Trades don’t happen too often in the NFL once the preseason begins, but the Buffalo Bills don’t care. On Friday, the Bills made a pair of deals that significantly change their team this season and in the future.
Buffalo sent wide receiver and former No. 4 overall pick Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for cornerback E.J. Gaines and a second-round pick in next year’s draft. Then, the Bills acquired wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a third-rounder in 2018 from the Philadelphia Eagles, sending cornerback Ronald Darby to Philly.
The Bills, who haven’t made the playoffs since 1999, are under new management, with first-year Coach Sean McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane working quickly to leave a fresh imprint on a team that seems to be forever spinning its wheels.
GM Brandon Beane: I was not actively shopping Watkins and Darby. Timing with both teams became serious so we did the deals at the same time. pic.twitter.com/VHuwRjUnLS
— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) August 11, 2017
The Bills are instantly weaker at both receiver and corner. Watkins, despite a repeated injuries, is a clear upgrade from Matthews, while Darby is the second cornerback to leave Western New York since free agency began in the spring, following Stephon Gilmore’s move to the Patriots.
Still, Buffalo looks as if it has a real plan for the future after Friday’s trades. The Bills now have two first-rounders, two second-rounders and two third-rounders in 2018. That’s a lot of draft capital in short order. The Bills, who have been at or near .500 in each of the past three seasons while going through two head coaches and one interim coach during that span, clearly are ready to accept another potential nonplayoff season in exchange for replenishing their talent pool via next spring’s draft.
Meanwhile, the Rams add a top-flight target for second-year quarterback Jared Goff and first year Coach Sean McVay. Watkins, the Clemson product who was drafted ahead of Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Evans and Giants’ star wideout Odell Beckham Jr. in the 2014 draft, has flashed tantalizing potential despite missing 11 games over the past two seasons. He caught 60 passes for 1,047 yards and nine touchdowns in 2015 — the best of his three seasons in Buffalo. He has one year remaining on his rookie contract.
Then there are the Eagles, who bulked up their receiving corps for second-year quarterback Carson Wentz in the offseason, importing Alshon Jeffery from the Bears and Torrey Smith from the 49ers. The additional presence of third-year man Nelson Agholor seems to have made Mathews expendable, despite his catching 225 passes for 2,673 yards and 19 scores in his three seasons in Philadelphia. Matthews immediately becomes Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s No. 1 target.
But the main focus here should be on the Bills, who are making an aggressive effort to change their organization. It may take a little while to see their moves pay off. But after 17 years without a playoff appearance, what’s another season or two?