Before free agency could even begin, Chip Kelly and Rex Ryan got themselves on the front pages with a trade that could greatly benefit both teams. As first reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter, Kelly's Eagles have agreed to a trade that will send running back LeSean McCoy to the Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso. The trade, which is expected to be finalized and made official later this week, gives Philadelphia much-needed help at the linebacker position, and gives Buffalo a true franchise running back.
McCoy was selected in the second round of the 2009 draft out of Pittsburgh, and has enjoyed his two greatest NFL seasons under Kelly and his wide-open zone running concepts. In 2013 he led the NFL in carries (314) and rushing yards (1,607), following that up with a 312-carry, 1,319-yard season in 2014 despite a series of injuries that left Philadelphia's offensive line in shambles. McCoy has rushed 1,461 times for 6,792 yards and 44 rushing touchdowns in his career, adding 300 receptions for 2,282 yards and 10 receiving touchdowns along the way.
"In this offense, we keep you guessing," McCoy told me last July, when explaining how Kelly's offense worked so well for him. "There are times when the defense says, 'We've seen this, it's a pass.' Or they think it's a run, and it's totally the opposite. And I think that when you give a defense so many different looks that all look the same—the formations all look the same—it's hard to really study them. It's hard to really know. It keeps them off-balance, it really does.
"Our offense is a big-play offense. We're not that kind of typical, boring three-yard offense; we keep the chains moving. That's big here, because I feel that I get the most out of myself as far as quickness and explosion."
McCoy has become one of the most valuable and versatile backs in the league, and as long as he can work his magic behind a Buffalo line that doesn't measure up to Philly's, his addition should be a major boon for a team that saw veteran Fred Jackson as the leading rusher with 525 yards on 141 carries. The trade also means that running back C.J. Spiller, whose skill set is similar to McCoy's when he's healthy, is on his way out of Buffalo.
[daily_cut.nfl]McCoy signed a six-year, $45.615 million contract with $20.765 million guaranteed in May 2012, and his $11,950,000 salary cap hit for the 2015 season is now the Bills' to deal with. His current contract takes him through the 2017 season, with base salaries of $9.75 million this season, $6.9 million in '16, and $7.6 million in '17. McCoy had said that he was not amenable to a restructuring of his contract to ease that cap charge, which probably made the trade a lot easier.
"We'll see what happens," McCoy said last December. "It's a business. Anything can happen; I know that. But I'm sure we can work something out. And hopefully, everything does work out. They know how I feel about them. I know how they feel about me. So we'll see what happens. At the end of the day, it's a business."
Former running back LaDainian Tomlinson wasn't surprised at all that this deal was made, at least from the Eagles' point of view.
"I'm not really surprised about it," Tomlinson said on the NFL Network. "I had a chance to talk to LeSean McCoy a few weeks ago, and he expressed to me that he didn't think he was going back in Philly next season. He talked about he and Chip Kelly's relationship had become a little strained and that he just didn't think that Philly was committed to him. He actually thought that Chip kind of phased him out of the offense at times last year. He felt like the writing was on the wall, that they were going to try to move on this offseason, and sure enough we have this trade today."
At the end of the day, it is. And at the end of the day, Kelly gets a linebacker who starred for him at Oregon from 2009 through '12. Alonso was selected by the Bills in the second round of the 2013 draft as one of the PAC-12's most impressive defenders, and he lived up to every bit of his potential in his rookie season. Alonso amassed two sacks, four interceptions, and 87 solo tackles as Buffalo's inside linebacker through the 2013 season.
Much was expected of him in the 2014 follow-up, but Alonso tore his ACL over the summer while working out, and missed the entire season. That injury came after offseason hip surgery, so Alonso does come to Philly with some injury concerns. However, he also comes with a boatload of skill on a team that desperately needs help at linebacker. It's likely that he'll line up alongside Mychal Kendricks in Billy Davis's hybrid defense and roam to make plays all over the field.
Spiller said on the NFL Network that the Eagles are getting a special player in Alonso.
"Hard worker and very competitive. He likes to fly around, high energy guy. Student of the game. Definitely doesn't miss many tackles in the open field. He can guard running backs, he can get on tight ends, he's physical. They're getting a great player. Hard worker. Me and him kind of rehabbed together -- he was doing his knee and I was doing my collarbone -- and I've seen the work that he was putting in. They're getting a great individual. He's just a great person. He's down to earth, quiet, never really got into all of the hype."
"Kiko Alonso was a guy I would have loved to have," Kelly said after the Bills took him with the 46th pick in 2013. "I coached him and I think he's an outstanding football player. I know they got a great one in him."
Now Kelly has the great one he wants.
Grading the deal
Bills: B. McCoy's salary is a concern, and the offensive line in front of him is an unknown, but he'll immediately make Buffalo's offense better and more varied—and with the team's overarching quarterback concerns, that's a very good thing.
Eagles: A-minus. The only thing keeping this from a resounding A-plus is Alonso's recent injury history. He'll be a perfect fit in a defense whose linebackers were all over the place in 2014 (and not in a good way). He's a special player when healthy.