General managers and coaches are masters of prevarication, inclined by instinct and necessity to divert us from their true intentions, like good politicians.
On the night that he drafted Devin Singletary, Bills GM Brandon Beane insisted that LeSean McCoy was still his starting tailback. In the ensuing months, he and coach Sean McDermott continued to profess their faith in McCoy.
It was a diplomatic dodge, and I never bought it. The day after the draft, I wrote in this space that the Bills should cut Shady and be done with him once and for all. This was the gist of it:
“The thought of Shady hanging around as some sort of leader, worrying about his stats and Hall of Fame prospects in a supposed team culture, seems like a very bad fit.”
On Saturday’s cutdown day, the Bills took the truth serum. They released McCoy, a move that was met with shock around the football world because people are still naive enough to take the things NFL executives say at face value.
All along, cutting Shady made perfect sense. For one thing, you don’t draft a running back in the third round nowadays if you don’t plan for him to have an immediate impact.
Half of the sport’s top running backs had big years as rookies. Two years ago, Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt had huge years after being drafted in the third round. Philip Lindsey went undrafted in 2018 and rushed for over 1,000 yards.
Beane also acquired veteran running backs Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon in the offseason. That was a clear indication that McCoy was on thin ice. There was also no escaping the fact that Shady’s production had fallen off the cliff in the last two seasons.
It was natural to point to McCoy’s decline last season, when his 3.2 yards per carry was 48th out of 49 qualifying backs in the league. A year earlier, he had declined by 1.4. yards a rush, the biggest one-year decline of any 1,000-yard rusher in league history.
McCoy had some grisly rushing games in 2017: 12 for 9 yards; 14 for 21; 12 for 25; 11 for 10. It became fashionable to blame his offensive line, and there was truth to that, but those games came with Richie Incognito and Eric Wood still around.
There was no way to justify Shady’s presence. He was the last remaining offensive player from the Rex Ryan era. He stuck out in McDermott’s “culture” — a proud and self-centered player with a side agenda.
Throw in the fact that McCoy was still hounded by off-field domestic issues that cast doubt on his character and you had to wonder if the Pegulas were less than thrilled with his continued employment. He recently paid $55,000 to an off-duty cop in connection with a brawl in a Philadelphia bar in 2016.
Make no mistake, this is Beane and McDermott’s team, their vision. There are only three players remaining from the team McDermott inherited early in 2017: Jerry Hughes, Shaq Lawson and Lorenzo Alexander, all key defensive players for a defensive-oriented coach.
Beane gets a lot of credit for taking a team with a bloated salary structure and systematically reshaping the roster, shedding overpriced veterans, drafting young talent and building in depth on both sides of the ball.
In recent days, Beane got low draft assets for two offensive linemen who probably would have been cut: Wyatt Teller (Browns) and Russell Bodine (Pats). The Patriots trading for one of your marginal players? Now there’s something different.
There’s no telling how aggressively the Bills attempted to trade McCoy before the trade deadline last season, or after the season. But the fact that Beane could get draft picks for Teller and Bodine, but have to cut McCoy for nothing, tells you how little value Shady had on the trade market.
Yeah, it’s McBeane's team now. More to the point, it’s now Josh Allen’s team, his offense. They want Allen to be the true franchise quarterback and leader, and McCoy, a tough and proud player but a hollow leader, was standing in his way.
There will likely be times this season when Allen has the most experience as a Bill among the 11 offensive players on the field. There are various reasons for that, but it’s not an accident that Allen has ascended to elder statesman status on the offense so quickly.
Beane and McDermott wanted Allen to seize leadership of the offense as soon as possible, to have the voice and stature of a true franchise QB. The thought of Allen and McCoy sharing the same huddle seemed incongruous, regardless of any diplomatic assertions by management.
They made their intentions clear on draft night. You could see this move coming in late April, like a high-speed train rolling down the tracks.
Jerry Sullivan is a sports columnist with over 30 years experience in Western New York, as well as the host of The Jerry Sullivan Show from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. weekdays on 1270 AM The Fan. Follow him on Twitter @ByJerrySullivan or respond via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.