Fans and media have spent the past month talking about how little preseason means in the NFL – with good reason.
However, there was significance to the past six weeks of Buffalo Bills football when it came to LeSean McCoy. The strong training camp and preseason performances of Devin Singletary and Frank Gore cemented the irrelevance of McCoy on the Bills’ roster.
The bigger-picture takeaway on the end of the “Shady era” in Buffalo is this:
Let’s all hope and pray this ends a long and regrettable chapter in Bills roster-building history: The Giant Investment in Running Backs.
[Related: LeSean McCoy reportedly to sign with Chiefs]
In hindsight, you’ve got to believe Bills general manager Brandon Beane had the shedding of McCoy at least in the back of his mind when he drafted Singletary in the third round in April. Yes, Beane stated that day that McCoy definitively was the starter, but Beane called also Singletary “the funnest player” in the draft.
Would all the Bills’ backs stay healthy through the summer, and would they perform up to expectations – thereby making McCoy expendable? Beane could not be sure of that in April.
Singletary sure showed he was ready this summer. The 5-foot-7 scatback showed the willingness to play bigger than his size by running hard between the tackles. Singletary caught just six passes last season for Florida Atlantic. But he showed outstanding hands from Day One of training camp at St. John Fisher College. If there was a moment that sealed Singletary’s value as a receiver, it was the 18-yard wheel route he caught on a third-down play in the second quarter of the exhibition at Carolina. Matt Barley’s pass was over the outside shoulder, and Singletary easily tracked it down the sideline.
Then there’s Gore. Everybody knows what he can do after 14 seasons in the NFL. Still, he’s 36. Would he look his age this summer? No. Gore had an impressive training camp. If there were 2 yards to be gained, he got 3 or 4. If there were 4 yards to be gained, he got 5 or 6. We’ll see how he holds up. But it looks like he’s going to be a more consistent positive-yards gainer than McCoy.
It says something about the value of running backs in the NFL that the Bills could get a fifth and a sixth for Wyatt Teller (plus a seventh) but not be able to swing a trade for McCoy. Nobody was going to both give up a draft pick and pay McCoy $6.17 million.
There was no need to get rid of McCoy for cap purposes. The Pegulas save McCoy’s $6.17 million base salary. It’s less cash out the door for the owners, even though I don’t think they care a bit about that factor. However, that’s also less cap space the Bills will use this season, which means they can roll over more unused space into next season. The Bills were projected to have about $56 million in cap space for 2020, which ranks sixth most, according to Spotrac.com. Now they’re going to have a good chunk more than that.
So McCoy’s four-year tenure in Buffalo ends with 5,148 yards from scrimmage produced, fifth best in team history among running backs.
We hate to jump on the career graves of Doug Whaley and Rex Ryan yet again because we’ve been there and done that so often.
Yes, they made a good decision in unloading Kiko Alonso in the McCoy trade.
However, it’s worth restating: The Bills could have better spent their resources than paying McCoy $35 million over the past four years.
The Bills would have been better off in 2015 going with Karlos Williams and Mike Gillislee in the backfield and taking the $16 million they spent on McCoy that year on somebody else. This isn’t revisionist history. Lots of people – fans and media – made this point at the time. Or the Bills could have gone into the 2015 draft and picked David Johnson, Tevin Coleman or Duke Johnson, all of whom went in the third round that year. They’re all high-quality backs.
Consider how long the Bills have been overpaying for backs.
It goes all the way back to 2003 when they invested a first-round pick on Willis McGahee – an extravagance on a roster that was hardly one injured home-run hitter away.
Then they used a first-rounder on Marshawn Lynch in 2007. Great player, bad fit in Buffalo. And he wasn’t worth No. 12 overall when they had other big needs (and when they could have had Darrelle Revis at No. 14).
Then they used the No. 10 overall pick in 2010 on C.J. Spiller. Very good player. But when you’re starting a total overhaul, as the Bills were in 2010, do you really want to make a running back your first big draft building lock?
Spiller shared the backfield with Fred Jackson, lasted in Buffalo through 2014 and then figuratively passed the overvalued-RB baton to McCoy.
So that makes 16 straight years the Bills have had an overvalued back on the roster through 2018.
Beane has put an end to the streak. Singletary was the 74th pick in the draft. Instead of spending $6.175 million in base salary on McCoy, the Bills will devote $3.49 million in base pay — combined — to Singletary, Gore, T.J. Yeldon and Senorise Perry.
That’s a much smarter allocation of resources.