Opinion Angelo Cataldi
AP_133589338524.jpg Bob Leverone/AP

Where have you gone, Fletcher Cox?

November 29, 2016

Why has $103 million man Fletcher Cox been invisible this season?

Fletcher Cox continued his crime spree on Monday night, and there was nothing the 70,000 eyewitnesses – and millions more on TV – could do to prevent it. The Eagles defensive tackle is stealing money right now, plucking it right from the pockets of the team and its fans.

In his first season after signing a $103-million contract ($63 million guaranteed), Cox has been ordinary, at best, and often invisible. In a season-killing 27-13 loss to Green Bay, he was conspicuous only by his absence. The Packers snapped the ball 67 times. Cox managed one assisted tackle.

Yes, there were plenty of other reasons why the Eagles dropped to 5-6, including a putrid effort by the offense (except for quarterback Carson Wentz), horrific work by the cornerbacks and a series of idiotic coaching decisions by Doug Pederson. The Birds were awful pretty much everywhere on Monday night.

And no one was worse than Cox, a 25-year-old wall of a man who is supposed to be in the prime of a potential Hall of Fame career. Instead, he has been failing, on a weekly basis, since the first four games of the season, unable to shed double teams and prone to fatal penalties at the most inopportune moments.

His slash to the face of Aaron Rodgers – the only time Cox got close to the Packer quarterback all night – cost the Eagles a 15-yard infraction that prolonged a drive late in third quarter that eventually led to the clinching touchdown. Sound familiar? He did the same thing at key moments in losses to the Lions and Redskins.

Because there have been so many other issues with the Eagles since their 3-0 start, Cox has escaped the scrutiny usually reserved for $100-million busts. Even when he admitted he had “hit a wall” three weeks ago – hey, at least he finally hit something – there were still very few dissenters.


“When we spoke with Aaron Rodgers last night, he compared Fletcher Cox to Ndamukong Suh . . . one of the best interior linemen in recent times in the NFL. Cox has been a virtual non-factor tonight, and a lot of that has been against the rookie Jason Spriggs.”


But Monday night’s futility finally captured the attention of a national voice, ESPN play-by-play broadcaster Sean McDonough. Toward the end of a miserable night for the Eagles, McDonough pointed the finger precisely where it belonged.

“When we spoke with Aaron Rodgers last night, he compared Fletcher Cox to Ndamukong Suh  . . . one of the best interior linemen in recent times in the NFL. Cox has been a virtual non-factor tonight, and a lot of that has been against the rookie Jason Spriggs.”

For the record, Suh has 51 tackles so far this season, to 29 for Cox. In fact, there are 40 other defensive linemen with more than Cox’s 29 tackles this season.

Even more damning has been Cox’s performance during the current swoon. He has four sacks this season, but none in seven weeks. In games against Washington and Atlanta, he recorded no tackles. That’s none. Zero.

So what’s the problem? No one can say for sure, not even an expert like my co-host at WIP, former nose tackle Hollis Thomas. Cox’s health appears as flush as his bankroll. His attitude seems OK, too. The only thing he appears to have forgotten is how to tackle people.

There will be many post-mortems when this disappointing Eagles season ends on New Year’s Day, and at the very top of the list for players who came up short should be Fletcher Cox.

Right before our eyes, every week, the man is stealing money.

***

With a chance for their fifth straight home victory, the Sixers basically forfeited a game to Memphis last week because of Joel Embiid’s minutes restrictions. How ridiculous was that?

The star center had already played 27 minutes – three over his limit – when the game went into double overtime, and his pleas to the medical staff for special dispensation were ignored. There were 16,000 people in the stands, primarily to watch Embiid play, and he was on the bench for the most important sequence.

After Embiid lost his argument to play the second overtime, he kicked his chair and angrily pulled off his jersey. Coach Brett Brown said he felt the Sixers would have won if Embiid were cleared to continue playing, but rules are rules.

“It’s just the way it is,” Brown said.

Really? Then isn’t it about time someone in this fan-unfriendly organization explains the medical science behind these restrictions? What is the basis for this seemingly arbitrary and illogical plan? Is there a study that shows Embiid’s twice-injured right foot will implode if he plays 30 minutes in one game?

There are two basic problems with the unprecedented limitations being put on Embiid this season. The first is, it denies fans the chance to the only Sixer worth the price of admission. He is healthy. He wants to play. There is no obvious medical reason why he shouldn’t.

The second issue is the screw-you attitude of the organization. During the carpetbagger ownership of hedge-fund billionaire Joshua Harris, the Sixers have felt no obligation to communicate with the fans. When the normally talkative GM Bryan Colangelo won’t speak, it has to be the boss who is demanding the silence, no?

What Harris and his minions don’t understand is that the restrictions are bad business. What was a dad supposed to say on the way home from that Memphis loss when his kid wants to know why his favorite Sixer, Joel Embiid, was sitting on the bench in the second overtime?

And here’s an even better question: Why would they want to come back for another game when the same thing could happen?

Until someone takes the time to explain why Joel Embiid is not available to play all the time, we’re going to have to assume the Sixers are either ignorant or disrespectful.

In fact, based on the past three-plus years under Harris, there’s a very good possibility they are both.

***

When rookie sensation Shayne Gostisbehere found himself in the press box, a healthy scratch, in the first month of his sophomore season, his struggles called attention to an alarming trend. Simply put, the kids are not all right.

The conventional wisdom was that Gostisbehere would take his remarkable first few months in the NHL and build on them this year. Instead, he has regressed. His fellow back-liner, Ivan Provorov, has not exactly dazzled, either. And while Travis Konecny has been OK, the young forward has floundered at times, too.

Now, please understand that no one is saying any of these three building blocks for a future Flyers contender will be a bust. The Ghost is 23, and Provorov and Konecny are both 19. Growing pains are inevitable in the NHL, and having three kids at once is especially problematic.

Still, no one could have predicted the disappointing play of Gostisbehere so far this season. After an amazing 17 goals and 29 assists in 64 games last season, he has managed only four and seven in the first 22 this year. Even more concerning is his drop from plus-8 to minus-4. He’s been weak on both ends of the ice.

Provorov was so impressive in the pre-season, pundits – including my colleague at WIP, Keith Jones – expected big things right away. What they definitely didn’t anticipate was nine points (one goal) in Provorov’s first 22 games, and a minus-9.

Ironically, the kid who came into his rookie season with fewer expectations has actually outplayed his fellow novices. Konecny is fifth on the Flyers in scoring with 12 points (four goals), though much of that production came in the first 10 games. He, too, has been a liability defensively, with a minus-4.

What does all of this mean? Right now, it’s just an early warning sign that the best young talents don’t always become stars; the NHL is not juniors or the AHL. Over the next season or two, the three best young Flyers should be able to shake off their early struggles and help GM Ron Hextall’s major rebuild.

But the sight of Gostisbehere sitting in the press box last week was a reminder that there are no sure things in the NHL.

And finally ...

     • Aretha Franklin’s rendition of the national anthem in Detroit on Thanksgiving was the most indulgent, ear-curdling mess I have ever heard. At four minutes and 35 seconds, it was more a shrill vocal exercise than a tribute to our country. Other than the Twitter universe, where negativity reigns, no one wants to tell the truth. After all, this is the Queen of Soul. Well, here’s the real story. It was awful.

      Bravo to John Madden, who hates Thursday Night Football and isn’t afraid to say so. As a former coach, he knows the strain those short-schedule games have on teams. And as an ex-broadcaster, he understands what makes good TV. The big question now is, will the NFL walk away from billions of dollars because Thursday nights are bad for the sport? Ha, ha. That’s not a big question; it’s a dumb one.

     After Detroit linebacker DeAndre Levy called Joe Paterno a “dirtbag” and said his proudest moment in college was breaking the legendary coach’s leg during a sideline collision, a consortium of 21 ex-PSU players – led by Franco Harris – issued a statement saying Levy’s remarks were “appalling.” Oh, really? More appalling than allowing the rape of children for 30 years?

      Merrill Reese was inducted into the Eagles Hall of Fame during last night’s game, and it is an honor richly deserved by the voice of the team for the past 40 years. Reese is not just a booming baritone with a fan’s love for the Birds, he is also a true gentleman. Reese and the late Harry Kalas of the Phillies created the soundtrack for so many fans’ lives. Two extraordinary voices, two extraordinary men.

      Four weeks ago, Giants guard Justin Pugh went public with his contempt for his hometown of Philadelphia. “I just don’t like Philly, to be honest,” he said. Early in the game between the Eagles and Giants later that week, he sprained his MCL and hasn’t played since. The moral of the story is, watch what you say about our awesome city. Karma truly is a bitch.