In his age-30 season, the usually consistent Cole registered a career-low three sacks despite starting all 16 games in Philly's mess of a defense. He went from being ranked the best defensive end in the league by Pro Football Focus in 2011 to not even making the top 20 in 2012.
There's a chance Cole won't be able to improve on that particular ranking in 2013, though, because he might no longer be a defensive end.
With the Eagles transitioning to what will likely be a 3-4-oriented defense under head coach Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Billy Davis, Cole is expected to be asked to play standing up for the first time in his nine-year career.
That's a lot to ask of a 31-year-old trying to get his career back on track. Lots of veteran 4-3 ends have struggled with the transition to 3-4 outside linebacker roles. But Cole was actually considered by many to be well-suited for such a role coming out of Cincinnati in 2005, so dropping back might not be as difficult as some fear.
This is a huge freakin' year for Cole, who has to prove that he can adapt to said changes while also establishing 2012 as a bad year rather than a sign that he was beginning to decline. With a salary of nearly $10 million per year, there's no way this regime keeps him around beyond 2013 if he doesn't improve his sack and pressure numbers in dramatic fashion. I know he's a good run defender, but he's still getting paid too well to stick around while failing to contribute to the pass rush in a major way.
You really begin to see the backup plan when you consider the kind of money they gave established 3-4 outside 'backer Connor Barwin earlier this offseason. With Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry also on the roster, and Graham emerging in 2012 as the best pass-rusher on this team, the pressure's on Cole to return to the double-digit sack club.
Will improved coverage (it can only go up from here), better coaching (same with this) and a new scheme help Cole get it back together in 2013, or has one of the best defensive players in team history hit a wall?
I don't know if it's that black and white. I don't believe he'll ever be the force he once was, but with the talent Philly has on D, Cole could be a 10-sack player again. I get the feeling he'll do enough next year to keep his job, but I also think his best days have passed.
Now, what do you guys think?
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