One team’s trash is another team’s ... well, we’ll see.
The Eagles pulled off several of last off-season’s biggest moves, including the signings of cornerback Byron Maxwell and running back DeMarco Murray to contracts worth a combined $103 million and a trade which sent LeSean McCoy to the Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso. Chip Kelly’s hope at the time was that Maxwell and Murray would star, while Alonso would rediscover his pre-ACL injury form.
None of those outcomes happened. But that apparently has not stopped the Dolphins and Titans from dreaming the same dream.
Per multiple reports, Miami and Philadelphia will finalize a deal when the new league year begins Wednesday that ships Maxwell and Alonso to the Dolphins for draft compensation. The Eagles also will rid themselves of Murray, via a trade to the Titans. There has been no confirmation yet as to what Philadelphia will receive in return, but once-and-current GM Howie Roseman accomplishes a couple of things here no matter what: (mostly) clearing Maxwell and Murray's balky contract from the books and continuing to sort through the damage done by Kelly’s failed run in charge of personnel.
Murray was the poster child for how it all went bad in Kelly's final Eagles year. After leading the NFL with 392 carries for 1,842 yards and 13 touchdowns as a Cowboy in 2014, Murray never found a fit within Kelly's scheme. He finished the year with 702 yards rushing on a career-worst 3.6 yards per carry. Ryan Mathews (who also is believed to be on the trade block), Darren Sproles, Kenjon Barner and even Mark Sanchez finished with better per-attempt clips.
Maxwell wasn’t quite as bad as his huge contract made him appear. He also wasn’t anywhere near what Kelly envisioned when he snatched him off the free-agent market. The shift to the Eagles’ man-heavy coverage scheme—not to mention no longer lining up alongside Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and a sturdy pass rush—left Maxwell flailing for much of the 2015 season.
Alonso never panned out, either. The ex-Bill missed five games and was a shell of his 2013 rookie-season form when he was on the field. The issue there wasn’t his contract (Alonso made around $750,000 last season) but that he cost Philadelphia the services of McCoy. The Eagles’ resulting run game one-two punch of DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews never matched McCoy’s production level.
From the Eagles’ standpoint, these trades are mostly about trying to erase Kelly’s mistakes. Whether or not the Dolphins or Titans capitalize on those efforts depends on which versions of their new arrivals they get.
All three players had far more success before they arrived in Philadelphia. Both Maxwell and Alonso should join Miami’s starting lineup immediately—Maxwell possibly as the top cornerback option, if Brent Grimes is released as is now expected; Alonso either as Jelani Jenkins’s replacement on the weak side or in the middle. Meanwhile, the Titans figure to turn their dormant run game over to Murray, banking on the 28-year-old back to thrive as a workhorse back.
In theory, that’s all well and good. It was for Kelly and the Eagles when they picked up those players last off-season, too.
One reason Miami and Tennessee might be willing to roll the dice: NFL contracts are a lie. OK, that might be a bit harsh, since players get paid to suit up for the teams with which they sign (or are traded to). Let’s say instead that NFL contracts are misleading.
Maxwell’s “six-year, $63 million” contract can evaporate to almost nothing following the 2016 season, depending on whether the Dolphins choose to restructure it. As the details stand now, Maxwell would be owed just $3 million in guaranteed money from 2017 to ’20. The Dolphins would pick up his $8.5 million base salary for the coming season, with his remaining $4.8 million in signing bonus accelerating onto the Eagles’ 2016 cap.
Likewise, Murray's contract carries a mere $2 million in guarantees beyond this season—his $7 million base salary for 2016 would land on Tennessee's books, pending a contract restructure, while his remaining $4 million in signing bonus would be Philadelphia's responsibility.
Were Miami inheriting five years of Maxwell's contract at a fully locked-in price, or were Tennessee about to be on the hook for the duration of Murray's deal, you can bet these trades never would have happened.
This brings us back around to the discussion of risk. The Eagles lost their bets on Maxwell, Murray and Alonso last off-season. The Dolphins and Titans will have slightly more favorable odds this time around, if only because the expectations should be somewhat tempered.
Is picking up the pieces that Philadelphia didn't need anymore a good move? It depends. Which is more or less how every transaction must be approached this time of year, when front offices tend to get a little silly with their checkbooks. Right now, it's all a lot of ifs.
If Maxwell bounces back from his hugely disappointing 2015 ...
If Alonso stays healthy ...
If Murray finds more of a comfort zone within Tennessee's blocking scheme ...
Many of the Eagles 2015 acquisitions failed to work out for them, despite Kelly's apparent faith. The Dolphins and Titans, for whatever reasons, believe they will have better luck. We'll see how that turns out come next season.