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Fletcher Cox is the Eagles' Best DT Since Jerome Brown

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Fletcher Cox is a disruptor, a wreaker of havoc, and a warrior. So was Jerome Brown.

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

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:

Player Year Player Year
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
Paul Grasmanis 2000

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.