Nothing like a good old-fashioned blockbuster trade in the NFL, a one-for-one swap to get the blood flowing right before the March madness that is free agency!
The Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills rocked the sports world Tuesday night, with the former agreeing to send LeSean McCoy to the latter in exchange for Kiko Alonso. And I would call the deal a win-win in 2015, something that will benefit both teams -- for now.
For all parties involved, this trade oozes ego. It's about the Bills shaping the team in the image of new head coach Rex Ryan. It's about Chip Kelly wanting the Eagles to solely reflect his football philosophy, specifically employing players who buy into the system. Each franchise is going all in on its coach's vision and personality.
But here's where the two sides differ: While Buffalo's actions could help the team succeed in the coming season, there is a broader scope on Broad Street.
Allow me to explain, starting with the team that received the bigger name in this trade ...
On the field for the 2015 Bills, McCoy fits perfectly into the "ground and pound" mentality that has always been a part of Rex's DNA. McCoy will get 25 touches a game. And he won't be the only explosive playmaker keeping defensive coordinators up at night, either -- opponents will have to game plan for McCoy andSammy Watkins in Greg Roman's offense. That won't be fun, especially now that Buffalo has a quarterback with a pulse.
Yes, one day after snagging McCoy, the Bills supplied him with a new backfieldmate, acquiring veteran QB Matt Cassel from Minnesota. OK, let's get one thing straight: Cassel's no world-beater. But for the forthcoming season, he represents an upgrade over EJ Manuel, and he's better than the cavalcade of journeymen who'll be available via free agency. (No, sorry, I was not dying to see a Rex Ryan-Mark Sanchez reunion in Upstate New York.)
Pair these offensive upgrades with the best defensive line in the AFC, and the Bills could have something in 2015. A 10-win campaign seems possible, and considering Buffalo hasn't seen a playoff season since the turn of the millennium, a trip to the postseason would earn Rex a parade in Year 1.
But when I look down the road at Buffalo's future beyond this fall, questions arise. What will this team look like in 2016 and '17? Will the Rex love still be there?
Right now, Ryan is white hot in Buffalo. He immediately enraptured the Bills Mafia at his introductory press conference when he tapped the mic and quipped, "Is this thing on? Because it's getting ready to be on." He drank beers with Jim Kelly. He showed up at the NFL Scouting Combinewearing a Thurman Thomas jersey. He is riding around town in a custom-painted Bills truck. He just traded for a two-time All-Pro back.
Rex has a great knack for creating bravado -- real or fake -- for his players and the fans. I think that will carry over into the coming season, when the Bills could snap the NFL's longest playoff drought. But what's the shelf life on this act? The unrelenting "swag" can crash and burn down the road, flame out like it did with the New York Jets. The Bills could get over the hump in 2015, but I worry about the slippery slope that might follow, based on precedent.
Will McCoy be there in 2017 or '18?
Rex, as I've chronicled many times in this space, struggles as an in-game coach with clock management, has trouble setting the correct game-day roster and, of course, does not have a good track record when it comes to fostering success at the quarterback position.
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Rex also failed with nonsense at his first head-coaching stop. The press conference antics won't be funny if Buffalo doesn't win. The Bills truck, reminiscent of the Sanchez-inspired tattoo from his Jets tenure, has strong punchline potential. And the character risks he takes could blow up in his face -- like Santonio Holmes did in New York. The new coach didn't waste any time before adding a highly controversial player in Richie Incognito, who was out of the league last year, a toxic figure due to his leading role in the Miami Dolphins' bullying scandal. I completely disagree with the move.
But this is Rex Ryan. He does things his way. So does Chip Kelly.
The Eagles' offense is Chip Kelly's baby -- a baby he's treated very well in two years with Philly. The Eagles ranked second in total offense and fourth in scoring in 2013. Last season, they ranked fifth in total offense and third in scoring. Do you honestly think Chip Kelly and his amazing system will miss a beat sans McCoy? Even last year, Kelly began to favor Darren Sproles over McCoy on throwing downs and Chris Polk over McCoy in short-yardage situations. And as my colleague Albert Breer touched on Wednesday, this draft class just so happens to be absolutely loaded at running back.
Kelly is an offensive maven, a true genius on that side of the ball -- he'll make this work. The Eagles' offense will never be the problem. The team's defense, on the other hand, was a problem in 2014. Philadelphia ranked 22nd in scoring defense and 28th in total defense.
So Kelly deals a soon-to-be-27-year-old back for a young stud linebacker in Kiko Alonso. I voted for Alonso as Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013. Yes, he missed the entire 2014 campaign with an ACL injury. But with advances in modern medicine, that injury isn't the career-changer it used to be; he will be healthy for training camp this year. And from what we saw in his first NFL season, Alonso's a fantastic all-around player -- great tackler, excellent in coverage, a run stopper and a fine young leader. And oh yeah: He played for Kelly at Oregon.
Plus -- and this is crucial in the long-term makeup of the team -- the move saves Philly about $10 million in salary. Couple that with the release of Trent Cole -- a tad jarring, but then, Cole isn't getting any younger -- and other moves, and the Eagles will have around $48 million of cap space heading into free agency.
I love the potential dominoes here.
The Eagles, who ranked 31st in pass defense last year, desperately need defensive backs. Is free-agent-to-be Byron Maxwell the guy? If Devin McCourty makes it to the open market, will Philly be in? And there's a lot of enticing talent available beyond the DBs, too. Are the Eagles in the mix for Ndamukong Suh? Will they sign a running back, say former Bill C.J. Spiller? (Yes, I'd love the fit -- and the irony.) Could they, would they, try to steal DeMarco Murray from the rival Dallas Cowboys? Will Jeremy Maclin be back?
The Eagles won 10 games last year, and it wasn't enough. Kelly is ready to make moves and get back to the playoffs. I applaud that. I believe in him.
When you hire Chip Kelly to coach your team, you embrace it. I have no problem with him having full autonomy. He's a special football mind. And I believe that when you look at the Eagles' roster after the draft, it is going to be improved and loaded with talent.