ORCHARD PARK, NY – On Friday, the Bills continued to erase any recollection of the regime that previously ran the franchise, trading away two notable players in WR Sammy Watkins and CB Ronald Darby.
Buffalo sent Watkins – the No. 4 overall pick in 2014 – to the Los Angeles Rams along with a 2018 sixth-round draft pick, acquiring cornerback E.J. Gaines and a 2018 second-round pick in return.
Shortly after that deal was made official via the team, came another blockbuster deal, as the Bills also shipped third-year cornerback Ronald Darby to the Philadelphia Eagles, in exchange for WR Joran Matthews and a third-round pick in 2018.
Making the moves even more stunning was the fact that they came down less than 24 hours after the Bills wrapped up a 17-10 loss to the Vikings in their first preseason game of the new season. Both Watkins and Darby played through the majority of the first quarter. Watkins was particularly impressive on the night, making four receptions, including two straight on the Bills first possession of the game, for 39 yards. He has eased his way back onto the field since having his second foot surgery in January and has looked poised for a bounce back season throughout the first two weeks of training camp.
After Buffalo moved up in the 2014 draft to draft Watkins at No. 4, he’s spent the majority of his first three seasons in the NFL battling injuries, most recently to his left foot, which required surgery in each of the last two offseasons. In 37 games, Watkins accumulated 153 receptions for 2,459 yards and 17 touchdowns. He recorded the only 1,000-yard season of his career in 2015.
Darby was selected by the Bills one year after Waktins in the second-round of the 2015 draft, and put together a solid rookie campaign later that fall, where he defended 21 passes. His 2016 numbers weren’t quite as strong but he too figured to be an important part of the Bills defense this upcoming season, taking over for Stephon Gilmore at the right cornerback spot.
These moves personify an effort by the franchise, since Sean McDermott became head coach, to build the team in his vision, primarily through the draft. With two first, second and third-round selections now in their back pocket for 2018, the Bills have the draft capital to move around in next year’s draft or acquire a ton of talent.
There are so many levels to this, but one thing that’s abundantly clear from all this is that nobody is safe. Makes you wonder if there are some underlying reasons why LeSean McCoy sat out last night, other than “evaluating the other running backs,” as McDermott said.
Whether that happens or not remains to be seen but today’s moves only prove that Buffalo’s new regime is leaving the past in the past and building this thing their way. That philosophy has the Bills set up with two picks in each of the first three rounds of next year’s draft; capital they can use to either draft the talented, quality players they covet to build a young roster to their liking, or trade up and finally address their lack of a franchise quarterback.
Fans don’t want to hear about tanking or throwing in the towel on any season, especially when their team hasn’t made the playoffs in 17 seasons. Patience is running thin and rightfully so. But draft picks are like gold to NFL teams and NFL fans are suckers for hope, which is exactly what a stockpile of picks provides.
Rex Ryan, Doug Whaley and company left the Bills roster in shambles financially and from a depth standpoint. Sean McDermott, Brandon Beane and this new Bills regime are attempting to fix it. Collectively they’ve emphasized building through the draft and that’s exactly what they’re doing.
The process. (Am I right?)
What is a bit curious is that everything that group had done up until this point spoke of a team looking to keep things together, not tank. Now, perhaps their effort to bring back CB E.J. Gaines and WR Jordan Matthews in each deal, shows a makeshift attempt to stay competitive this year. However, neither player is under contract next season, so both acquisitions are short-term roster band-aids at each position, not necessarily long-term answers. Of the two, Matthews has the most upside, with an ability to play inside or outside, but the draft picks are the telling thing here.
As for the individual deals themselves, once you get past the sentimental fact that Watkins and Darby were two staple names, maybe even the face of the team in the former’s case, the Bills made out here.
Watkins is, in my opinion, a top 10 wide receiver in this league when healthy, but that last part is obviously the key and the reason why the Bills were hesitant to pick up his 5th-year option. Personally, I hope Watkins has a long, prosperous career in the NFL because when he’s on, he’s fun to watch. However, no one can blame the Bills for going out and getting something of value for him, to avoid potentially losing him for nothing next offseason.
For Darby, it’s hard to know whether or not rookie season Darby, or Sophomore slump Darby was the real Darby, and for a guy who has spent the majority of his college and early NFL career as a man-to-man defender, McDermott’s zone heavy defense may not be a fit.
For the most part, the Bills new leaders are practicing what they preach. The themes of building through the draft, players earning their jobs and thinking “big picture” are present. Ideally, fans accept this is a necessary evil in that process they talk about so much.
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