The Buffalo Bills pulled the wool over everyone's eyes in the summer of 2017. While trying their best to get ready for the upcoming season, the Bills shocked the NFL world on Friday by announcing two blockbuster trades that immediately changes the course of the upcoming season and beyond.
The nuts and bolts of it:
The Bills traded away wide receiver Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams, cornerback Ronald Darby to the Philadelphia Eagles, and a sixth-round pick in 2018 to the Rams as well.
In return, the Bills have received wide receiver Jordan Matthews, cornerback E.J. Gaines, a second-round pick from the Rams in 2018, and a third-round pick from the Eagles in 2018.
There is a lot to digest here, trying to figure out what the vision is both for the short and the long-term of the Buffalo Bills. It’s something we’ve heard about time and time again from head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane over the last several months.
And now, we’ve got our first #BeaneBomb which challenges us to figure out what the principles of each really are. So, here’s my read:
The Bills are now all in on building for the future.
Through the entirety of the offseason, the core names have mostly remained the same for the Bills — Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy, Richie Incognito, Eric Wood, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus… but past those normal stalwarts, all we saw was a complete overhaul of the bottom two-thirds of the roster.
The Bills gave us a little hint of what could have been on the horizon with the Watkins and the Darby trades with what they did on draft day by acquiring an additional first round selection for 2018 — perhaps as future ammo — to what their true intentions really were. And with Taylor essentially being on a one-year prove it deal, while both Wood and Kyle Williams are on the final year of their contract, the complete overhaul into the future is also knocking on the door.
Now, before we get into the individual players gained and lost in the deals, let’s first analyze exactly the assets that the Bills now have in their holster, and what they can potentially do with those draft picks.
So, with the two trades today, this gives the Bills a really fun first three, maybe even four rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft. Here’s the current stable of picks:
Two first-round picks, theirs and Kansas City’s. Two second-round picks, theirs and that of the Los Angeles Rams. Two third-round picks, theirs and Philadelphia’s. Plus, if they cut wide receiver Andre Holmes, defensive end Ryan Davis, and guard Vladimir Ducasse, it can bring them an additional third-round compensatory selection. And, if they take it a step further and cut either fullback Patrick DiMarco or kicker Stephen Hauschka in addition to those initial three cuts, they can obtain another potential fourth round pick.
If they do all of that, it would give them a whopping nine picks within the first four rounds of the draft. If they only go for the first level of compensatory picks, it will likely give them seven picks in the first three rounds. If they go for none of the compensatory options, they’re still sitting pretty with seven selections in the first four rounds.
This brings just about the ultimate flexibility for Beane, McDermott, and the Bills.
Why might you ask?
The possibilities are endless.
Now, the Bills have the ammo to significantly reshape their roster with the type of players, and people, that they want in the locker room for 2018 and beyond. If one of those two first-round picks ends up being a really high pick in the draft, the Bills have their franchise quarterback, and perhaps some ammo to get to the top of the order as well by way of multiple picks.
Now, let’s say both Buffalo and Kansas City both have an average to above-average year. With the ability now to deal compensatory selections, the Bills could potentially have nine picks to get up to whichever selection they need to in the draft order to take the franchise quarterback they so covet and even have themselves covered to add to the rest of the roster along the way.
They could literally pay a king’s ransom to finally address the franchise quarterback position, and still have a normal draft. That, in itself, is worth its weight in gold to the Bills and their desire to build for both the short and long-term.
Last year, if you’ll recall, I wrote that in the current state of the Bills roster, draft picks, and cap space, that I’d rather be in the position the Cleveland Browns were in rather than what Rex Ryan, Doug Whaley, and company had going on. As it turns out, it seems Sean McDermott, Brandon Beane and the new wave of the Bills tends to agree.
Flexibility is everything in the NFL when you’re trying to build a roster, and the Bills just bought themselves a whole heaping amount of it.
Now, let’s get to the players involved.
The Bills dealt two young and talented players that show a lot of promise and potential, but also have gone through their share of adversity along the way. For Watkins, it was the concerns over an injury, and for Darby, it was all about his up-and-down play from one year to the next.
We’ll start with Watkins, who is by far one of the most naturally talented players I’ve ever seen play football in person. The guy, when fully healthy, is one of the smoothest players going. To me, the only way you can deal a player with that type of potential is if you are getting a substantial sum in return, and it appears that’s what the Bills did.
With only 16 games left on his current contract, a newfound but somewhat murky clean bill of health, and the potential for him to sign a mega contract in the coming offseason, the Bills weren’t going to get a first round selection in return for Watkins. They did, however, maximize all the value they could get on him with his present situation with a second-round pick, got a potential starting player in return, and in a separate trade, replenished the wide receiver spot.
The short and long-term building personified.
The Darby trade was the biggest win of the two for the Bills — at least it was to me. Darby was a revelation in his rookie season but then benched in his second season by the same coach that praised him so outwardly. Don’t forget, this is a player that has been a man-to-man cover corner for basically the duration of his college and professional career, and one that they were trying to force into the starting lineup of a zone coverage schemed defense.
Still, Darby has two years left on his current contract, is much more valuable to the type of defense the Eagles are running and yielded a huge lump sum in return. The Bills find themselves with a bonafide starting receiver in the NFL, and a third-round pick to boot. That trade, considering the lack of vision for Darby in the Bills current defensive system, could have been the biggest heist of the day for them.
As for those players they brought to Buffalo?
Short-term players with only one year left on their current contract and with a cap hit of under $2 million each, that could turn into long-term options — if the Bills like what they see in the 2017 season, that is.
Yeah, I’d say the Bills are living up to what they’ve been preaching.
With Matthews, he’ll jump into the starting lineup and provide them with a real clean bill of health, and the versatility to line up both outside the numbers and in the slot — much like what they’ve got with both Anquan Boldin and Zay Jones, too. Don’t get me wrong, there is a big drop-off in pure talent from Watkins to Matthews — and there will be some frustrating concentration drops with Matthews — but they still have a starting caliber option for the team in 2017.
As for Gaines, the Bills receive a starting caliber player, and an experienced starter, that will feel much more at home in McDermott’s zone-based scheme. He did not grade well on ProFootballFocus.com in 2016 while a member of the Gregg Williams defense in Los Angeles but did in his rookie season in 2014.
Both Matthews and Gaines are 25, and if they impress, could probably be brought back at a manageable salary if all goes well for them in Buffalo.
To put a line under all of this, I really, really liked the moves.
The Bills weren’t lying when they said they wanted to build for both now and for later because that’s exactly what they’ve done. And even if you don’t like that Watkins or Darby has been dealt, or even if you aren’t crazy about Matthews or Gaines, this is all underscored by a bigger point:
In today’s NFL, unless you have the franchise quarterback in place, you’re basically just spinning your wheels in the snow while stuck at a green light. With the moves they made today, the Bills now have themselves in a position to address the very thing that Bills fans have been clamoring for years on end.
By this time next year, we could be sitting here and analyzing the top flight quarterback the Bills just picked up in the 2018 NFL Draft.
And to me, there’s no beating that — no matter who gets dealt.