Fletcher Cox can do whatever he wants | Bob Ford

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The Eagles' Fletcher Cox (left) didn't attend Tuesday's voluntary practice.

Fletcher Cox works for the Philadelphia Eagles. It is a job - a well-paying one - but still a job.

There is a good chance that by choosing this profession, his body will break down before its time and, by middle age, just getting out of bed in the morning will be a painful experience. This job makes it more likely he will contract a debilitating brain disease that will incapacitate him and, increasingly, it is becoming clear that those who play football die before they otherwise would.

So, very sorry to be the one to tell you, but it ain't all pep rallies and let's-go-get-'em for NFL players. They aren't fans. They aren't cheerleaders. For a short, sometimes very lucrative, period of their lives, they are workers in the meat factory, and it could end any time.

If Fletcher Cox doesn't want to attend a voluntary workout in May, that's his business. The same goes for any other player on the Eagles. Spare me the high school horseshoes about leadership and camaraderie and team-building. This isn't a bunch of Boy Scouts building a footbridge across the creek. These are mercenaries who really didn't care which of the 32 companies in their chosen field hired them. They just wanted the job.

When the regular season opens for the Eagles on Sept. 10 against the Redskins, Cox will be one of the starting defensive tackles. Is there anyone who believes otherwise because he chose to skip this week's organized team activities? Ask yourself if you would go to work if it were voluntary.

Head coach Doug Pederson gave the standard rah-rah about wishing he had everyone together for this busy work and was quizzed as to whether Cox gave a legitimate reason for his absence.

Poll

Does it bother you that Fletcher Cox is not at Eagles workouts?

"Well, the reason was satisfactory," Pederson said.

Here's the thing. He doesn't need a reason. His reason is written into the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the players association. Cox doesn't have to call Pederson and apologize or say the dog ate his offseason calendar.

Cox wasn't the only one missing when OTAs began Tuesday. Punter Donnie Jones, offensive tackle Jason Peters and defensive end Marcus Smith also chose to skip the sessions. Jones and Peters are distinguished veterans, and that didn't cause much grumbling. Smith is thinking whatever he's thinking.

But it was Cox who got the brunt of attention for being marked absent, apparently because he is considered a major cog on the team and because he's getting paid for it. When Howie Roseman talked about the roster, he always said the team was being built around a 24-year-old quarterback and a 26-year-old defensive tackle. Was that six-year, $103 million contract extension supposed to buy more than just attendance when required?

The team has a right to think so, one supposes, but even that contract - which was rolled out with flourishes and the crash of cymbals - is a bit of a bait-and-switch. It is structured so that the Eagles can get out of it easily after three years, certainly four, when the dead salary-cap number for releasing Cox is minuscule relative to the salary remaining. It is probable that Cox will get $50 million to 60 million out of the deal, which is an awful lot of money, but he has no chance of collecting the headline figure. And by the time he is released, who can say what toll the game will have taken on him. Does $50 million buy you a new brain?

It's true that running around this week in shorts, doing non-contact drills, is not much of a danger to anyone. Someone could wrench a knee or pull a hamstring, but that's about it. That also isn't the point.

The point is that Fletcher Cox has the right to be in the Caribbean, if that is his choice. He has the right to post pictures of the sun high over the blue water and a rum drink in his hand, if that moves him. He has the right to be anywhere on earth aside from the fields of the NovaCare Complex, if that makes him happy.

The game of football has given Cox that ability to be happy when the time is his. Like it or not, that time includes this week. Eventually, the experience of playing football makes many of them unhappy, long after no one remembers which uniform they wore or how many May walk-throughs they attended.

bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports