By Mark Donovan
Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox seemed strangely ready to leave town — for Pittsburgh and not his Mississippi home — when he appeared on the podcast of Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Cam Heyward – “Not Just Football.”
Heyward asked Cox which team he would like to play for in the NFL.
“You,” Cox said.
Heyward was named the Walter Payton Man of the Year on Thursday night and is considered one of the top players at his position. The Eagles’ nominee was offensive tackle Lane Johnson.
“It’s all love,” Cox told Heyward.
“Just respect that you got for the game, respect that I have for the game. The way that you play the game, the way that I play the game, like we definitely could. That would’ve been nice. We could make some things happen.”
The Steelers landed former Eagles offensive lineman Isaac Seumalo in last year’s free-agency period.
Cox was drafted by the Eagles in the first round of 2012. He was named one of the NFL’s best players of the 2010 decade and has been a mainstay for the Eagles. He is 33 but will turn a year older during the season, in December.
The Eagles though are transitioning to a younger defensive line after spending their first-round picks in back-to-back years, selecting Jordan Davis two years ago and Jalen Carter last year. Adding Carter changed the landscape for Cox, and he seemed to realize it, too.
Cox played at an effective level last year with five sacks, 33 tackles, and 17 quarterback hits. He said during the team’s clean-out day two days after the season ended that he hadn’t thought about his future, though his locker was cleaned out.
“I haven’t thought about anything,” he said.
“Y’all see I’ve cleaned my locker out. I had a bunch of stuff in there. I needed to get it cleaned, so I had enough time to do the job.”
Last year, he returned on a one-year deal worth $10 million. The salary hasn’t changed much, per overthecap.com, but the Eagles may not be willing to go that high, and maybe Cox can even command a two-year deal elsewhere.
If it is the end of the line for Cox, it will mean the Eagles’ Core Four will be no more. That may already be the case depending on whether or not Jason Kelce retires and if the Eagles don’t bring back Brandon Graham.
“It’s always special,” said Cox of the Core that played their entire careers together.
“Those three guys always have a special place in my heart, being with those guys for over a decade. That’s hard to do. The good thing I can see is the really good job of keeping the core player together, draft picks.
“If I learned one thing being here my 12 years, the head man, they love the draft picks. If you do good, they take care of you. That’s what you’d expect. Those guys, we’ve won together, we’ve lost together, ups and downs together. Those are moments that you cherish and never forget. I always appreciate those guys.”