When the Philadelphia Eagles acquired Kiko Alonso from the Buffalo Bills, the price alone suggested the interior linebacker was central to head coach Chip Kelly’s rebuilding blueprint. Now halfway through his first season with his new team, how does Alonso fit moving forward?
Alonso suffered an ACL strain way back in Week 2, the same surgically repaired ACL that caused him to miss all of 2014. While the goal is to play again this season, he hasn’t been sighted in an Eagles uniform since, and the defense has moved on just fine without him.
In fact, Alonso’ absence paved the way for the emergence of Jordan Hicks. The third-round draft pick out of Texas wasn’t expected to be a factor for the Eagles this season. Instead, the rookie is tied for the clubhouse lead with 43 tackles to go along with a sack, a forced fumble, an interception, two pass breakups and three fumble recoveries.
Hicks has earned his place in the Eagles’ interior linebacker rotation. Mychal Kendricks has as well, and the pricey four-year contract extension he signed in August demands significant playing time. DeMeco Ryans is the leader of the Philadelphia defense and signed through 2016.
|Eagles Interior Linebackers|
When Alonso does eventually return, how will the Eagles get everybody on the field? And looking further down the road, is he still part of the long-term plan?
One would think the sole return from the trade for All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy would be an integral piece of the puzzle moving forward. That being said, Alonso’s ACL issues are becoming frightening. There’s no telling when he’ll get back on the field, and his health will be difficult to rely on moving forward.
Which is a problem, because Alonso’s contract is up after next year. Assuming the 25-year-old is limited or misses most of the 2015 campaign, he’ll essentially have one season to prove his worth for a new contract. Even if healthy the whole way, the possibility of re-injury will remain a concern.
This could not have been the dilemma Kelly imagined when he dealt for Alonso.
A 2013 second-round draft pick, Alonso was an absolute beast his inaugural season with the Bills. He finished third in the NFL with 159 tackles, the icing on the cake for a line of 2.0 sacks, four pass breakups, four interceptions and a forced fumble. Those numbers got the Oregon product named PFWA Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Thus far, he’s appeared in just two games for the Eagles, racking up seven tackles and an impressive interception. However, it’s hardly the impact Kelly was hoping for him to make.
Kelly knows as well as anybody what Alonso is capable of. After all, he coached him at the University of Oregon. He has the size and athleticism to control the middle of the field or run sideline-to-sideline—a tackling machine with the instincts and intelligence to make big plays.
There’s really no questioning the young man’s talent. The doubts keep coming back to the injuries, and Kelly knows all about that as well, as Alonso suffered a torn ACL while in college, too.
|ILB Contract Situations|
At this point, 2015 isn’t even the chief concern. What will Kelly and the Eagles do when contract time comes? Obviously, you generally want to retain the lone piece from a swap of a star as big as McCoy. However, Hicks and Kendricks are here to stay, and Alonso’s health looms large over any potential new deal.
Ryans’ contract is up after ’16, when he’ll be 33, so it’s not as if there won’t be room for another linebacker in the mix. And given how injury-prone all four are—Hicks with issues throughout college, Kendricks missing time every season and Ryans’ Achilles issues—the Eagles may need Alonso yet.
Right now, it looks very crowded at interior linebacker, and while Alonso might be the most talented of the bunch, at some point he’s going to have to remind us. Because one thing we know for sure is that Kelly won’t hold on to somebody just to save face.
There’s no need to rush Alonso back on the field this season. He can take as much time as he needs. However, at some point the Eagles will want to see some type of return on their investment before they pony up an even bigger one in terms of dollars.
All contract details via Spotrac.