The Buffalo Bills (3-2) host the San Francisco 49ers (1-4) this Sunday at New Era Field, which puts the spotlight back on one of the NFL's biggest storylines from last season: Chip Kelly's decision in March of 2015 to trade running back LeSean McCoy.
A year-and-a-half later, it's clear that not only are the Bills the biggest beneficiaries of the trade, but Kelly, now the 49ers' coach, is the biggest loser from the swap that sent McCoy to Buffalo and linebacker Kiko Alonso to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Before dumping McCoy, the Eagles' all-time leading rusher, in one of the franchise's most important decisions of the past decade, Kelly had gained some footing in Philadelphia. He went 10-6 in each of his first two seasons as Eagles coach, made a playoff appearance in 2013, and won over control of the roster after the 2014 season when former general manager Howie Roseman was exiled to an administrative role.
After Kelly shocked fans and was the buzz of the NFL by trading McCoy, the wheels fell off in Philadelphia. McCoy's replacement, DeMarco Murray, suffered through statistically his worst season as a pro and Kelly's team stumbled to a 7-9 finish. In firing Kelly last December, owner Jeffrey Lurie took a jab at the icy relationships Kelly was reported to have with players such as McCoy, citing "emotional intelligence" as a trait he wanted in his next coach.
Lurie later put Roseman back in charge of personnel decisions, a direct repudiation of what Kelly had tried to build with the Eagles. In March, Roseman traded Alonso and cornerback Byron Maxwell -- a player Kelly targeted and Roseman negotiated a six-year, $63 million deal to sign -- to the Miami Dolphins in order to move up five spots in the first round of the 2016 draft. Roseman then included that No. 8 selection in a package sent to Cleveland to select quarterback Carson Wentz second overall.
The result? The Eagles are 3-1 and Wentz has outperformed the typical expectations of a rookie quarterback, ranking first in the NFL in touchdown-to-interception ratio, sixth in in passer rating, seventh in completion percentage and 13th in yards per attempt.
There are several layers and wide-ranging effects of the McCoy trade, including the salary-cap space that Kelly was able to clear. But given the Wentz trade and the Eagles' early success this season, it's safe to say that dealing McCoy hasn't left the franchise in a long-term hole.
Meanwhile, the Bills are reaping the rewards of having a player of McCoy's caliber land in their lap. The trade, which was consummated in a matter of minutes as the Bills' brass were drinking on owner Terry and Kim Pegula's yacht in Florida, has been one of the best moves of the three-year tenure of general manager Doug Whaley.
Since the start of last season, McCoy has the fifth-most rushing yards in the NFL, and those totals would be higher if he did not miss four games last season because of hamstring and knee injuries. McCoy has shifted into a higher gear over the Bills' ongoing three-game winning streak, averaging 6.11 yards per carry. He gained 154 yards in the Bills' win Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams and said after the game that he would have "easily" rushed for 200 yards or more.
The Bills haven't suffered from trading away Alonso, either. Preston Brown, a 2014 third-round pick, has started all 21 games at middle linebacker since Alonso was dealt, and 2016 free-agent pickup Zach Brown is tied for the NFL lead in tackles this season, with 57. Alonso's terrific rookie season in 2013 is a fading memory at this point in Buffalo.
Though Alonso turned in a disappointing, injury-hampered 2015 season for the Eagles, he's bounced back this season. With 50 tackles through five games, Alonso ranks third in the NFL behind Zach Brown and Carolina's Luke Kuechly.
The McCoy trade was a huge win for the Bills and hasn't hurt the Eagles or Alonso, but the same can't be said for Kelly. Now in his second chance as an NFL coach -- rarely do coaches get three shots to win -- Kelly is already behind the eight ball as the 49ers have lost four consecutive games. Only the Browns, 0-5, have a longer losing streak in the the league.
Kelly will likely get at least another season in San Francisco to turn around an organization that has been in a tailspin since Jim Harbaugh led the 49ers to three consecutive NFC Championship Game appearances. But with little hope of Blaine Gabbert or Colin Kaepernick offering franchise-quarterback play, the odds are against Kelly competing in one of the NFL's toughest divisions.
As Kelly travels to Buffalo this weekend and is again reminded of what he gave up in McCoy, it's hardly a stretch to label him the biggest loser from the blockbuster deal that jettisoned one of the NFL's best rushers from Philadelphia and eventually resulted in Kelly packing his bags, too.