LeSean McCoy is coming to the Buffalo Bills.
That's one of those "whoa" moments sports fans remember, down to where they were when they found out.
(I was at the University at Buffalo, getting ready to cover a basketball game --one of the other hats I wear for The News. To borrow a word from Doug Marrone, obviously my plans changed.)
After frantically texting and calling to try and confirm the trade, I immediately got to writing the story -- which had a lot of layers.
For starters, McCoy is a legitimate NFL star who moves the needle. He leads the league in rushing over the past five years.
Acquiring a player of that caliber required saying goodbye to Alonso -- which was something a vocal segment of Bills fans weren't willing to do, no matter what the return ended up being.
Like with any trade, a "winner" won't be known for years, but after having a night to digest the move, here are a few of my thoughts on the deal:
- New coach Rex Ryan is staying true to his word. At Ryan's Jan. 14 introductory press conference, he answered his own question when he said, "Are we going to do ground and pound? Yeah, you're darn right we are."
Acquiring McCoy, who is one of the most durable running backs in the league, is a huge step in that direction. Over the past two seasons, McCoy has 626 rushing attempts -- most in the NFL.
That brings about legitimate concerns about his long-term viability at such a rugged position, but make no mistake: This is a trade made for the immediate future. The Bills are going for it this year.
Without a franchise quarterback, the best hope to build a playoff team is through a dominant defense and strong running game.
Ryan's presence should solidify the former, while McCoy's addition goes a long way toward making the latter true.
- The play of Nigel Bradham made Alonso expendable. Bradham, who's entering his fourth NFL season, was a disappointment his first two years in the league. But something clicked heading into 2014, and the Florida State product had his best NFL season. Bradham finished with 104 tackles, 2.5 sacks, one interception, two forced fumbles and six passes defensed in 14 games (he missed the season opener to suspension and one game because of a knee injury).
Projected over 16 games, his numbers come awfully close to matching Alonso's rookie season in 2013 of 159 tackles, two sacks, four interceptions, four passes defensed and one forced fumble.
Coupled with the performance of Preston Brown, who had 109 tackles, two passes defensed and an interception as a rookie, the Bills have two linebackers who have shown they can play in all situations. Brown and Bradham aren't quite in the same class as coverage linebackers as Alonso, but they can hold up in that regard.
Also, it's worth noting Alonso's play leveled out after an unbelievable first month of his rookie season (when he had all four of his interceptions, one sack and one forced fumble).
The Bills finished fourth in the NFL in yards and points allowed in 2014 without Alonso. They didn't just survive, they thrived without him.
- McCoy's addition will eat up a significant portion of the Bills' available salary cap space. He's due to count $10.25 million against the cap in 2015 -- leaving the Bills with just over $17 million in space when free agency opens Tuesday.
The team has big decisions to make on players like Jerry Hughes, Da'Norris Searcy and Brandon Spikes, while also needing to sign a veteran quarterback, and leave money for draft picks. This issue will be explored in more detail in a following post on the BN Blitz blog.
- One player who won't be coming back is running back C.J. Spiller. For all the excitement the team's 2010 first-round pick could provide, Spiller's career with the Bills will ultimately be regarded as a disappointment. He sandwiched four poor-to-mediocre seasons around one great year (2012), with a combination of injuries, inconsistency, questionable usage and subpar blocking far too often leaving Bills fans wanting more.