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Spadaro: A perfect send-off for a perfect draft development story in Fletcher Cox

Fletcher Cox
Fletcher Cox

April 25, 2012. Eagles General Manager Howie Roseman and the team's NFL Draft decision-makers were talking about the next night, the first round of that year's draft, and the possibilities that might be there. Roseman had worked out an agreement with the Seattle Seahawks to move up in Round 1, from No. 15 to No. 12 overall, if one of the Eagles' favorite players remained on the board. The compensation was agreed upon.

The waiting was the hardest part. Fletcher Cox was worth it.

"Everyone agreed that to get a 6-foot-4, 310-pound guy, 35-inch arms, powerful, athletic, great character, we'd have to pick in the top five," Roseman said. "We thought it was a unique opportunity that we were able to get that kind of guy."

Cox held his official retirement press conference on Tuesday at the NovaCare Complex, surrounded by family and friends and loved ones and the entire Eagles organization. It was a beautiful, well-deserved afternoon of appreciation from Cox and for Cox, who was genuinely moved at saying goodbye to the game after 12 years of dominating performances that will certainly land him in the Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame and hopefully in the Pro Football Hall of Fame – he certainly has the credentials.

It was also a moment of reflection for everyone as well as a chance to study a template of the perfect development of a Philadelphia Eagle. And with the 2024 NFL Draft just a couple of weeks away, the goal is for Roseman and the Eagles to mine another nugget of gold, following the path Cox carved.

Step one was the discovery portion from the team's side. The Eagles did their homework on Cox and concluded that, if it all worked out, he could be a difference-making player for a decade or more. Roseman's college scouting team from back then deserves credit for the first phase of The Making of Fletcher Cox.

Cox arrived in Philadelphia a quiet, hungry kid from Yazoo City, Mississippi and quickly came under the tutelage of Eagles defensive line veterans Darryl Tapp, Cullen Jenkins, and Trent Cole. They showed him how to be a professional on and off the field, and Cox listened. His career progressed at the right pace – nine starts and quality play as a rookie, a solid starter in Year 2, an outstanding Pro Bowl-worthy campaign in his third season, and, finally, Hawaii and the Pro Bowl in his fourth season.

Cox benefited from a strong group of leaders around him in the locker room, an excellent coaching staff even as it transitioned from Andy Reid to Chip Kelly to Doug Pederson to Nick Sirianni and the new defensive coaches who coached the defensive line. The team's philosophy, to build from the line of scrimmage out, helped as well because Cox had the unique ability to play any position up front and the Eagles took advantage of that, setting him up in favorable matchups and watching Cox destroy any one-on-one blocking he faced.

Twelve seasons, six Pro Bowls, four All-Pro selections, and an All-Decade (2010s) player later, Cox is another Eagle to play his entire career here. Cox goes out on top, something he talked about long after his press conference ended.

"I feel great and this is exactly how I wanted it to end with all of my people around me. Emotional, but a great day," Cox said. "This feels so right."

It does, and it also is a reminder of the blueprint the Eagles hope to create again on April 25-27. The NFL Draft is the foundation of every roster, and the goal is to somehow, as rare as it may happen, find another Fletcher Cox.

Here are the steps: Discovery, draft, development. We've been blessed in recent years to have this run of Eagles success keyed in large part to the roles played by men like Jason Kelce and Fletcher Cox and Lane Johnson and Brandon Graham and everyone who has stepped foot in the NovaCare Complex locker room.

This is no small feat, of course. Cox wouldn't be where he is without the help of veterans who reached out to him, a responsibility he shared in his veteran seasons. His coaches have always been able to identify ways to maximize his talents and create space for him to operate, albeit usually against double teams. The strength and conditioning staff kept Cox at the top of his game. The cafeteria was always one of Cox's favored NovaCare Complex hangouts, and that continues.

Every piece is in place for the Eagles to continue this run of success, and on days like Tuesday, when tears are shed and hugs are given and true human emotion is displayed, there also a turning of the page to see what comes next, with the hope that more like Fletcher Cox are here, and others are on the way following the program the Eagles have securely put in place.

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