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March 04, 2015

Throwing some ice water on your scorching hot McCoy takes

Eagles NFL
030415_McCoy-Chip_AP Alex Brandon/AP

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly and his former running back LeSean McCoy during happier times.

At this point, it’s safe to say sports has a problem on its hands: the media. And we’re all to blame.

Mass. Mainstream. Social. New. Print. Whatever. 

It’s getting dangerous out there. Literally thousands of outlets and countless writers work each and every day to offer a hotter take than that other guy. All we want is your attention. Please.  

Clickbait. Tabloid fodder. Call it whatever you want. 

But before we go any further, we need to have an honest conversation. I need to tell you something, even though you probably won't like the way it sounds. Here goes.

You're the reason it exists. Yes, you, reader. You complain about it relentlessly but read it nonetheless. You all read it. Trust me. I've seen the numbers.

So when the Eagles decided to trade running back LeSean McCoy to the Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso, I braced myself for the deluge of boiling fury that would almost certainly follow.

Sometimes, a hot take* is just what the situation demands. There's a reason columnists are some of the highest-paid writers. We just need to be judicious, not only our use of them, but also with the temperature at which you set your take.

*It sounds like something your friend says after he's destroyed your bathroom: "Whew, that was hot take." I find that hilariously ironic.

Opinions are allowed, even encouraged, especially when analyzing something like a player-for-player trade. But come on, guys. 

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We're so preoccupied by taking one side of the argument over the other -- thanks PTI, First Take, etc. -- that there's rarely time for nuanced argument and discussion. Ultimately, the truth lies somewhere in between these two extremes. 

But that's not sexy. That's not what people read, watch and click. So why waste your time?

What follows is, as best I can describe, the opposite of a hot take. It is deconstruction through rational thinking. It is pouring ice water on these hot takes until we get something that resembles room temperature. 

Shady is getting old

He'll be 27 when the upcoming season starts. He's not old. He's just got some miles on those treads. That's part of the reason this trade was able to work. 

And while 27 may not be old to you and I, it's typically the age running backs begin to show a decline in production:

McCoy is no doubt still in the prime of his career. But for how much longer will that be the case? It's only a matter of time before Shady's best years are in his rearview. 

Furthermore, McCoy had a league-high 125 carries since 2013-14 that have gone for zero or negative yards. Those are drive killers. And while the Eagles have made a habit of scoring quickly in Chip Kelly's fast-pace offense, the drives that fail stall just as quickly, putting addition strain on the Eagles' below average defense. Maybe Kelly would prefer a runner with more of a north-south mindset, rather than a guy like McCoy, who has a habit of going east-west before turning up the field.

If you want to read into this further -- perhaps at the risk of offering a hot take of my own -- the decision to move McCoy could be a sign the Eagles will in fact make a play for Marcus Mariota.

I was not alone in my belief that the Eagles would deal McCoy at some point before the draft, however I thought it would involve them moving up for a shot at Mariota. And while this move came as somewhat of a surprise, once you step back and look at it from a front-office perspective, it could still be part of a much grander scheme for Kelly to land  the Heisman winner.

If the Eagles [read Chip Kelly] were committed to moving forward with Foles behind center, they would be in win-now mode, and would likely keep Shady. That's because in another two or three years -- right as Mariota enters his NFL prime -- McCoy will no doubt be in decline. I think we can all agree that he has some good years left in him, but once running backs hit 30, they really start to go downhill. 

By making this trade now, the Eagles were not only able to free up cap space, but they were also able to get a great return. That's why you do it now, to maximize value.

Chip has gone power crazy

For everyone complaining that Kelly just wants another Oregon guy, consider this: He rarely goes after those guys at a great price.  This is somewhat of an exception, but if you consider the above, then it may not be as great a cost as you think.

For the most part, he goes after guys who are middle of the road players, but because he knows them best, he uses that to his advantage. It allows for him to select only those Oregon players that rival general managers and coaches may undervalue. There's a reason he didn't go after a guy like Dion Jordan despite reports that he was available.

And where do most of those Oregon players contribute? Special teams. Who had one of the best special teams unit in 2014? Exactly.

Guys he coached, recruited and even coached against are naturally going to be the players he knows best. He can apply that knowledge towards identifying the ones currently being undervalued by the rest of the NFL. And those are the players he targets.

Alonso has injury problems

And? What's your point? This is the NFL. Everyone in the league is at risk to be injured on any given play. 

Alonso previously tore his other ACL, and that seemed to heal fine. Jeremy Maclin played on a surgically repaired ACL last season and that seemed to work out fine. He did have a career year after all.

And while Alonso's injuries are part of the risk* you take when trading for him, he’s just as likely to get hurt again as McCoy is while playing for the Bills. I’m not wishing an injury on Shady by any means. I’m simply pointing out the fact that NFL injuries are often random.

*It's also part of the reason the Eagles were able to get the former defensive rookie of the year.

Winners, losers and the rest of us

So as I sorted through the countless "this team won" or "that team won" stories about the McCoy trade, there was a lot of this:

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Apparently every trade needs to have a winner and loser before the players involved even take the field. It's hard enough to judge a trade in hindsight, let alone before it's even official. 

And then, this headline from Mike Rodak of ESPN.com: "Swap of Kiko Alonso, LeSean McCoy makes sense for Eagles, Bills"

I had to read it a few times to make sure it wasn't an optical illusion. Here's some of what Rodak wrote about the trade:

But assuming the deal is finalized next week, the Eagles will clear most of McCoy's $11.95 million cap hit off the books and will have a shot to find another stud running back in what's considered a deep draft class this April. Coach Chip Kelly is also reunited with Alonso -- one of his former players at Oregon -- who comes at a cheap price and brings plenty of upside to the Eagles' defense. 

The Bills address one of their biggest offseason needs by adding McCoy. With Fred Jackson turning 34 last month and C.J. Spiller set to hit free agency this weekend, the Bills needed an infusion of talent at running back. McCoy is one of the most talented at his position in the NFL. 

It just makes sense. 

[...]

The impact on the Bills' defense shouldn't be substantial, either. They lose a cheap, rising young player in Alonso but they already have a replacement: Preston Brown, a 2014 third-round pick who played the second-most snaps of any defensive rookie in the NFL last season and held his own. 

If there was any position at which the Bills could afford to lose a player such as Alonso, it was linebacker.  [via espn.com]

Finally, a level-headed look at what this actually means. Let's see what's going on in the comments section...

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*crickets*

Seriously, guys? 

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