Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy had the worst year of his career by every statistical measure in 2018. At age 31, is it reasonable to expect him to bounce back in 2019? That’s the question the Bills will need to answer this off-season.
Just as the Bills are going through coaching staff and roster evaluations now that their season is over, so are we at Buffalo Rumblings. In our first look at a player that Buffalo may move on from this off-season, we look at the running back position and the expensive McCoy.
Has LeSean McCoy lost a step? Yes, undoubtedly. He’s not the same runner he was when he first landed in Buffalo, let alone his 2013 season. Slight changes in speed and shiftiness are problematic for a player who relies almost exclusively on those traits. On the flip side, when you’re talking about a potential Hall of Fame player losing a step, it still sets a nice ceiling. Looking at this past season, Shady still consistently showed a lot of nice moves.
McCoy doesn’t look quite as natural sprinting as he did in 2013. That top speed looks like it’s taking more work than it used to, but if the question is “does he still have some left in the tank?” the answer is “yes.”
For Sean McDermott and Brian Daboll, they still have what could be a dangerous weapon in McCoy. If the Bills commit to investments in the offensive line and scheme around McCoy’s strengths there’s no evidence to suggest 2019 can’t be a good year for Shady. Not quite 2013 good, but “take some pressure off of Josh Allen” good, for sure. The Bills should look to reduce some of McCoy’s workload and take a swing at an heir apparent, but keeping Shady looks to be a solid move from a talent perspective.
If Buffalo releases McCoy, they save $6.425 million on the salary cap and almost that much in actual dollars. For that price, they could sign two or three free agent running backs (not named Le’Veon Bell) to get the same production they got from McCoy in 2018.
It’s the final year of the contract, so Buffalo either has to play out the remainder of his deal or release/trade him. If I’m Buffalo, there isn’t a way I’m giving him a contract extension to kick the salary cap down the road. It’s one and done for Shady or none and done.
2019 cap hit: $9.05 million
Workout bonus portion: $250,000
Salary due: $6.075 million
Dead money: $2.625 million
Cap savings: $6.425 million
2018 stats: 115 carries, 385 yards (3.3 YPC), 1 TD, 13 receptions, 205 yards
In a way, Ivory managed to match the role he was signed for. He outplayed Mike Tolbert, was the primary backup running back, and had a game or two where he sparked the offense when McCoy was struggling. Still, 3.3 yards per carry on 115 carries is not going to cut it in the NFL. Ivory will be 31 years old in 2019, with 1300 career touches, and his career trajectory is pointed down at this stage.
2018 stats: 52 carries, 250 yards (4.8 YPC), 11 receptions, 26 yards
Murphy held his own in training camp, and he made the opening day active roster. Murphy’s fresh legs were welcome at times during the season, but he struggled in pass protection and the Bills were more reluctant to dial his number as the year wore on. He finished as the team’s fourth-leading rusher. Murphy will be 28 years old in 2019, entering his fifth NFL season.
2018 stats: 21 carries, 79 yards (3.8 YPC), 3 receptions, 21 yards
Ford joined the Bills as an undrafted free agent after the 2018 NFL Draft. Ford signed with the Bills and played with the team in training camp. He ended up on the practice squad, from which he was promoted in mid-December during the aforementioned injuries. He had a decent, if unexciting debut to the NFL. Ford led the team with 33 yards on seven carries in his first game, a loss to the Patriots. He avoided major mistakes in 2018, but his longest play from scrimmage was eleven yards.
2018 stats: 5 tackles
Buffalo’s special teams captain is a free agent this year. The running back didn’t receive any offensive touches before he hit injured reserve with a neck injury.
Yeldon rushed for 414 yards and 1 touchdown and caught 55 passes for 487 yards and 4 touchdowns. He averaged 4 yards per rush this year, and he has averaged 4.4 yards per tote over the last two seasons combined; teammate Leonard Fournette, on the other hand, has averaged 3.7 yards per carry in the same span. Yeldon has struggled to stay healthy in the past, but if he is used as part of a backfield-by-committee, he has the speed, the receiving ability, and the rushing ability to serve as an immediate upgrade over the 2018 version of McCoy.
If Buffalo wants to make a slightly bigger splash, they can splurge a bit on Coleman, who has been the lightning in the Atlanta Falcons backfield to Devonta Freeman’s thunder over the past few seasons. Coleman is also 25 (he turns 26 in April), and he had a very good year serving as the starter while Freeman was injured. Coleman set career highs in carries (167), yards (800), yards per carry (4.8), receptions (32), and receiving touchdowns (5); he also ran for 4 touchdowns and totaled 276 receiving yards. Coleman is an ultra-talented player who has never had the chance to be “the guy” in an offensive backfield. Buffalo could give him that chance next season, and it would be an upgrade over McCoy.
I know what you’re thinking—if part of the reason Buffalo should move on from a soon-to-be-31-year old McCoy is his age, why would they sign a running back in free agency who turns 30 next season? Well, he is a “young” 29, as his birthday just passed in December. Also, Ingram has less wear and tear than most running backs of his age when they hit the open market. He only has 1,321 career carries to go with 228 receptions. through his age-29 season. If Ingram wants a chance to be a lead back, outside of the shadow of his younger teammate Alvin Kamara, a two-year deal for $8-$10 million could be worthwhile for both Buffalo and Ingram.
The former fourth round draft choice by the San Francisco 49ers had his most productive NFL season in 2018 as a member of the Seattle Seahawks. Davis ran 112 times for 514 yards (4.6 YPC) and 4 touchdowns as a member of the most productive trio in the league, and he is the only one not under contract for next season. While he has never had the chance to be “the guy,” this is another opportunity to grab a talented player from a time-share at the fraction of the cost of Buffalo’s current offensive backfield. Davis is also a capable receiver, as he caught 34 passes for 214 yards and a touchdown this year.
How could we discuss running backs without the most talented one on the market? The negatives here are obvious—Bell hasn’t played football in over a year, and he is looking to make more money than any running back in NFL history with this contract. If the Bills are looking to save cash, then this isn’t the route to take. However, Bell’s talent is undeniable. In the three season where Bell has played all 16 games, he has rushed for at least 1,200 yards, caught at least 75 passes, averaged at least 4 yards per rush, and scored at least 9 total touchdowns each time. Buffalo should kick the tires here, and they ultimately should probably pass...but man, it sure is tempting.
Speaking of kicking the tires and taking risks, signing Ajayi represents an opportunity to buy low on a supremely talented player coming off an injury. Ajayi suffered an ACL tear in Week 5, but he had rushed 45 times for 184 yards and 3 touchdowns to that point in the year. Ajayi’s effort waned at times when he played for the Miami Dolphins, but he seemed to turn the corner after being traded. If he is the kind of player motivated by adversity and doubt, then rehabbing an injury could be the catalyst for another big jump.
The 2019 NFL Draft’s running-back class looks average on the surface, as there are few surefire franchise players, but there is plenty of depth. As is frequently the case with running backs, some of the middle-round prospects may likely prove to be more impactful and productive than their draft slot would indicate.
(Note: Grif breaks down all of the following players in his dedicated 2019 NFL Draft running back article here.)
David Montgomery, Iowa State
Josh Jacobs, Alabama
Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma
Darrell Henderson, Memphis
Devin Singletary, Florida Atlantic
Damien Harris, Alabama
Mike Weber, Ohio State
Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M
Bryce Love, Stanford
Miles Sanders, Penn State
Myles Gaskin, Washington
Benny Snell, Kentucky
Justice Hill, Oklahoma State
Now it’s time for you to vote. Knowing all you know now, should the Bills bring back LeSean McCoy in 2019? If no, how should they replace him?
How should the Bills address LeSean McCoy’s RB spot in 2019?
This poll is closed
Bye Shady, add a free agent RB option
Bye Shady, add an NFL Draft RB option
Bye Shady, roll with Chris Ivory & the RB room we have