Rams’ Aaron Donald, Bears’ Khalil Mack can thank Eagles’ Fletcher Cox for their big paydays

Fletcher Cox
Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox wears a wrestling mask as he takes part in a media availability for Super Bowl LII.
(Eric Gay / Associated Press)

The Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle in the green wrestler’s mask proved prescient at the Super Bowl.

Fletcher Cox, seated on a riser during a news conference last January in Minneapolis, was asked if Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald and then-Oakland Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack should be paid like quarterbacks.

“Both those guys are incredible, and every good team has a D-lineman that’s going to make a lot of money,” Cox said. “Aaron and Khalil, those guys deserve it. They’ve proven and shown that they deserve that quarterback money.”

On Aug. 31, Donald ended a holdout by signing a then-record $135-million extension. A day later, the Raiders traded Mack to the Chicago Bears and he signed a $141-million deal.


Both can probably thank Cox, who helped establish the market when he signed a $103-million contract in 2016.

Donald and Mack were among the featured performers during the Rams’ 15-6 defeat at Chicago in Week 14.

On Sunday, Donald and Cox are the marquee defensive players when the Rams play the Eagles at the Coliseum.

The Rams are 11-2, and they can clinch a first-round bye if they defeat the 6-7 Eagles, who are fighting for a playoff spot.


“That’s my man,” Donald said of Cox. “We always talk a lot, we communicate a lot. I’ve been a fan of his for many years now.

“I always watch him on film and things like that. … Hopefully, he don’t do too much against us. But I’m going to be a fan watching.”

Donald has a league-best 16½ sacks, Cox 6½.

“He’s got a relentless motor that continues all the way to the quarterback, until the quarterback is on the ground,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said of Donald.

Donald got no sacks last week at Chicago. So he is aiming to get back on track against the Eagles.

“Feel good, pumped up,” he said. “Ready to get back on the field and try to get a win.”

Memorable hit

Rams linebacker Mark Barron delivered the hit that ended Carson Wentz’s 2017 season.


Barron tackled the Eagles quarterback as Wentz dived toward the goal line during the third quarter of last season’s 43-35 Eagles victory at the Coliseum.

“To me, it was just a regular hit — trying to stop a guy,” Barron said. “I’m at the one-yard line and he’s running at me full speed, so I’m going to go at him with all my force to try and stop him from getting into the end zone.”

Wentz fell across the goal line, but the play was negated by a penalty. He also suffered a knee injury, but played four more downs and tossed a touchdown pass before giving way to Nick Foles, who finished the game and led the Eagles to the Super Bowl title.

“It was a hard collision, I knew that,” Barron said. “Was he seriously hurt? I didn’t think that, but I knew it had to hurt him because it was a hard collision.”

Familiar face

In last season’s game at the Coliseum, Rams safety Blake Countess returned a blocked punt for a touchdown.

It was a sweet moment for Countess, who was drafted by the Eagles in the sixth round in 2016 but was cut when the rosters were trimmed to 53 players. The Rams signed Countess to their practice squad, promoted him to the roster during the season and he has become a valuable special teams player and rotational defensive back.

“It was special,” Countess said of the touchdown. “Just going against a former team, coaches and players.”


But Countess harbors no ill will toward the Eagles.

“Still got so much love for those coaches and those players that were there with me, especially the group of guys I came in with,” he said. “That being my first introduction to the league, it was definitely special, and that’s something I’ll never forget: my name being called on draft day.”


Eagles quarterback Wentz is listed as doubtful because of a back injury, but he almost certainly will not play. Foles will start in his place. ... Rams linebacker Dante Fowler returned to practice after missing Thursday’s workout to be present for the birth of a son, D’Angelo. … Eagles quarterbacks coach Press Taylor is the brother of Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor.

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein