Kiko Alonso was pumping iron last Tuesday when he was broadsided by the ping of his smartphone. A text from his agent, Steve Caric, informed Alonso, one of the NFL's top young defenders, that his boss would be calling ASAP.
Uh-oh, Alonso thought to himself as he stepped out to await the call from Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley. Something's up.
The menacing middle linebacker had read the situation correctly: In rapid-fire fashion, one of the most stunning player-for-player trades in recent NFL history had just gone down. The Bills would be sending Alonso, whose standout rookie season was followed by a torn ACL last summer that wiped out his entire 2014 campaign, to the Philadelphia Eagles for star running back LeSean McCoy.
"Whaley kinda just dropped it on me, and I was definitely a little shocked," recalls Alonso, who passed his physical at the Eagles' training facility on Monday and officially joined his new team upon the start of the new league year Tuesday afternoon. "But I was totally excited, too. If I was gonna get traded, the Eagles would have been my first pick."
That's largely because Alonso, a former Oregon standout, will be reunited with Eagles (and ex-Ducks) coach Chip Kelly -- and also because he'll see a lot of familiar faces in the locker room. Among the first to learn of the trade were Eagles tight end Zach Ertz and receiver Jeff Maehl (one of nine former Oregon players on the Philly roster), two of Alonso's workout partners at California Strength, the San Ramon, California, training facility about 50 miles from the suburban San Jose home where the linebacker was raised.
"After I got off the phone (with Whaley) I walked back in and said, 'Hey, Zach -- it looks like I'm gonna be your teammate!' " Alonso says. "He said, 'Get the (hell) out of here.' He and Jeff didn't believe me. About two minutes later, the news started breaking and our phones were blowing up, and there were a lot of hugs."
Alonso got a warm greeting from Kelly when he arrived in Philly, which is a testament to how far he has come. Twice suspended by Kelly at Oregon -- the second time after an embarrassing arrest that became known in team circles as the "Goldilocks" incident -- Alonso cleaned up his act and fought his way to the next level, with the Bills selecting him in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft following his breakout senior campaign.
While serving his second suspension (the first had cost him an entire season) at Oregon, Alonso wasn't exactly envisioning a future in which Kelly would give up one of the NFL's most prolific offensive players to acquire him.
"I'd definitely have to say that was (a scenario which was) very far-fetched, to say the least," Alonso says. "But everything happens for a reason, I guess."
To the casual fan, Kelly's decision to jettison the 26-year-old McCoy -- a two-time All-Pro selection -- defied reason. For all the talk about McCoy's high cap number and the whispers that he hadn't fully bought into Kelly's program, he's still a huge name, while most fans regarded Alonso as that other guy when processing the trade.
"That's totally understandable," Alonso says. "I've played one year in the league, and this guy's been tearing the league apart for years. I get it. I'm just gonna try to come in, do my job and win people over."
Some of the league's top personnel men need no such convincing; one AFC front-office executive, citing Alonso's speed, ferocity and upside, described the deal as a "steal for the Eagles."
"Kiko actually had better numbers in 2013," Caric says. "Would Eagle fans be happy with a McCoy-for-Kuechly trade? That's essentially what they did, but Kiko is more violent."
In the aftermath of the trade, there were suggestions that Alonso wasn't a good fit for new Buffalo coach Rex Ryan's defense. Alonso laughs at the notion, pointing out that as a rookie he played for then-Bills defensive coordinator (and current Cleveland Browns head coach) Mike Pettine, a Ryan disciple. "I only played in the exact same defense (in 2013)," Alonso says.
The week before the trade, the Bills sent members of their training staff to Northern California to videotape Alonso during workouts, ostensibly to assess his progress eight months after knee surgery. Says Alonso: "I didn't think anything of it." Possibly, Buffalo was also compiling footage to show potential trade partners who might need convincing that Alonso's ACL recovery was going as planned. If so, the strategy paid off.
"Right now, I wouldn't say I'm fully recovered," Alonso says. "But I'm extremely confident I'll get back to where I was before the injury."
"I had a smoothie, but we're gonna have to try out a couple of different ones," Alonso says. "It was good. The guy who makes 'em definitely knows what he's doing -- I'll say that."
Alonso also got a brief tour of the city, including the iconic steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art where Rocky Balboa made his cinematic climb and celebrated accordingly.
"I'm definitely gonna do that -- run up those steps and jump around like Rocky," Alonso says. "In fact, that's like the first thing I'm gonna do when I come back."