June 07, 2016
Fletcher Cox and Darren Sproles, both notably absent from the Philadelphia Eagles OTAs this offseason, returned to the practice field on Tuesday for the start of mandatory minicamp.
Prior to practice, Doug Pederson met with the media and, not surprisingly, the majority of the questions directed at the first-year head coach were about those two players.
"They are [happy to be back]," Pederson said of Cox and Sproles. "They're so excited to be here, to be around their teammates, to be around the players, the guys, the coaches. And, you know, for both of those guys, they're learning a new system so it behooves them to really pay attention in the meetings and the walk-throughs. But, yeah, both of them are excited and ready to go."
Earlier in the day, Cox, who is entering the final year of his rookie deal, released a statement through the team regarding his absence.
“I’m happy to be back in Philadelphia to get back to work with my teammates and coaches," the statement read. "I’m excited for this upcoming season and I can’t wait to get on the field for mini-camp this week, learn our new defense, and do whatever I can to help our team win."
"Any discussion about my absence from the offseason program or my contract will be handled privately between me, my agent and the Eagles organization.”
And the 25-year-old defensive tackle wasn't kidding.
Usually more than happy to talk to the media, and always doing so with a smile on his face, Cox (and Sproles, for that matter) was nowhere to be seen during the 45 minutes in which the locker room was open to the media prior to Tuesday's practice.
Eagles close locker room to media and you'll never guess what happened next.— Matt Mullin (@matt_mullin) June 7, 2016
Fletcher Cox appears from behind a door as we're ushered out.
That's no coincidence. And I don't totally blame Cox for wanting no part of the massive scrum of reporters surrounding his locker. OTAs are voluntary for a reason – and Cox is in no way obliged to explain his absence.
Not to me. Not to you. And not even to his coach. Otherwise, is it really voluntary?
"We didn't even get into it, quite honestly," Pederson said when asked why Cox skipped OTAs. "I was just happy that he was back. I had a chance to visit with him yesterday and tell him how excited I was. I understand it's a voluntary process, the whole offseason [so far], but we're excited to get him in here this week."
"It was [Cox's] decision to stay away. Any of the guys can stay away and so I don't get into that. I don't look into the past. I'm looking forward."
Put it this way: Imagine if, despite the fact that your employment was not guaranteed beyond this year, you're boss asked you to come in on your day off, put in a full day's work and not get paid. You'd probably laugh in his face, right? At the very least, you wouldn't want to feel pressured into explaining why you won't be there.
That, in a sense, is what we're talking about here. And wouldn't you like it if your boss handled in the way Cox's did?
"Because it's a voluntary offseason," Pederson said when asked why he didn't ask Cox for an explanation. "It was his decision to stay away. Any of the guys can stay away and so I don't get into that. I don't look into the past. I'm looking forward. He's here today. He was here yesterday. And I'm excited to have him and I'm just going to build off each day that we have him this week."
But no matter how excited Pederson is to have both players back in the fold, neither Cox nor Sproles will be a full participant in this week's practices as they get back up to speed, both physically and mentally.
"[Fletcher's] coming back, and we want him to be in the meetings, we want him to go through the walk-throughs, we want him to get as many mental reps this week as we can," said Pederson, who also added that the same applies to Sproles. "We understand that with him not being here -- I don't want to put him out there and risk injury. He's definitely a big part of this football team, and now's not the time to see exactly what he can do, because he's proven that."
According to Pederson, the team – and not the players or their agents – has decided to limit both guys this week.
"It was my decision. It was our decision, our staff's decision," he said. "I talked with Jim Schwartz and put a plan in place for he and also Frank Reich with Darren Sproles. And I made the decision that we just want to protect these guys during this time."
In Cox's case, the team is also focused on getting a new deal done sooner rather than later. Whether or not that happens before training camp begins next month remains to be seen.
The Eagles, however, remain optimistic.
"I'm just hoping it's done, bottom line," Pederson said. "Let's get it done and let's get in here. And he wants to be here. He misses the guys; you can tell. Darren's the same way. Anybody that's been in a locker room before understands what team is all about. These two guys miss the other guys, and they want to be here.
"So I'm fully confident something will be done before camp."
If no deal is reached before the camp, that could lead to a holdout. Pederson said Tuesday that the team hasn't had any discussions with Cox's agent about whether or not he'll show up for training camp without a new contract.
But according to head coach, that's out of his hands.
"I'll leave that to Howie. I'm just focused on the team and just getting better this week with the guys. And then once we get through this week, my attention turns to training camp."
Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin