For those who viewed the 2012 NFL draft as a litmus test of whether the Eagles would be playing for the present or the future in the coming season - perhaps the most critical of Andy Reid's coaching tenure - the selection of defensive tackle Fletcher Cox with the first-round pick balanced those competing agendas perfectly.

The Eagles were able to move up three spots to get the player they wanted, one who is expected to step into the defensive line rotation immediately, but they didn't have to give up very much to do so.

They kept their two second-round picks and their third-round pick and will play those cards when the NFL draft resumes Friday. Before the draft, general manager Howie Roseman said the Eagles intended to draft for talent rather than need, and the defensive line is one spot where the team did have some depth, although the tackle position doesn't have the kind of game-changer Cox might become.

"I think we have a pretty good defensive front. It wasn't an absolute need in the draft, so we decided to see how it fell," Reid said. "We were patient to a point and marked the guys we thought were top-notch and, when [Cox] started falling, we got excited, to be honest."

According to the scouting reports, Cox, at 6-foot-4 and 298 pounds, isn't just a space- filler in the middle of the defensive line, but a legitimate pass rusher who can create havoc from the tackle position. He's fast - the only defensive tackle to break 4.80 in the 40-yard dash at the draft combine - and can even play on the outside if the Eagles occasionally use a three-man front in obvious passing situations.

Taking Cox not only strengthens the line under position coach Jim Washburn, but it plays to one of Reid's fundamental philosophies.

"I've said it for so many years here that I think you win games up front. If you can perform up front, whether it's offensive or defensive line, you make everybody better. That's just how it works," Reid said. "In this case, with the defensive line, it puts a tremendous urgency on the quarterback to make decisions. There are very few quarterbacks who can throw the football when they have someone right in their face."

In the last 10 years, when the Eagles have kept their first-round draft choice, they have taken either an offensive lineman or a defensive lineman with their top pick seven out of eight times. Maybe there have been subtle shifts of power within the inner workings of the organization, but that philosophy hasn't changed at all.

"I told Andy when I came back from working him out in Starkville that he's the biggest 298-pounder I've ever seen," Washburn said. "He's quick and he's athletic. He's just a really good football player. A good prospect. He's a better prospect than he is a player at this point."

Regardless of that assessment, both Reid and Washburn expect Cox to be on the field from the start, adding to a tackle position that already has Mike Patterson, Cullen Jenkins, Derek Landri, and Antonio Dixon.

Other positions on the field appear to need more help - linebacker, safety, and maybe some more depth for the offensive line - but that wouldn't have been in keeping with the idea of taking the best player available, and that is what the organization believes it did. There were high-fives all around the draft room when, shortly after Kansas City passed on Cox to take nose tackle Dontari Poe, the Eagles traded up to the 12th spot to grab the player they wanted.

"We thought he'd be a top 6 or 7 pick," Reid said. "When he dropped, we started making calls. We honed in on what we wanted to spend. It was crazy. A safety went up high. A linebacker went up high. It worked out."

They got what they wanted for an exchange of first-round position with the Seahawks and for the additional price of a fourth-round and sixth-round pick. That was how far they were willing to go, and if Seattle held out for more, then the Eagles probably would have sat tight and taken the next best guy on their board.

As it was, however, they didn't have to. Washburn was ecstatic. He had met Cox and put him through an extensive workout at the Mississippi State campus. The two had lunch and hit it off, talking mostly about pickup trucks and deer hunting, according to Washburn.

"He's a nice kid, soft-spoken. He'll fit in," Washburn said.

Maybe the first night of the draft didn't reveal any great secrets about how the rest of the selection process will go, but as a litmus test of the team's direction it did show that getting the best players is always a pretty good idea. The Eagles think they did that, and for one night, that is all that matters.

Contact Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com.
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