The NFL is a harsh business. Players are traded and released, sometimes without any rhyme or reason. Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy is no stranger to the realities of life in the league.
In 2015, entering his seventh season in the league, McCoy was considered one of the top running backs across the league. Coming off his second-consecutive 1,000+ yard season, and fourth of his career, McCoy was primed to continue his successful career toting the rock for his Philadelphia Eagles. Then head coach Chip Kelly had different plans.
A week before the new league year, the two-time all-pro McCoy was traded for Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso. McCoy was shocked, as was the rest of the league.
It took time, but McCoy fully embraced the move, playing football outside his home state of Pennsylvania for the first time in his career. Now, four years later, McCoy may very well have an opportunity to return home.
Buffalo’s busy offseason
This offseason was busy for Bills’ general manager Brandon Beane. While he entered the 2019 offseason with one of the better defenses in the league, he turned to the offensive side of the ball once the new league year hit and he never looked back.
Throughout the offseason, Beane brought 15 new faces to head coach Sean McDermott and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s offense. The moves included three receivers, six offensive linemen, three running backs, and three tight ends. Additionally, those numbers don’t reflect the moves made throughout the NFL Draft. Through seven rounds, Beane drafted two tight ends along with one offensive lineman and running back, respectively.
The focus was put on the offense, and for a good reason: quarterback Josh Allen. For this regime, and many others in the NFL, it’ll be ride-or-die on the success of the franchise QB. If Allen doesn’t succeed, Beane, along with the coaching staff, will be the ones to blame. With that, they’ll be looking for employment elsewhere in the league.
McCoy isn’t “Shady” anymore
Having just turned 31 this offseason, McCoy’s been on the wrong side of 30 for a season now. That was evident in 2018. Averaging only 3.2 yards per carry, “Shady” struggled to make a difference in Daboll’s offense. Why?
Pundits will turn and point at several reasons for his lack of success. First, his age. However, the man standing next to him at training camp, Frank Gore, has defied the old RB stereotype. That can’t be the sole reason.
Next, his production throughout his ten-year career includes over 2,300 carries and 10,000+ yards. Are the wheels indeed falling off? In his four seasons in Western New York, McCoy started all 16 games just once.
What about the system? Better yet, what about the circumstances? After all, Buffalo went into the 2018 season with a raw QB prospect that much of the league didn’t respect. On top of that, the Bills offensive line was in shambles all season.
Excuses for the lack of production add up. Some warranted, some not. However, the additions Beane made at RB are more than enough to prove that it’s anyone’s job, and training camp is as hot of a competition at RB as any spot on the roster.
Buffalo has quality options behind McCoy
Outside of McCoy and Gore, Buffalo’s running back room is rounded out with rookie third-round pick Devin Singletary and veterans T.J. Yeldon and Senorise Perry, who had served as a valuable special teamer with the Miami Dolphins over the last two seasons.
The biggest wildcard in this group that’ll determine McCoy’s fate is Singletary. How does he adjust to life in the league? If it’s any indication of what’s happened throughout the first few days of camp, he’s along in the process farther than many might’ve thought.
Per syracuse.com: “Everything is going to hit quicker. Guys are moving faster. Guys are bigger. I feel I’m adjusting well,” he said of his transition to the NFL. “I’m very confident. I believe in myself. And I’ve got great guys around me to guide me in the right direction. I feel like I’m doing well so far.”
Keep, trade, or release
What ultimately happens to McCoy will be determined within the next three weeks of camp and preseason action. If Buffalo sustains an injury to their running back room, they can’t afford to lose a body like McCoy, regardless if he’s lost a step or not. Once other teams start losing backs to injury, or due to prolonged holdouts, you can assure they’ll be calling Beane.
If McCoy is traded or released, Buffalo will save over $6 million towards the cap all while going all-in on younger backs like Singletary and Yeldon, who turns 26 in October.
A confident player like McCoy doesn’t expect to lose his job. At the same time, he doesn’t expect to have the city of Buffalo, a place he’s grown to appreciate, ripped from under him, much like Philadelphia was four years ago. Like any player, however, he’s expendable. Don’t be surprised if you see him on a different roster sooner rather than later.
Tyler Olson is a writer for PFN covering the AFC East. You can follow him @to2471 on Twitter.