Fletcher Cox is one of the best young players in the NFL. The 25-year-old defensive lineman just signed a contract that contains the most amount of guaranteed money ever for any non-quarterback. But despite having a career year in 2015, Cox thinks he can be even better than he's been to this point.
"I got a ways to grow, a ways to grow," Cox said during the press conference after his contract signing. "I don't think I've hit [my] ceiling yet. It's going to start on the practice field. For me to be the player I want to be, it's going to start on the practice field."
The scary thing is that Cox is right. For as good as he's been, there's a real chance he can improve moving forward. Cox is transitioning from playing in a 3-4 two-gap defense that limited his pass rush ability to an aggressive 4-3 defense where he'll be set free to attack.
"You can expect me to be in the quarterback's face a lot as far as, you know, just the way the defense is made," Cox said. "The way that the scheme is, running off the football, getting after the quarterback each play.
"I think that will help a whole, whole lot. Helped me a whole lot going back to 2012, my rookie year, going back to what I was doing. But, you know, I think I can play any defense. Whatever they put me in, I think I just have to adapt and adjust to it."
Cox finished with 5.5 sacks as a rookie in 2012. That figure dropped down to three in 2013 before rising to four in 2014 and 9.5 last season. It wouldn't be hard to see Cox getting double digit sack numbers in 2016 and beyond.
Check out Cox's press conference transcript below.
First and foremost, I would like to thank [Eagles Chairman/CEO] Mr. [Jeffrey] Lurie, [Eagles Executive Vice President of Football Operations] Howie Roseman, [Eagles Head Coach] Doug Pederson and [Eagles President] Don Smolenski for getting everything done.
Q. Obviously, Fletch, this took a while. Were you confident the whole way that this would get done? How concerned were you throughout the process? It's a lot of money. Not easy negotiations.
"Not at one point was I concerned about it. I don't think I was ever concerned about it. I knew they would get it done. When you're dealing with stuff like that, I think it just takes patience and a lot of time. They got it done. I'm really happy and excited about it."
Q. Did you know that you were close and that's why you showed up for mini-camp last week?
"I showed up to mini-camp because I wanted to be here with the team for that session. It was actually great being back on the field with those guys."
Q. This is an amazing contract for yourself, a life‑changing deal. When you see that you're one of the richest, highest‑paid athletes in professional football, what goes through your mind?
"I looked at it just to continue to humble myself, just keep working every day in practice, man. [I want] to be the leader that this team is expecting me to be; to show up every day and to work."
Q. Does it blow your mind that it's that much?
"It's really mind-blowing. It's really mind-blowing. When you're dealing with that much money, it's really mind-blowing. I'm really, really excited about it."
Q. The Eagles have given out $280 million of guaranteed money this offseason, second in the NFL. What does it mean as a player when you see a team committing to the core guys that are around you?
"I think it says a lot when they're signing the guys that are in that locker room and not really bringing a whole lot of [new] guys in. They believe in the guys that are in the locker room. They want to sign them back and continue to grow and build around them."
Q. As a follow up, all of those guys were here last year when you didn't have the kind of season that you wanted to have as a team. Obviously you said that it's great to have those guys there. Looking back, what happened last year with that core there that just didn't work?
"I mean, we had our ups and downs. We had our struggles. But at the same time, I know that this organization upstairs, the guys upstairs, saw something in the locker room. They wanted those guys to stay here. They know what those guys can do. They know their strengths and their weaknesses."
Q. At the moment you finally said yes, what was that like? Who was your first phone call to? What went through your mind when the pen went to paper?
"Well, I mean, when I got the phone call, I was actually at my shop tinkering with one of the race cars. I see [Cox’s agent] Todd France called. I'm like, ‘What is it?’ So he called. We went over everything. I said, ‘Yes.’ I was really excited. The first person I did call was my mom, which was the most important person I think that wanted to know. She was really, really excited about it. The whole family excited about it. The whole Yazoo City [MS] community is excited about it, and of course me."
Q. This kind of deal puts a bullseye on anyone who signs this kind of contract. Do you feel like you have to be the best defensive tackle? How do you live up to this deal?
"Me, myself, I have expectations, high expectations for myself. But all I can be is Fletcher Cox, be really, really humble about it, come to practice every day, show up every day, let my teammates know that I'm there for them. I'm willing to do anything to help this organization win football games week in and week out."
Q. What was going through your mind when your fellow teammates were being re-signed this offseason? Were you wondering when it was going to be your turn?
"Like I said, I was never concerned. I knew that both sides would at some point come to an agreement where we were happy with me right in the middle. We agreed to terms on Monday and I'm really excited for training camp."
Q. Have you bought anything significant?
"No, I haven't bought anything."
Q. Was there any concern that maybe it wouldn't happen and that you would have to come to training camp without a contract?
"I was expecting to be at training camp. I was expecting to be there. They said it. Everything came together quick. That was a great thing that it happened. Now I know I'll be in training camp on the first day."
Q. I guess you'll have probably $50 million by next year. That's a lot of money. How do you not let that affect you both on the field and off?
"Continue to be yourself. I always preach that to myself and just tell myself to continue to be yourself, don't try to be somebody that you're not. Just support the people who support you."
Q. Howie Roseman mentioned that it’s important you take a leadership role in the locker room now that you’re one of the core players. How will you do that?
"Just look at it as being more vocal, being more vocal on and off the field. We know with the younger guys, always stepping up, being that guy to step up. When the team is down, they need somebody to bring them up, I need to be the guy to step up for that."
Q. You mentioned earlier that it was kind of tough being patient through this whole process. When the team was going through mini-camp and offseason workouts, what kind of things were you doing to keep your mind off of that?
"I don't think I said it was tough through the whole thing. I just said patience was the key. I waited it out. I mean, I stayed in touch with teammates during the offseason, kind of stay up on top of things. I came back to mini-camp and I was ready to roll."
Q. You haven't played on a team that's won a playoff game since you've been here. How much of a hole is that in your mind and how hungry are you to help this team do something that you haven't experienced yet?
"Well, I think before we start talking about the playoffs, I think our main focus need to be the first game of the season. Let's take it one game at a time, one week at a time."
Q. You talk about living up to expectations, that kind of thing. What areas of your game do you feel you need to step up on? Everybody is talking about your sacks.
"I think I just have to continue to compete and learn. Being coachable is the main thing. Like I said, we got the new staff. But I'm a little familiar with Chris Wilson, the D‑line coach. I'm a little familiar with the things he likes to do. So I think, you know, that’s what kind of makes me one step ahead of some things. The sacks and stuff, I think all that will come. Last year I had, like, four, four and a half. I went from, like, four and a half or whatever, to nine and a half. I think those types of things just come."
Q. There were some serious accusations concerning Eagles WR Nelson Agholor at an establishment you were reportedly present at as well. Are you confident there aren't any investigations concerning you, in particular?
"I released a statement last week. I'm sticking to that statement. I released it last week. That's all I can say about that."
Q. There are a lot of other interior defensive linemen that have been paid big money over the past few years. Where do you think you stack up in comparison to that group?
"Of course, you know, I'm friends with a few guys that play the same position as me. You know, we always talk about just going out and being ourselves, man. Just competing and let's see who the top dog is, really. Honestly, it's just competing."
Q. At the time you were drafted, you were obviously very young. You said it was an adjustment coming to Philadelphia from Yazoo City, MS. What have you learned these past four years about yourself, about the city and about the Eagles?
"I learned a lot. For one, in Yazoo City, everybody knows who I am. Just being an athlete, playing for the Eagles, everybody kind of knows who you are, so you have to watch what you do just when you're out. It's a whole lot different."