After an offseason of relatively mild speculation, Howie Roseman and the Philadelphia Eagles finally did what they were supposed to do: secure the future of defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. The price is high, the risk is calculated, and the reward is, hopefully, inevitable. It’s a landmark contract for a number of reasons, not the least of which involves a record amount of guaranteed money for a non-quarterback. But Cox’s contract extension also represents something a bit different: redemptive insight into what could have been.
It’s been a generation since the Eagles have employed a defensive tackle of Cox’s caliber. Here is a list of them, in order by initial year with the team, starting with 1992:
|Andy Harmon||1992||Darwin Walker||2001|
|Mike Golic||1992||Jeremy Slechta||2002|
|Mike Pitts||1992||Jim Flanigan||2003|
|Tommy Jeter||1992||Sam Rayburn||2003|
|Gerald Nichols||1993||Keyonta Marshall||2005|
|Keith Millard||1993||Mike Patterson||2005|
|Leonard Renfro||1993||Brodrick Bunkley||2006|
|William Perry||1993||Darren Howard||2006|
|Kevin Johnson||1995||LaJuan Ramsey||2006|
|Mark Gunn||1995||Kimo von Oelhoffen||2007|
|Rhett Hall||1995||Montae Reagor||2007|
|Ronnie Dixon||1995||Dan Klecko||2008|
|Hollis Thomas||1996||Trevor Laws||2008|
|Michael Samson||1996||Antonio Dixon||2009|
|Ed Jasper||1997||Brandon Graham||2010|
|Jimmie Jones||1997||Jeff Owens||2010|
|Bill Johnson||1998||Jeremy Clark||2010|
|Brandon Whiting||1998||Cullen Jenkins||2011|
|Henry Slay||1998||Derek Landri||2011|
|Steve Martin||1998||Cedric Thornton||2012|
|Ben Williams||1999||Fletcher Cox||2012|
|Kelly Gregg||1999||Ronnie Cameron||2012|
|Mark Wheeler||1999||Bennie Logan||2013|
|Pernell Davis||1999||Isaac Sopoaga||2013|
|Corey Simon||2000||Beau Allen||2014|
Not listed is the great Jerome Brown, the last Eagles DT of exceptional talent. In short, Brown was a manchild, as tenacious on the field as he was rambunctious off it. In his five year Eagles’ career, Brown recorded just 29.5 sacks, 20.5 in his first four seasons (compared to Cox, who has 22). But sacks were not the story with Brown. Much like it is with Cox, it was Brown’s ability to disrupt the line of scrimmage and wreak havoc. In Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense (and by extension, Bud Carson’s version of it), Brown was just plain nasty.
When drafted by the Eagles in the first round of the 1987 draft, Brown signed a four-year deal worth $1.167 million (!). During the summer of 1991, he held out for six weeks before agreeing to terms on a three year, $3.1 million deal. This was after Brown played the 1990 wildcard game against the Washington Redskins with a separated shoulder. He needed twelve shots of pain killers to get through that game, but he did and played brilliantly.
Brown knew this contract was going to be his last. He knew he wasn’t going to play passed the age of 30. The 6-2, 292 pound Brown said, "I’m going to get up to about 450 pounds. I’m going to buy myself a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise, a big stogie and a white Caddy. And I’m just going to go down there every day and check on my chickens."
If you couldn’t tell, Brown was larger than life, untamable by even Reggie White, who could do nothing but laugh at his antics. Like the time Brown strut into the Eagles’ locker room with a leather brief case and slyly revealed it to be a portable bar. How could one tame a man wh helped raise money in 1988 for an 11-year-old girl who was in a coma after an automobile accident? How could one tame a man who stood in defiance with others in the black community at a Ku Klux Klan rally in his hometown? How could one tame a man who pulled a trucker from the cab of an overturned vehicle and then, on a night off from training camp, saved a neighboring family by alerting them to a house fire?
Brown rewarded the Eagles’ generosity by giving the team 150 tackles and 9 sacks in the subsequent season, his last. In contrast, Fletcher Cox has 162 tackles, total, through four seasons (albeit in a different defensive scheme). But for Brown, it all came abruptly to an end where it started, in his hometown of Brooksville, FL.
According to the police report, Brown’s emerald green Corvette veered onto the shoulder of a highway, hit a grassy rise, and catapulted 22 feet in the air before slamming into a palmetto tree. The impact swung the car around and it collided again, upside down, with a telephone pole. Brown was killed instantly, along with his 12 year-old nephew in the passenger seat.
The tragedy of Jerome Brown is only offset by his incredible legacy and his place in franchise lore. As fate would have it, the City of Philadelphia has an opportunity to perhaps see what could have been. The Philadelphia Eagles now have in their employ another generational talent on the defensive line. If there is any such thing as poetic justice, then this represents a rare opportunity for football salvation. Fletcher Cox is every bit a beast as Jerome Brown. For the next five years or so, enjoy the hell out of it.
It's gonna be special.