He has been showered with individual honors for his on-field play in a superstar Eagles career: six Pro Bowls, four All-Pro selections, a member of the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 2010s, picked to the league's All-Rookie Team in 2012.
But for defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, being selected as the Eagles' nominee for the NFL's 2023 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award, presented each year to an NFL player who demonstrates on the field the qualities of great sportsmanship, including fair play, respect for opponents, and integrity in competition, meant something special. Something different.
Something for his legacy far beyond the numbers.
"It is different and that's why it means so much to me," Cox said, sitting at his locker at the NovaCare Complex. "I was talking to Coach Wash (Defensive Ends/Outside Linebackers Coach Jeremiah Washburn) about it and he asked me what I thought about it and I said it was like one of those lifetime-achievement awards, one of those things where you do something for so long and so many years and you do it the right way and I'm a nominee for a sportsmanship award from the NFL. It could have been so many guys from this team.
"It fits me and I'm proud to be the nominee. It means a lot to me."
The specific nomination is a testament to the way Cox, the ultimate professional, conducts himself on the field – he plays with great intensity, effort, and domination, all within the boundaries of the rules – but there is so much more to Cox and what he means to the Eagles – and has meant since Philadelphia made him its first-round draft pick in 2012.
Still playing at an extremely high level in his 12th Eagles season, Cox has always held himself to a high standard for the way he works, the example he shows his teammates, the way he brings along younger players, and the love he has for the game of football and the Philadelphia Eagles.
Leading in a variety of ways has always been important to Cox.
"In high school, I was always one of the guys, obviously, and there just isn't a lot of leadership at that level and then it changes in college. I wasn't selected a captain in college and those things matter to me," Cox said. "I'm a leader. I'm a captain. When I first got here, I looked up to guys like DeMeco Ryans (former Eagles linebacker, now head coach of the Houston Texans). The way he carried himself, the way he handled things good or bad, he always had a smile on his face. He helped younger players.
"I took knowledge from a lot of guys and it grew on me and grew on me. The thing about being a leader is you have to be a leader all the time. You have to want to lead when the times are bad, not only when times are good. Being a leader requires a lot and you have to deal with a lot."
Cox has always been the dominating player, the one the young players look to emulate. He's taken it upon himself through the years to help the young bucks around him – teaching them how to be a pro. Talent alone doesn't win in the NFL. There is a whole lot more to it, and Cox has always been there to be a guiding presence.
"He's been great to work with," 2022 first-round draft pick Jordan Davis said. "To have someone like Fletcher Cox right there with you, I can't tell you what it's meant for me. There is a lot going on every day here and Fletch has helped me so much figuring things out, how to take care of my body, how to watch film – anything to gain an advantage. He's been a great teacher, a great big brother."
That is precisely what Cox hopes to accomplish as the leader in the defensive tackle room. It is more than just football, of course. He wants to make a difference in his teammates' lives.
"It's about helping them become young men, first and foremost," he said. "Then it's about helping them becoming a pro, better pros. It starts with being on time for everything, paying attention to detail in everything that you do, always treating people in the building, in the locker room the way you want to be treated.
"I've been part of this organization for 12 years and you can never take it for granted. You don't want to look back and think, 'I wish I could have ...,' or "I wish I did ..." Spend time with the young players and make sure they understand that if you're good to the game, it will be good to you. Have respect for everybody and appreciate the time you have here. Having that mindset goes so far."
Cox has been on his game in every way this season and is in the right leadership space as the team embarks on the next step of its 2023 season. The goal, of course, is to win another Super Bowl, and Cox is taking seriously the responsibility of helping the entire team – every single player – accomplish its goal.
"It's been a dream come true, my career," he said. "I love every minute of it."