The Buffalo Bills sent shock waves through the NFL on Tuesday night, agreeing to a trade to acquire Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy in exchange for linebacker Kiko Alonso.
The deal was confirmed to The Buffalo News by a league source.
The trade can’t become official until the start of the 2015 league year, which comes at 4 p.m. March 10. But it’s a “done deal,” according to another league source.
McCoy’s addition also means the end of C.J. Spiller’s tenure in Buffalo. Appearing on NFL Network’s NFL Total Access on Tuesday night, Spiller said he was contacted by a member of the Bills’ front office, who thanked him for his time with the team.
“I won’t be returning to Buffalo,” said Spiller, who indicated he was hopeful of returning to the Bills. “Very few guys get to play their whole career with one team. Unfortunately that don’t happen in this business. I found out today.”
In McCoy, the Bills are acquiring a 26-year-old who is a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro. He led the NFL with 1,607 rushing yards in 2013, when he was selected the league’s offensive player of the year. He ran for 1,319 yards last season.
A second-round pick of the Eagles in 2009 out of Pitt, McCoy has 6,792 rushing yards since entering the league, third most in the NFL. In the last two seasons under Eagles coach Chip Kelly, he has seen a heavy workload. His 626 rushing attempts in that time leads the NFL.
However, according to NFL Network analyst LaDainian Tomlinson, himself a former MVP running back, McCoy felt that Kelly was phasing him out of the offense in 2014.
“He expressed to me that he didn’t think he was going back to Philly next season,” Tomlinson said, relaying parts of a recent conversation he had with McCoy. “He just didn’t think Philly was committed to him. … 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.”
Coincidentally, this is the second straight year the Bills have pulled off a trade to acquire an Eagles running back. Buffalo gave Philadelphia a fourth-round draft pick in 2014 for Bryce Brown. Last month at the NFL Scouting Combine, Bills General Manager Doug Whaley said Brown would have a “clean slate” with the team’s new coaching staff led by Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
“We’re excited to see him come in with a clean slate like everybody else and perform like we think he should,” Whaley said at the time.
McCoy, however, clearly projects to be the Bills’ new starting running back, with Brown and veterans Fred Jackson and Anthony Dixon behind him. McCoy has 44 career rushing touchdowns – fourth in the NFL since 2009 – and a career average of 4.65 yards per carry.
“I think it’s going to be a perfect marriage with LeSean McCoy and Rex Ryan,” Tomlinson said. “This is going to motivate him more than ever.”
McCoy carries a big cap hit of $10.25 million in 2015 – a $9.75 million base salary, and $250,000 workout and roster bonuses. That number drops in 2016 and 2017, however, to $7.15 million and $7.85 million, respectively.
That leaves the Bills with $17.583 million of salary-cap space to take into free agency.
Of course, acquiring McCoy will come at a big price, especially for Bills fans. Despite missing all of the 2014 season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee working out prior to training camp, Alonso was a fan favorite.
Much of that had to do with his rookie season in 2013, when the soft-spoken linebacker out of Oregon finished with a team-leading 159 tackles and four interceptions. He played every defensive snap as a rookie – the only player on the team to do so – and was a finalist for the Associated Press’ Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Alonso even started a popular Twitter trend among the team’s fans, who used the hash tag #TheLegendofKikoAlonso to dream up any sort of imaginary feats of strength he was capable of (example: Kiko Alonso doesn’t wear a watch, he decides what time it is).
But the Bills’ defense ended up faring just fine without Alonso in 2014. The team finished fourth in the league in both yards and points allowed. Additionally, rookie Preston Brown and third-year veteran Nigel Bradham proved to be young, every-down linebackers with similar skill sets to Alonso.
That made him expendable, ultimately ending in Tuesday’s trade.