By Barry Federovitch
For the Chris Murray Report
PHILADELPHIA–Are the Philadelphia Eagles threatening to become Oregon East? Or is there a method to Chip Kelly’s madness in what has begun to transpire this NFL offseason?
With rumors running rampant that the Birds will make every effort to trade up in the 2015 NFL Draft so that they might acquire former Duck Marcus Mariota, Kelly plucked another one of his star fledglings yesterday when in principle the team acquired linebacker Kiko Alonso from the Buffalo Bills.
The Bills’ bill for this Duck? One of the best running backs in the game, 26-year-old LeSean McCoy, the same Shady who led the NFL in rushing in 2013 with 1,607 yards and is the game’s third-leading rusher since he came into the league in 2009.
One of the game’s most durable backs (having missed only six games in six seasons), McCoy was the Eagles’ face of the franchise and will be difficult to replace, having amassed over 9,000 yards from scrimmage during that time.
Superficially, the move makes sense as NFL running backs tend to wear out faster than the tread on a decade-old tire. And by averaging only 4.2 yards per carry, matching his lowest average since his rookie year, maybe the Eagles are wise to get something in return for McCoy before his value shrinks to nothing, though his age is not a factor.
Add the savings on what is reported by the Philadelphia Daily News to be an $11.95 million salary cap number and the move looks savvy.
Alonso was a standout for Kelly at Oregon and second in the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year race two seasons ago, making 159 tackles. When healthy, Alonso plays sideline to sideline and can play every linebacking position. For a defense that finished 28th overall last season (including 31st against the pass), he would seem to be a great acquisition.
But the operative words in the above assessment are ‘when healthy’ because Alonso’s resume in that area isn’t exactly sparkling of late.
Alonso’s rise to superstardom was cut short last summer when he tore his left ACL while working out back in Eugene. Seven months of rehab followed and while he is reportedly doing well, it remains to be seen if he will be as dominant as before the injury (which was his second major knee injury as he sat out all of 2010 rehabbing an injury sustained in the spring).
Just five weeks before last summer’s knee issue, Alonso was sidelined by a torn labrum. And while Alonso didn’t miss a game in 2013, he ‘’tweaked’’ his knee late in the season and played at less than 100 percent.
The dropoff wasn’t significant, but he recorded fewer tackles in the second half of the year and didn’t have a sack, forced fumble or interception in any of the team’s final seven games.
Does that sound like the type of player one would want to trade for LeSean McCoy?
Make no mistake that the Eagles need to get better defensively if they are to get back to the top of the NFC East, a division wide open as the Cowboys face running back issues and the Giants and Redskins hope to rebound from sorry seasons. A healthy Alonso, who in 2013 looked like one of the best young linebackers in the game, could be one of the pieces to get them there.
But the Eagles may just as easily be on a wild goose chase in opting for a player, who also has a history of being hypersensitive and carries some off-the-field baggage. In 2010, before he got injured, he was cited for DUI.
Then in May, 2011, he was arrested and charged with felony burglary, criminal mischief and criminal trespass. Alonso received two years’ probation and did 200 hours of community service while Kelly suspended him from the team.
Almost four years down the road, Alonso has done much to mature and move beyond his shady past. But he will have do a lot more to justify the trade of Shady, one of the best backs in Eagles’ history, in a move that carries just as much risk as possible reward.