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Replacing LeSean McCoy with a free agent could help Buffalo Bills in 2019 and beyond

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With a deep market, the Bills could acquire a young, talented player at a low rate

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not often that a team like the Buffalo Bills has a player considered by many to be among the best at his position, but since the 2015 season, that’s exactly what they’ve had in LeSean McCoy. A six-time Pro Bowl selection over the course of his ten NFL seasons, McCoy has totaled 10,606 rushing yards, 69 rushing touchdowns, a 4.5 yards-per-carry average, 475 receptions, 3,616 receiving yards, and 15 receiving touchdowns since the Philadelphia Eagles selected him in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft.

While McCoy has had an outstanding, borderline Hall-of-Fame-worthy career (for the record, my vote for him is “yes” even if he retired today), his 2018 season was a complete disaster overall. In every measurable way, he had a career-worst season, posting 514 rushing yards, three rushing touchdowns, a 3.2 yards per carry average, 34 receptions, and 238 receiving yards. At times, McCoy was able to showcase his trademark burst and agility that has made him great over the course of his career. Whether due to poor offensive-line play, losing a step due to age and time, teams stacking the box due to a putrid passing attack, or a combination of all three factors—McCoy’s performance still dipped precipitously in 2018.

If a player has a down year at age 26, there still may be a reason to cling to hope that he will return to form the following season with an improved cast of characters around him. When that player has such a startling down season at age 30, however, that typically indicates something more like a “new normal” than it does a blip on the radar. It doesn’t help that on a per-touch basis, McCoy was the least efficient member of the Bills’ current backfield in 2018, coming in at 3.9 yards per tote.

The Bills very well could hold onto McCoy, hoping that an investment in the offensive line and a full, healthy season (hopefully) from a second-year Josh Allen allows McCoy to return to glory. In doing so, however, they’d be making a $9.05 million gamble on a soon-to-be 31-year old running back coming off the worst season of his career. The Bills could augment their backfield through the NFL Draft, choosing to cut ties with Chris Ivory, another soon-to-be 31-year old running back, and allow that rookie to spell McCoy throughout the season while Shady plays out the final year of his contract.

If the Bills were to cut Ivory and retain McCoy, they would save $2,156,250 on the 2019 salary cap. If the Bills were to cut McCoy and keep Ivory, that number increases to a savings of $6,425,000. By cutting both aging veterans, thereby completely revamping their offensive backfield, the Bills would have an additional $8,581,250 to spend on finding a replacement, all with a manageable dead cap charge of $3,375,000. That’s less than the $4.5 million dead cap charge incurred for cutting Charles Clay alone.

Might it seem radical to move on from the only two running backs with legitimate NFL experience on the Bills’ current roster? Sure, it might be, but when considering the abundance of talented, young running backs on the open market, it at least has to be a consideration. When we polled our readers about cutting McCoy and signing a free agent in early January, 48% of respondents (669 voters) selected Tevin Coleman of the Atlanta Falcons as an ideal replacement for McCoy. 15% of you (211 votes) shot higher, opting for Le’Veon Bell. Jay Ajayi (154 votes) and T.J. Yeldon (121 votes) rounded out the top of the poll, taking 11% and 9% of the respective vote.

Those results don’t even take into account other talented free-agent backs like Mark Ingram, Mike Davis, and Latavius Murray, or players who may be available via trade like Duke Johnson. With a flood of talent, Buffalo would be wise to find McCoy’s replacement one year too early rather than search for him one year too late.

In short, the Bills should look to go younger in the offensive backfield, and part of that process involves moving on from a player who will most likely be enshrined one day in Canton. However, the Bills need to do what’s best for now and for the future, not what’s best for the past. McCoy has been a great player for Buffalo, but his greatest days are yesterdays, not tomorrows. The current crop of free agent running backs is the dawn of a new day for the Buffalo Bills.