Monday, March 9, 2015

San Francisco earthquake

The rumor/news just hit that Patrick Willis is going to retire after 8 seasons as a 49er. Justin Smith appears likely to hang it up too. Smith is 35 and therefore well into the likely-to-retire zone. However, he still played at a high level last year.

Willis is just 30. He had season-ending toe surgery in 2014 and by his own assessment at the time had another 5-6 good years left in him. Either the toe issue is a lot more serious than he or anyone else thought, or he's decided that despite being able to, he's done playing.

My thoughts immediately jumped to Jim Harbaugh's exit. Certainly for a guy like Smith, feeling like the team is no longer a serious contender could be a deal-breaker. I don't pretend to know all the psychology involved, but I wonder if Willis was demotivated by Harbaugh's exit to the point where he just didn't want to play anymore. Despite any of his personal abrasiveness, no one can deny that Harbaugh was a coach and winner of the highest caliber. People respond to results and are willing to overlook a lot in someone who leads them to victory. By all accounts, the hiring of Tomsula to replace Harbaugh was a curious choice, perhaps more aligned with getting someone willing to plug the company line, so to speak. I wonder if players, who would already have been familiar with him, were not duly impressed.

There are also reports that Frank Gore is on his way out to Philadelphia. He's a late-career running back with something still left in the tank ... does going to Philly mean he feels he has a better chance at a good season there? It could be just about the money too, of course.

By the time this off-season is done, how many iconic 49ers will be gone? And just how much of that is because Harbaugh was ousted?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Eagles continue fleecing ways

Sources are reporting that the Eagles and Bills have agreed to trade LeSean McCoy and Kiko Alonso, seemingly straight up.

While on the surface the Bills are getting an electric running back, you've gotta figure the Eagles know when they have a depreciating or overvalued asset. Anecdotal evidence includes trading Kolb for a 2nd rounder and DRC a few years ago, and unloading Donovan McNabb, who was clearly a shell of his former self by that time. As fantasy owners no doubt noticed, McCoy had a down year last year (not just by TD numbers, but also in average rush; his receiving targets were way down as well). An optimist will simply say that he doesn't play the same role in Chip Kelly's offense, but let's not forget how dominant he was just a year before, in the same offense.

The Eagles get an inside linebacker who, at his best, is a perennial Pro Bowler. He's coming off ACL surgery so he's technically a risk, but the ACL recovery rate has improved. It's no longer a multi-year, career-threatening injury. Most guys are out one year, then return as before. Since Alonso should be ready for camps and preseason, he's not damaged per the Eagles point of view. However, trading for an injured player is a risk, no matter how much medicine has reduced that risk. This is further anecdotal evidence that McCoy is not the player he was in 2011-13.

Let's also consider that the Bills couldn't run the ball with anyone last year. The explanation is simple: no one respected their quarterbacks to beat them with the pass. That hasn't changed. In a league where unheralded backs make impact all over the place, it's implied that the environment (line quality, quarterback, playcalling) is as much of a factor as the back himself. McCoy is unlikely to singlehandedly reverse all those factors working against him.

Finally, McCoy is a rapidly depreciating asset. Conventional wisdom holds that he has just a couple more decent years left in him. The window of greatness could already be closed, or he could still be potentially effective for 3-4 years, but it's hard to know and the latter is the best-case scenario (and again, he won't be maximized by the Bills as they currently sit). Alonso, in the meantime, should give the Eagles 7-10 really good years.

If Buffalo has a plan to revamp their offense and maximize McCoy, great. However, that plan likely would have worked with a much cheaper back as well, without sending away an impact player, who as a bonus is still on his rookie deal. While letting him hit FA could be risky and if they didn't want to pony up cash in 2 years they would get nothing in return, I predict that McCoy and his salary will not have the positive impact the Bills are hoping for.