Eagles’ All-Pro Defensive Tackle May Be Out in Opener

Fletcher Cox

Getty Fletcher Cox was named the fourth-best player in the NFL.

Nothing has been written down in stone, but reading between the pebbles paints a rocky picture. Fletcher Cox has seen very limited work for the Eagles this summer as the starting defensive tackle has been relegated to individual drills on a side field.

Cox, the defensive MVP for the Eagles (and arguably the best player on the entire team), hasn’t seen any competitive reps since painfully leaving the field in last year’s divisional playoff loss to New Orleans. He underwent offseason foot surgery and has slowly been working his way back through a careful rehab program. Cox has stated that he plans to be ready for the opener on Sept. 8. But that reality appears less and less likely with each passing day.

On Monday, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz had a chance to address the issue and put it to rest. His answer was flimsy, at best.

“I put him in that same group with a lot of those other guys that are coming back from injuries that haven’t played in the preseason,” Schwartz told reporters. “He’s a little different because he hasn’t been on the practice field maybe as much. He’s had some individual stuff and stuff like that.

“But he’s a veteran player and he’s been around. The main thing is making sure that he’s healthy and in shape and focused. I know he’s focused and he’s driving with all the other things. We’ll see where he gets.”

Mike Pennel Could Fit with Eagles Defense

The Eagles have pretty good depth at the defensive tackle spot, with Tim Jernigan and Malik Jackson and Hassan Ridgeway all playing well this preseason. There is still a chance that Treyvon Hester makes the team as well. The defensive line should be able to hold its own if Fletcher Cox encounters any extended absence.

But GM Howie Roseman is notorious for always looking to add depth and bring in new pieces. Is it inconceivable to think he might bring another defensive tackle into the mix? It’s definitely possible. One interesting name floating around is veteran Mike Pennel.

The 28-year-old was recently cut by the New England Patriots after being pegged as a starter when the team first signed him. Pennel was one of the premier run-stoppers in the NFL last year who appeared in all 32 games for the Jets over the past two seasons. Pro Football Focus ranked Pennel as the Jets’ Most Improved Player in 2018.

Pennel, at 6-foot-4 and 330 pounds, recorded 27 tackles in 2018 and has 102 tackles during his five-year career with the Jets and Packers. He was considered one of the prized free agents on the market and the Patriots inked him to a two-year deal, at a base salary of $5 million. Pennel was penciled in as their Week 1 starter in the offseason, but he never fit in with New England’s challenging defensive scheme.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has a knack for getting the most out of his players and adapting them to fit his scheme. Pennel could certainly help as an insurance policy for Cox and would allow Jackson to thrive as a pass-rusher on third down. As it always does, the decision may come down to money.

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