Eagles' Cole believes he's got a lot left at 31

The Eagles' Trent Cole bears down on Chicago QB Jay Cutler in a 54-11 romp in December. Cole, drafted as a defensive end, has switched to outside linebacker in the Birds' 3-4 defense. CLEM MURRAY /Staff Photographer
The Eagles' Trent Cole bears down on Chicago QB Jay Cutler in a 54-11 romp in December. Cole, drafted as a defensive end, has switched to outside linebacker in the Birds' 3-4 defense. CLEM MURRAY /Staff Photographer
Posted: June 12, 2014

There are a few gray hairs on Trent Cole's face, another reminder that one of the two longest-tenured Eagles is on the other side of 30.

Cole, 31, came to Philadelphia as a fifth-round pick in 2005 at age 22. Todd Herremans is the only player who has been on the Eagles as long as Cole. Only 13 players have played more games in an Eagles uniform than Cole. He has more sacks than any player in franchise history other than Reggie White.

"Everybody says, 'He's getting old because he's on this side of 30,' " Cole said. "Man, I've got three years left! At least give me three years!"

Cole's future in Philadelphia beyond this season is undetermined, but he is set to start at outside linebacker in 2014. His position changed when coach Chip Kelly arrived, and he now plays five pounds shy of his listed weight of 270 pounds. Yet Cole insists he can produce at a high level, even if age is often an uncompromising opponent.

"I know my body, I feel good," Cole said. "You want to know the truth? I feel really good. Ain't nothing changed. I'm more experienced, and I know a lot more."

Cole finished last season with a team-high eight sacks, all in the second half of the season. On two occasions this offseason, former Eagles coach Andy Reid praised Cole's transition to the 3-4 defense.

The Eagles had the second-fewest sacks per snap in the NFL last season, but they were not aggressive in going after pass rushers on the free-agent market. Kelly said there was no one they thought they needed to sign before selecting Marcus Smith in the first round in May's draft. Smith will help, but their hope in improving the pass rush is based on veterans' progressing in their second year in defensive coordinator Bill Davis' scheme.

The Eagles return each starter in the front seven. Kelly and the front office evaluated Cole based on how he produced in 2013 and how he projects in 2014, and determined they want him back in his role.

"I've seen some 31-year-old guys that are broken down and can't even move, and I've seen some 30-year-old guys that can play five more years," Kelly said.

When Kelly was asked why he thought Cole could continue improving, his response was "more experience" and a "better understanding of what we are trying to do."

Cole pointed to this same combination when explaining the basis of his confidence this spring. He noticed a difference from a year ago, when he tried learning a new position.

The biggest change has come when dropping into coverage, which Cole seldom did last season. He played pass coverage on just 21.7 percent of the pass plays he was on the field, according to Pro Football Focus. He rushed on 466 of 595 plays.

Cole said he now has better knowledge of the coverages, his dropping technique has improved, and he sees the field more clearly. Cole noted he became a better pass rusher in the 3-4 with strategies developed throughout the season.

"I know how to really pass-rush the right way," Cole said. "I know how to cover. I'm hoping I'll be able to do that a lot more . . . with one year of linebacker under my belt. . . . When you feel comfortable, that's when you know."

Cole is due $5 million this season. His base salary jumps to $10 million in 2015, $10.9 million in 2016, and $13.9 million in 2017. So, unless he restructures his deal or the Eagles see the urge to keep a 32-year-old pass rusher at that salary, this could be his last season in Philadelphia.

Cole said the key to his longevity has been to "play hard, and keep my mouth shut." On his end, he's doing everything to stretch his career. He believes his performance overshadows any perception created by his age.

"You can't feel old," Cole said. "Your body is going to tell you when it's time to quit. But that's not the case right now. Everybody wants to know. They can call me old, but I could care less, because my actions speak louder. Tell them, if you don't know, go watch the film. Because the footage don't lie."


zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm

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