Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Real McCoy Move

The only NFL jersey he's ever worn
As threatened yesterday, here's the Eagle move that you aren't going to like. I don't like it, and I'm advocating it. But this is where this franchise is now, and denying reality is what has got us to the point of rooting for the worst team in the NFC. Buckle up.

If football were baseball... LeSean "Shady" McCoy, the Eagles RB who is already one of the five best to ever play the position in the 75+ year history of the franchise, would be an ace starting pitcher. He'd be one of the guys that would be bid up at ever-increasing speed during any kind of free agency, and as he neared the end of his contract, especially if his team wasn't very good, he'd be traded for a passel of prospects. Especially if he were in a small market.

If football were basketball... McCoy would get (and hopefully sign) a max deal, and the focus of the franchise would be finding players that work best to spotlight his talents, or seeing if he could lobby stars to come join him. He'd get the big touches late, we'd psychoanalyze his mindset and ability to rise to the occasion, and you would know, within a fairly small shadow of a doubt, that the games were going to be all about him for the next 5-10 years. We'd also be entirely OK with that.

But football is not baseball, and it's not basketball. It's a game where your career can, and every week does, change irrevocably for the worse on every snap. And what McCoy does for a living is just about the most dangerous job in sports.

Here are, by yardage, the best RBs in the NFL in 2009, Shady's rookie year.

Chris Johnson
Thomas Jones
Stephen Jackson
Adrian Peterson
Maurice Jones-Drew
Cedric Benson
Ryan Grant
Matt Forte
Ray Rice
Knowshon Moreno

Johnson has been the most erratic RB in the game for the past two years. Jones and Grant are out of the league. Jackson is on the downside of a wonderful career spent in obscurity, and in a timeshare. Peterson is a once in a generation medical marvel who, well, could still explode at any moment.  Jones-Drew and Benson are injured and might be done. Forte and Rice are having down years, and Moreno was deactivated and more or less unused for much of the time since.

I won't go into the top 10 in passing yards, other than to note that everyone on that list is still active and starting, and of the receivers, only Hines Ward is out of the game, though Randy Moss and Steve Smith (not CAR) are mighty close. Such is the nature of being a running back today.

Finally, there's this. The 2013 Eagles are not going to the playoffs.

I can't know that for certain, of course. They will get the benefit of a last-place schedule, a very high draft pick, and some presumed health from the legion of starters that went missing in this death march of a year. (They will also have, presumably, a head coach that hasn't spent the last five years working his owner like Rasputin worked the Czar. Moving on.) You could easily spell out a scenario where they are one of the top six teams in the NFC next year, because life in the NFL is fluid.

Fluid, like the leaderboards for rushing leaders.

And if you want to bet on the Eagles to win the Super Bowl in preseason 2013, you are going to get some downright tasty odds.

Shady is 24 years old as I write this. Lord knows he hasn't been overused; his high mark for touches in a year is 325, last year. Before this year, he had missed 2 games in 3 years, and fumbled 5 times. His fumble issues this year are troubling, but far from a deal breaker. Independent of scheme, there is no running back in the NFL that I would take over him on talent, and outside of the random Twitter fight with Osi Umenyiora, he hasn't been a sideshow off the field. It's been an absolute pleasure to watch him, perhaps the only consistent one in the last two years.

And the chances for him being this good, or even the healthy starter, when this team is good again... are not high enough to run the risk of keeping him around.

What might, say, the Green Bay Packers give up to acquire a back like McCoy -- especially in the off-season, after they get stopped by a team that abandons all pretense of stopping the run? He'd instantly be the best they've had since the youth of Ahman Green. He'd give their screen game sizzle, relegate the slog trio of Cedric Benson, Alex Green and James Starks to spot duty, and give Aaron Rodgers more time to throw on every play-action pass, because the defense would finally have to honor the run. Green Bay goes from pretender to favorite, and with their draft position, they are unlikely to get anyone of McCoy's pedigree and production any time soon. Would they give up a first round pick, or multiple lower round selections?

What would the Falcons do? Michael Turner is fading fast, Jacquizz Rodgers has size issues that probably prevent him from ever holding that job for any real amount of time, and McCoy on the Georgia Dome rug, with those WRs on the outside, would be frankly terrifying for a defense. They've drafted very well for the past few years, but have not been able to get over the hump in the playoffs. Another first round exit might make them do something drastic. Something like getting into a bidding war for McCoy.

What would the Broncos do? McCoy is reasonably skilled at blitz pickup, the ultimate win now upgrade at running back, and would let them get away from Moreno without a second thought. He'd be the best back that Peyton Manning has worked with since the glory days of Edgerrin James, and probably give John Elway flashbacks to Terrell Davis. For a franchise that knows that a Super Bowl rests on the neck of an aging quarterback -- and could easily fail to get there due to their need to rely on Moreno in a key spot this year -- he might be irresistible.

By the way, all of the teams that I just named have rushing attacks that are in the bottom half of the league, and are likely to go to the playoffs, where a crushing failure in the running game would be utterly impossible to ignore.

Now, I'm not advocating that the Eagles trade McCoy for little, or that Bryce Brown, Chris Polk and Dion Lewis can deliver anywhere near to what he's given the team. If they get 2/3rds of the production from a committee, I'd be thrilled, and you should be, too. If you think you aren't going to notice the drop-off, or that it's not going to be monumentally depressing to see McCoy have the RB equivalent of the Reggie White career, where he spend the next 4 to 8 years making people wonder how the Eagles could have ever let this guy go, stop the delusions now.

I'm an Oakland A's fan. Moving your best player is depressing, and you rarely get back full value. The Eagles can, and certainly are most likely to, keep him and look amazed at any idea that he could be moved.

But I keep going back to that 2009 rushing list. Then I think about how much McCoy will have left to give when he's 27 or 28, and the Eagles have put 1,200 more touches on those legs, and might finally be ready to compete for more than the rank of watchable football. I wonder if the magic moves he makes to turn negative plays into positive ones would still happen. Maybe think about how the Rams might have been better served to move Jackson and have a lineman or two for the past five years, or how bad teams stay bad because they try to patch holes, rather than do major foundation work on the lines.

This is a bad, bad franchise. And the next GM needs to change that immediately. The most powerful way will be to move the luxury of a great running back... for the necessity of any position that isn't ruled by short-timers and committees.

Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to go punch myself a few times for recommending that the team trade the only unquestionable good thing about it. Hard. Feel free to join in on that in the comments.

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