Fletcher Cox couldn’t help but let out a chuckle.
Before trying to make sense of a peculiar two-day stretch in March when the Eagles released and re-signed him, the defensive tackle laughed for a moment.
In Cox’s first time speaking with reporters since the brief free-agency stint, the 31-year-old said his release was a result of a missed deadline for a contract restructuring.
“It was just one of those things where they were trying to get things worked out,” he said. “I knew the team wanted me here, but just, what we had, there was a deadline before we could get things done.”
The Eagles released Cox just before the $18 million on his previous contract was to become fully guaranteed. They eventually signed him back on a one-year deal worth up to $14 million.
Although the front office couldn’t reach an agreement with Cox’s agent, Todd France, before the team’s deadline, Cox said the two sides remained cordial throughout the negotiation.
“Everything was respectively professional,” he said. “I knew days or maybe a week or so before that we were trying to get things worked out, Todd and [general manager Howie Roseman] and the organization. It came to a point where, 4 or 5 o’ clock it was, I was notified by my agent and all that, we kind of knew it would go down.”
The maneuver saved the Eagles roughly $2 million in salary-cap space this season, an Eagles source said in March, but releasing the veteran will push significant dead cap money into future years. The new contract has two “dummy” years, which means Cox will count against the cap for at least $7.5 million through 2024, according to overthecap.com.
Cox said he received calls from other teams during the roughly 36 hours he spent available on the market, but he knew there was a chance the Eagles would figure out a way to bring him back.
“I knew that it was possible things would work out,” Cox said. “When you’re a free agent, teams do reach out. It’s part of the process; I get it. But the Eagles wanted me here, and I’m back now and getting ready now to go into training camp.”
Cox’s release came after a down season for the former All-Pro interior rusher. His 3½ sacks tied the lowest total he’s had since his sophomore season. His presence helped open things up for fellow defensive tackle Javon Hargrave to have 7½ sacks, but Cox wasn’t able to capitalize, even as teams started shifting more focus to his running mate.
Cox also expressed frustrations about the way he was being deployed by defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon midway through the season.
The Eagles already have begun reworking the interior defensive line, drafting former Georgia star Jordan Davis in the first round this year and using a 2021 third-round pick on Louisiana Tech alumnus Milton Williams last offseason.
Considering Cox is on a one-year deal, it’s possible this could be his last season with the Eagles. That possibility hasn’t changed Cox’s approach, he said.
“There’s no extra pressure on me,” Cox said. “I still train the way I train in the offseason. I still carry myself the same way. I’ve been here for 10 years. The team knows what to expect. They know I’m a hard worker; they know I’m a leader. They know I’m going to show up on Sundays. ... I don’t get too much into the one-year deal thing.”
The arrival of Davis also signals a potential shift toward more odd-man fronts with the rookie as a nose tackle. When Davis lines up at the nose, there’s a chance Cox, Hargrave, and Davis could be on the field at the same time.
Many teams that use schemes with two deep safeties like Gannon gravitate toward odd fronts because of the flexibility that an extra linebacker offers in coverage, but it requires defensive linemen to be more disciplined.
The change from a downhill, penetration-based system to a more read-and-react scheme was part of Cox’s frustrations last season, but he said he’s had ongoing conversations with Gannon over the offseason.
“I’ve talked to JG over the summer,” Cox said. “We’ve had a lot of conversations about a lot of different things. I think the biggest thing is just going out and putting us in the best situation as a D-line, the best situation to win the game, and to play on the other side of the line of scrimmage.”
Cox also said he has been embracing a mentorship role with Davis. The 6-foot-6, 340-pound rookie said he emulated Cox as a kid and was eager to learn from the six-time Pro Bowler.
“The little time I have been with him, I’ve been on him a little bit about just how to be a professional,” Cox said. “I’m trying to teach him to be a pro, how to practice, and how to handle certain situations.”