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Fletcher Cox deal smart move for player trending upwards

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 13: Fletcher Cox #91 of the Philadelphia Eagles reacts to a sack on Tyrod Taylor #5 (not pictured) of the Buffalo Bills during the first quarter at Lincoln Financial Field on December 13, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

The Philadelphia Eagles announced this afternoon that the team has agreed to a six-year contract extension with defensive end Fletcher Cox. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the deal is worth up to $103 million with $63 million guaranteed, which would be the largest guaranteed money given to a non-QB in league history.

After grading well in his first three years, Cox made a huge jump in production in 2015, particularly as a pass-rusher. The Eagle graded below-average in just one game—Week 7 versus Carolina—compared to 13 weeks of positive grades. His 90.3 overall PFF grade was the highest on the Eagles' roster last year, and he ranked 28th in our Top 101 players of the 2015. He had the second-highest overall grade for 3-4 defensive ends behind only J.J. Watt, and fifth-highest among all interior defensive linemen. Cox’s 77 total pressures were third-most among 3-4 defensive ends, although when factoring in number of pass rushing snaps, his per-snap pass-rushing productivity ranked eighth.

How do the financials compare to other players who have graded better or similarly? Aaron Donald is still on his rookie contract, but one would think he will surpass everyone when the time comes. Cox’s contract exceeds Watt’s in total ($100 milllion) and guaranteed ($51.8 million) value, though the Texan's contract extension was signed over a year and a half ago. The other two players who graded ahead of Cox in 2015 were Geno Atkins and Ndamukong Suh. Atkins signed his last extension prior to the 2013 season, and had less total money over five years than Cox has received guaranteed over six. Suh’s free-agent signing with Miami last offseason is the most similar, getting a six-year, $114.3 million with nearly $60 million.

Overall, it looks like while Philadelphia did spend top-dollar, though it seems to be within a reasonable range of other top players. The one exception would be the player who ranked one spot behind Cox in overall grade last year—Green Bay’s Mike Daniels. Daniels doesn’t have the name recognition that Cox has, but their production has been quite similar the past two seasons and both were in the same draft class. Daniels signed a contract extension in December, prior to becoming a free agent. He signed a four-year deal, which seems like a relative bargain at $44 million total with just $12 million guaranteed. Still, Daniels’ contract looks more like the outlier.

There’s no question Fletcher Cox is an ascending player and one that the Eagles cannot afford to lose and need to build around. He is better than the majority of interior defensive linemen in the league, but he is still a small step below the likes of Aaron Donald, who was arguably the best player in the league last year, and Watt. At age 25, Cox’s best seasons are still likely ahead of him, though, and we could very well be talking about him in the group of the elite defenders next year.

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