Reality Bites


Philadelphia Eagles v Jacksonville Jaguars



GORDONVILLE — Press “rewind.” Go ahead, I’ll wait.

When you hit “play,” you may find me on the floor, passed out from shock.

And not much shocks me anymore, particularly in the world of sports.

When I first saw something on my Facebook news feed about LeSean McCoy being traded to the Buffalo Bills, my inner cynic thought it was one of those prank stories that pop up.

When a second, third and 12th story popped up, I knew something was up.

Being an old-school guy, trading a franchise back in his prime goes against the grain more than, say, a franchise back in his prime cutting back against the grain.

In my day – when we used large boulders instead of footballs to play rough-touch at playtime in our diapers preschool – running backs like McCoy were valued commodities that teams were built around.

As such, my initial impression – despite knowing the return of Bills’ linebacker Kiko Alonso, hurt or not, was far better than the zilch received for Desean Jackson – was that I was not impressed.

After going through the stages of grief – including denial (thinking maybe it’s just a ploy by the Eagles or Drew Rosenhaus, McCoy’s agent, in ongoing contract restructuring talks) – I came to accept the fact that McCoy was gone. And that the sun has set on “my day,” with a little help of Eagles’ Emperor Chip Kelly.

When I arose the next morning, it was time to deal with the reality.

Dealing with reality

Once my mind cleared, it occurred to that Kelly must feel pretty confident about other pieces falling into place to pull this trigger.

And after years of sort of being bold – but more calculated – maybe it’s time for this organization to throw the bomb and see what happens.

Alonso, if you haven’t seen him play, can be a keeper at the epicenter of the defense. He is a three-down linebacker, equally stellar at diagnosing the run and covering downfield while also getting to the quarterback on blitzes.

Alongside Mychal Kendricks – assuming Kendricks is not dangled as draft-day trade bait while the dice is rolled on a healthy return of DeMeco Ryans – the Eagles could have one of the best duos of 3-4 inside linebackers in the league.

But this is where “if” becomes a four-letter word.

It was a risk for Kelly to jettison McCoy in favor of the running-back-by-committee approach favored by a lot of teams, up to and including the standard-bearing New England Patriots, for the reward of a stud linebacker with health concerns (a serious knee injury while playing for Kelly at Oregon followed by a torn ACL while working out at Oregon than cost him all of last season) and some off-the-field questions (a few arrests while quacking like a Duck).

But the risk-reward is greatly mitigated by the fact that the Eagles have a king’s ransom to go shopping with when free agency officially begins this week.

The embarrassment of riches – projected at above $50 million – comes courtesy of a house-cleaning that goes beyond shedding McCoy’s contract before his trade-in value depreciates. Venerable veterans – offensive lineman Todd Herremans and converted linebacker Trent Cole – were stripped of their wings. Joining them was cornerback Cary Williams, who would be a Hall of Famer if he played as well as he talked. It seems unlikely free agent linebacker Brandon Graham will be back, as he will be in demand as a 4-3 defensive end with a mid-range price tag.

And my loyal dog, Rex, has more of a chance of being signed than corner Bradley Fletcher and safety Nate Allen.

Going on shopping spree

So now comes the time to shop. And it won’t be for special-teamers like Chris Maragos and Bryan Braman this time around (no offense to those guys).

This is Nordstrom’s now, not Wal-Mart.

But we all know that does not always mean it’s time to be fitted for Super Bowl rings. There was that ill-assembled Dream Team of 2011 that turned into a nightmare.

The difference, we hope, is that Kelly is as smart as he portends to be and knows what he wants and how to get it.

And when Plan A fails, and part of it surely will, he needs to be able to seamlessly shift to Plan B.

There are obvious areas the Eagles will address, and there are some high-end names they will target, knowing they can win most bidding battles.

The reality may be somewhat different. There are 31 other teams. While all might not be able to spend on multiple players, they could have enough to lure away a prime target for the Eagles.

So, as we depress the Play button and go to the oft-harsh reality of real time, begin chanting the mantra of the Eagle fan – hope for the best, be prepared for the worst – as the frenzy commences.

If we are to believe all shreds of speculation, the outside linebacker spot where Cole and Graham more or less platooned opposite Connor Barwin, who went to the Pro Bowl, will be filled by Jason Worilds, who has been dominant, when healthy and focused, in Pittsburgh.

Secondary concerns

In the secondary, where as many as three starters may be sought to join last year’s free agent prize, safety Malcolm Jenkins, the most money is likely to be allotted. While it would be nice to add a piece like safety Devin McCourty, whom the Patriots have reportedly decided to let walk while trying to keep corner Derrelle Revis, they may not want to overspend.

So keep in mind names like Will Hill (Ravens), Ryan Clark (Redskins), Rahim Moore (Broncos).

Clearly, as Kelly has learned the hard way, cornerback is the new running back in a pass-happy NFL, where receivers are built like NBA power forwards and run like Olympic sprinters while having oversized hands that seem to be laced with a natural form of adhesive.

And he needs two of them to go along with slot corner Brandon Boykin, who is aching for a shot outside but probably won’t get the chance until he tests free agency next offseason.

If they reel in the position’s top prize, Byron Maxwell, who is parlaying his spot in Seattle’s famed secondary into a once-in-a-career payday, they may have to face the reality that the other corner spot will be a training camp battle between Nolan Carroll and Jaylen Watkins and, maybe, a rookie.

Or they could get two guys – maybe Tramon Williams from Green Bay and Kareem Jackson – instead of Maxwell, but the upgrade over last year may be more of a 90-degree turn than a 180.

That would especially be the case if they do court McCourty and hand the world to Worilds in two scenarios that sources say seem somewhat plausible.

They could add another defensive piece, and they just might, but there are now complications of their own making.

Creating holes

On offense, the Eagles have now created needs where none existed before by trading McCoy and releasing Herremans. They also have to decide on how much money should be allotted to retain Jeremy Maclin, the No. 1 receiver coming off a career year after missing a year with a knee injury.

There are shovel-ready guards on the market – Fernando Velasco, Orlando Franklin, James Carpenter, Mike Iupati – and they don’t command as much of a breaking of the bank as tackles do, but someone younger and more the upswing than Herremans will want to be paid as such.

They could “coach up” someone in house – Andrew Gardner, Matt Tobin, etc. – or look to the draft, where guards tend to go off the board in the second and third rounds after the premier tackles are snatched, but that is where they could have gone after other defensive needs.

Moreover, the quarterback situation seems more in doubt since the McCoy trade, as not having a featured back might be an indication that they are really eyeballing a running quarterback – not a drop-back, pocket-passer like Nick Foles – to keep defense more off-balanced.

It is wildly speculated that the Eagles would and could move up from No. 20 to No. 6 in the first round, sending Foles to the Jets in the swap, and taking Marcus Mariota (if he slips past the first two picks).

If not, maybe they would trade Foles to St. Louis, sign free agent Jake Locker and draft the likes of UCLA’s Brett Hundley.

There are running backs of note in free agency – ironically, former Buffalo Bill C.J. Spiller immediately lobbied to swap places with McCoy, but injuries have kept him from duplicating the numbers posted in his 2012 breakout season – and there is some chatter about Mark Ingram, although New Orleans is going to work hard to retain him or drive up the price.

Here, Ingram’s one-cut, north-south style would seem ideal – especially for a guy who has yet to break 1,000 yards (he had more than 900 last year for the Saints) and would be eager to completely shed the label as a guy who never lived up to his advanced billing.

Or, the Eagles could stay at No. 20 and take one of the two premier running backs – Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin or Todd Gurley of Georgia – sending me on a nostalgia trip back to “my day” when quarterbacks called their own plays and running backs were the centerpieces of franchises.

Maybe we should keep our fingers on the rewind button, just in case.

This column originally appeared at

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