system is really a perfect fit for Cox.
“You can expect me to be in the quarterback’s face a lot,” Cox said. “The way the defense is made, the way the scheme is, I’ll be getting after the quarterback. That’ll help a whole lot, getting back to 2012, my rookie year, going back to what I was doing.
“But I think I can play any defense. Whatever they put me in, I just have to adapt and adjust to it.”