(Photo Courtesy of Rant Sports)
On Tuesday night the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles reportedly came to a deal that had players on each team, fans of each team, and all NFL fans in general, saying one word when they found out:
Doug Whaley pulled off a trade that goes beyond ‘this ain’t your same old Bills’ territory. The trade is the type of trade you make in a video game and instantly feel like you cheated and should stop playing. It is the type of trade that if you requested at a bar in the city of brotherly love, the immediate reaction would either involve getting sworn at, getting food thrown at you, having to buy a round to calm everyone down, or some combination of the three. But on Tuesday night, that exact trade became reality.
As it was first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Buffalo Bills will be sending 2013 Pro Football Writer’s AP Defensive Rookie of the Year Kiko Alonso to the Philadelphia Eagles for two-time All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy.
The Bills already made their offseason splash by bringing in head coach Rex Ryan, and they just trumped that with a title wave in acquiring McCoy. The move shows that the Bills are confident in their approach to use a run game and defense to win games, while asking their quarterback (whoever that may be) to simply control the offense and take care of the ball.
This is not to say that the trade will turn out to be a slam-dunk for the Bills. For starters, reports say McCoy is not keen on the idea in coming to Buffalo. While that certainly is annoying to hear from another athlete that has never given the city a chance, I believe that might be his agent throwing it out there looking for an extension or more guaranteed money. Also, McCoy grew up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, went to Pittsburgh University for college, and was drafted by Philly. It is going to take some time to get used to leaving home. However, with Rex Ryan and Terry Pegula at the helm, I have no doubt McCoy will be convinced that coming to Buffalo will be a great opportunity for both him and the team.
When looking for a winner of the trade, I am going to reference a tweet by my friend and esteemed Bills enthusiast, Andrew Samer, whom I believe nailed the topic on the head:
“I dislike the question, “Who won the trade?” Measure the new Bills against the old Bills, and the new Eagles against the old Eagles.”
I could not agree more with his assessment. For starters, picking the true winner or loser of a trade cannot be made until years have passed. But as of today, looking at it from the Bills’ perspective, Alonso was expendable. Without him in 2014 they ranked 4th in the NFL in total defense, 11th against the run, 3rd against the pass, and led the league in sacks for a second straight year. The emergence of linebackers Nigel Bradham and rookie Preston Brown last year also helps swallow the fact the Bills are losing their biggest playmaker of the 2013 season (Alonso missed 2014 with a torn ACL).
It was also not known how Alonso would fit in this new Rex Ryan hybrid defense. A great tweet from Chris Trapasso breaks down Alonso’s rookie year compared to Nigel Bradham’s performance last year:
“Kiko Alonso had pass-rush grade of -2.5 & run-stopping grade of -1.9 in Pettine (Rex) D in ’13. Bradham had +4.2 and +3.5 in those areas in ’14”
Linebackers need to be able to blitz and be stout against the run to perform in Ryan’s defense, so Alonso may not have been the best choice on the outside as was planned. Alonso showcased his speed and instincts his rookie year, while struggling to shed blocks toward the end of the season. That mold fits much better as a 4-3 WLB, as opposed to Ryan’s 3-4. Ryan has also made a living in the NFL making ordinary players productive (see: Maybin, Aaron), so the bottom line is this: Superstars are needed on the offensive side of his teams, not the defensive.
Another thing I hate about asking who won a trade is insinuating that there has to be a loser. Both positions traded are highly replaceable, and the Bills are getting a proven talent while the Eagles are getting a player with a huge ceiling. I am in no means an expert on the Eagles’ situation, so I contacted my Eagles source and good friend Ryan Paris (@paris_ryan) who broke down why it made sense from Chip Kelly’s point of view.
For starters, to quote Paris, “Chip Kelly is so arrogant that he thinks he can work with 11 blind women on offense.” The trade of McCoy shows not only that Kelly thinks he can win with anyone, but also that the running back position has plummeted in value over the past decade. This fact basically led to this salary cap dump of a trade. You see trades like this made in the NBA frequently; where a proven star with a huge cap number is swapped for a rising star that has the potential to be, but is not yet close to being on the elite level of the player he was traded for.
The Eagles are also not sure how much McCoy has left. He will be 27 by the start of next year, which is typically where you begin to see a dip in production from running backs, and has the most touches of any running back over the past two years with over 630. He has a cap number that is north of $10 million this year so some reports have said he may have been cut if they could not find a trade partner. There have also been conflicting reports on whether McCoy was willing to restructure his contract with the Eagles to make it more cap friendly. I tend to lump these reports in with those that say Kiko wanted out of Buffalo in the, ‘let’s leak info to make our fans happy a popular player is leaving,’ category.
Now that he has upgraded his status in the organization this offseason (being put in charge of the player personnel department), it is clear Kelly is putting his stamp on the team. Alonso will become the ninth former Oregon Duck (that played under Kelly) to be added to the Eagles’ roster. The Eagles, with the trade of McCoy, the release of DE Trent Cole and CB Cary Williams, and other moves, now have over $52 million to spend this offseason. This does not include the money that will be freed up with the impending release of MLB DeMeco Ryans, who will likely get cut with the arrival of Alonso. That leaves plenty of room for Kelly to continue to wheel and deal for his ideal roster.
The bottom line for the Eagles is that they think they got fair value for a player they deemed overvalued, and have secured a rising defensive star to pick up a defense that cost the Eagles a shot at the playoffs in 2014. The Eagles have had back to back 10-6 seasons in Kelly’s first two years with defenses that were below sub-par. The addition of Alonso is a start of a rebuild on that side of the ball that could hold as the main cog for the next decade if he can come back healthy.
While the risks are certainly there surrounding McCoy, you cannot ignore his explosiveness and production. He was named 2013 NFC Offensive Player of the year after leading the league in rushing with an Eagles franchise best 1,607 yards. He was also named to one of his three Pro Bowls that year, and was a first-team NFL All-Pro for the second time in his career that season. Last season, his yards per carry average dipped, but he saw 11 different o-linemen see time in front of him. He still managed to rush for over 1,300 yards, and has rushed for over 1,000 yards in four out of his five years as a starter. As a team this past season, the Bills ran for 1,482 yards, their lowest in a 16-game season since 1971. Over the past five years, McCoy is also first in rushing yards and first downs among running backs. While the tread is certainly on the tires, the production is there along with it, and McCoy should have plenty of football left in him in a Bills uniform.
The salary numbers are also over exaggerated. While McCoy is currently slated to make $10.25 million in 2015 (the Bills are not responsible for the prorated portion of McCoy’s signing bonus via @JaySkurski), that number goes down $3.1 million in 2016. This is all operating under the assumption that McCoy will not restructure his deal, which he has no reason not to since he is only guaranteed $1 million under his contract that runs out after 2017. It makes more than enough sense for both sides to restructure a deal where Buffalo will get more cap room to fill the rest of their roster, and McCoy will get more guaranteed money barring injury or a release.
Many also might criticize the fact that the Bills want to “Ground N’ Pound,” and McCoy is more of a shifty runner that needs open space or an edge to be effective. To me, that is not the case. New offensive coordinator Greg Roman is building an offense based off of the personnel currently on the Bills, not what he had the last few years in San Francisco. The Bills just obtained a player who is arguably the top running back in the NFL. One has to think they did not do so without consulting their OC first and making sure he fit his offense despite not being a true north-south runner like the 49ers had in Frank Gore.
At the very least, the trade provided plenty of excitement in early March, which is something that makes one start to salivate for free agency to begin on March 7th. The Bills still have several holes to fill, and without a first-round pick due to the Sammy Watkins trade a year ago, they will need to be smart with their money. Many fans are looking for big names like Darrelle Revis or Julius Thomas, or at the very least re-signing DE Jerry Hughes; but the biggest thing the McCoy trade does is open up their first draft pick at #50 overall to take care of one of their glaring needs.
Doug Whaley proved last year he is not afraid to make bold moves to get stars on this roster. At his opening press conference, Rex Ryan was brash and confident in his expectations for the 2015 Buffalo Bills, and told fans to “get ready, because we are going” to the playoffs. It has been 15 years since Bills fans have seen their team in the postseason, and this move puts them that much closer to putting an end to that drought.
So stand up Shady, and welcome to Buffalo.
Extra thoughts I have that did not make their way into the article
– It has to suck being Bryce Brown right now. You get traded from Philly and think you finally got out of LeSean McCoy’s shadow. Then you proceed to have what could be looked at as the turning point of the season when you fumble the ball out of the end zone against Kansas City, and now you’re right back in that shadow.
– It’s fun to look back and read the Twitter conversation between LeSean McCoy and Fred Jackson when Brown was first traded to Buffalo. The great thing about Fred is that he seems like way too much of a nice guy to hold a grudge against Shady.
– I’m going to miss hearing Kiko’s interviews. It was absolutely baffling how airheaded the guy seemed, but he’s definitely someone I’d want to grab a beer with though.
– When Kiko Alonso’s career is over is he going to be a “one name” guy like Ichiro? Any chance he has just “Kiko” on his jersey before he retires? Probably not, but it’s still fun to think about.
– I love the David Harris rumors. I do not think he will be crazy expensive, and he would be a great mentor for Preston Brown as the other MLB.
– The Bills play at Philadelphia this year. There is a 100% chance that is either SNF or MNF.
– People talk about how it is “just a business,” but man it seems like many NFL players are pissed at how disloyal the Eagles have been to their players lately. That could have ramifications come free agency.
– Here are some of my favorite tweets regarding the trade. Enjoy.
“I feel like Dr. Alan Grant when he first sees the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. Tears. Excitement. Fear. Loss of body movement.”
“Also YouTube McCoy’s highlights if that doesn’t pump you up you deserve to be struck with an object.”
“LeSean McCoy has been traded to the Bills. Wow. The Bills will be paying him and he’ll use that to pay his bills. Life is crazy, man”