Three morning-after thoughts on Fletcher Cox's new contract…
1) The superlatives that go along with signing a big contract usually have a short expiration date. The description that Fletcher Cox received more guaranteed money than any non-quarterback in the NFL might have a shelf life until Denver's Von Miller signs a new deal – and the nuances of NFL contracts are such that "guaranteed" is different than "fully guaranteed" and "guaranteed at signing."
This is not to belittle what Cox received, but to point out that the top of NFL payrolls are usually fluid – especially with a rising salary cap and fixed rookie salaries. Two years from now, the deal will be trumped by a handful of new contracts. That's the way the NFL works. The specific figures of the deal matter to the Eagles' salary cap staff and Cox's accountant. To Eagles' fans, the most important part of Monday's contract is that the team locked up its best player through the 2022 season.
As is the case with most NFL contracts, Cox might never see the 2022 part of his deal. But he is 25. If the Eagles have him through 2020, that's through his age 29 season. What be a fair market value for Cox's age 25-29 seasons?
The notion that the team overpaid for Cox only holds up if Cox doesn't perform. But the terms of the deal were expected for a player of Cox's age, talent, and production. And when looking at what the contracts were for Buffalo's Marcell Dareus and Miami's Ndamukong Suh after playing in Jim Schwartz's defense, consider the alternative if the Eagles waited.
2) When looking at the Eagles' long-term spreadsheet, it's important to consider who will play quarterback. Perhaps the best market inefficiency in the NFL is a high-level quarterback on a rookie contract. Wentz's cap number during the first three years of Cox's new deal (2017-2019 will be $6.06 million, $7.26 million, $8.49 million. If Carson Wentz is as good as the Eagles think he could be, that's a bargain price for a starting quarterback – assuming Wentz becomes the full-time starter in 2017. It allows a team to allocate resources elsewhere, like Indianapolis has been able to do during Andrew Luck's rookie deal.
"I think it goes to not only the quarterback position, but it goes to all those positions that are high-cost positions," Howie Roseman said in April. "With escalating salaries, as you see in all these positions, if you get a guy in the top 10 [of the draft] who you have under contract for four - plus the option [year], it gives you some flexibility elsewhere, because those are high-money positions."
If Wentz is good enough to earn a lucrative second contract with the Eagles, then the team could feel the effects of what paying a top quarterback can do to a salary cap. But during the life of the rookie deal, they are the beneficiaries of the fixed rookie salary structure.
3) During the past few months, one argument that has been made is the Eagles have leverage in Cox negotiations. Cox was already under contract for this season, and the Eagles could have used the franchise tag for the next two years. But Cox now has a lower cap number in 2017 than he would have had if the Eagles used a franchise tag, and they also relieved the acrimony that would have come if Cox did not have a long-term contract.
It would be an overstatement to call this spring "contentious," but Cox wasn't present during offseason workouts. Would it have made sense to prolong that uncertainty for two more seasons when the goal was to keep him on the team beyond that window? That's why it made sense for both sides to reach a deal this summer.