That whole "30 is the new 20" thing still doesn't apply in the world of professional football. After putting up at least nine sacks in six consecutive seasons, Trent Cole turned 30 and then endured the worst season of his eight-year NFL career in 2012.
So was that an off year or was it the beginning of the end for a player who will turn 31 early next season? Considering that the the Eagles might switch to a 3-4 defense next year, there's a lot of doubt surrounding Cole's future.
Cole excelled as a 3-4 outside linebacker in college and was originally projected to play that position in the pros, but that was nearly a decade ago and there's some evidence that he's lost a step or two since then. It's not an easy transition for older ends (see: Aaron Kampman in 2009), but it's been done successfully before (see: Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney in 2012).
Regardless of the risk, the reality is the Eagles can't afford to part ways with Cole. They let Jason Babin go late in the season and signed Cole to a deal with over $14 million in guaranteed money last offseason. While Brandon Graham has finally emerged on the opposite side, they don't have any proven pass-rushers worthy of starting in place of Cole and have too many other urgent needs to use a top pick on a start-ready edge rusher.
Is Trent Cole in deep decline or just coming off a bad year?
But it's something to consider for the long term, as Dave Spadaro of PhiladelphiaEagles.com points out, noting that Cole "has dropped in coverage many times over the years and he's done a good job in the occasional zone scheme" but has never been asked to do so on even a quasi-consistent basis.
It's a new era in Philadelphia. Cole was the team's best defensive player only a year ago, but at that point, Babin, Michael Vick and Andy Reid were key members of the organization. With Nnamdi Asomugha's future also up in the air, Cole might soon be the last significant defensive scrap left over from the heart of Reid's tenure.
That could make him an endangered species.