Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
If there was any doubt that the new regime in Buffalo was intent on remaking the team in its image, those doubts were put to bed Friday, when the Bills made a pair of trades that shook up the roster on both sides of the ball.
First, as the Bills announced, Buffalo sent wide receiver Sammy Watkins and a sixth-round pick to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for cornerback E.J. Gaines and a second-round pick.
The wheeling and dealing wasn’t done. The Bills also swung a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, shipping cornerback Ronald Darby to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a third-round pick.
Darby, who was a second-round pick of the Bills in 2015, played well as a rookie but struggled last season. Watkins was an even bigger disappointment—the talented but oft-injured former No. 4 overall pick the Bills traded an extra first-rounder to move up for and draft back in 2014. The Bills had already declined Watkins’ fifth-year option for 2018, but his sudden departure was still a surprise.
New Buffalo GM Brandon Beane vehemently denied the moves were a white flag from the team in 2017.
“This is not a throw-in-the-towel thing at all,” Beane told reporters. “Somebody mentioned that somebody said that out there, and honestly, that’s annoying to me. You don’t know me if you think I’m throwing in the towel. When I go out there and play pingpong, whatever I’m doing, I’m not throwing in the towel. If we’re throwing in the towel, we’re not trying to get a starting receiver back.”
The argument can be made that in refusing to pick up his option, the Bills had already passed judgment on Watkins’ long-term future with the team, and Matthews is at least a capable young receiver with more receiving yards the past three years than Watkins. But in selling off young talent from the Doug Whaley era and stockpiling picks, the Bills certainly look like a team more focused on the future than the present.
The Rams, in theory, got the No. 1 wide receiver Jared Goff so badly needs if he’s to take the next step (or a step) forward in his second season. But that “in theory” caveat is a lulu with Watkins, who has missed 11 games the past two years.
Never mind that he’s still working his way back from foot surgery and will become a free agent after the season.
The Eagles found a taker for Matthews (who they’d been shopping for some time) and added a young defensive back in Darby who will probably be their best cornerback as soon as he sets foot in Philly. However, Darby backslid badly with the Bills in 2016, ranking 68th at his position, per Pro Football Focus.
In other words, there could just as easily be zero winners in these trades as three, depending on how things shake out over the next year.