ORCHARD PARK – To say that what took place at One Bills Drive Friday afternoon was shocking would be a vast understatement. The Buffalo Bills traded wide receiver Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams.
You read that correctly. Watkins, whom the Bills paid a steep price to draft No. 4 overall in 2014, is gone with one year remaining on his original rookie contract.
The Bills also packaged their sixth-round pick in 2018 with Watkins, and got back cornerback E.J. Gaines and the Rams’ second-round pick in 2018.
In a separate deal, another high draft choice, the 2015 second-round pick, Ronald Darby, was sent to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for wide receiver Jordan Matthews and Philadelphia’s third-round pick in 2018.
After these deals, the Bills now own two picks in each of the first, second and third rounds of 2018, a draft that is expected to be rich in quarterback talent.
Thus, what these trades would seem to indicate is that quarterback Tyrod Taylor can expect to be the Bills quarterback this season, but shouldn’t make any plans beyond this year.
With all those draft picks available, it seems like the Bills — if they choose — can really put an attractive deal together to go up and get the best quarterback available, whether that’s USC Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, or whomever. This, of course, is assuming the Bills don’t hit rock bottom this season and won’t have to worry about moving up in the draft to get one of the top QBs.
The trade of Watkins brings an end to what could only described as a disappointing three-year tenure for the talented wideout in Buffalo. He was the top-rated wide receiver in the 2014 draft, but that was also a draft filled with several top prospects, including Odell Beckham Jr. who has proven to be the best of the bunch.
Rather than stay at No. 9, the Bills switched places with the Browns, plus sent their 2015 first-round choice to Cleveland, so they could move up five spots to get Watkins. It was a reckless trade by former general manager Doug Whaley, and now it has proven to be a terrible one, too.
Watkins endured non-stop nagging injuries, and he wound up missing 11 of the possible 48 games he could have played, but also was well less than 100 percent in many others.
He caught 153 passes for 2,459 yards and 17 TDs as a Bill. By comparison, the man who will probably replace him in the starting lineup — Matthews, who was the Eagles’ second-round pick in 2014 — has missed only two games in his career and has 225 catches for 2,673 yards and 19 TDs.
Matthews, like Watkins, is eligible for unrestricted free agency after this year.
Some would say the writing was on the wall for Watkins when the Bills declined to exercise the fifth-year option on his contract. At the time, it was a move that made sense because the team was essentially telling him to prove he could stay healthy and produce.
If he did so, then new GM Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott would look to extend Watkins during this season, or perhaps prior to his hitting the market in 2018.
Buffalo’s wide receiver corps now contains rookie second-round pick Zay Jones, and two players — Matthews and Anquan Boldin — who will be playing on what amounts to one-year deals.
Matthews has been a steady performer in Philadelphia. His lowest reception total is 67 as a rookie, and for yards it was 804 last season when he missed the only two games of his pro career.
The trade of Darby to Philadelphia was certainly interesting because the third-year pro seemed like he’d be a good fit in McDermott’s defense. However, after a solid rookie season in 2015, Darby declined in 2016 and the Bills decided to move on.
Gaines was a sixth-round pick of the Rams in 2014. He started 15 games as a rookie and made two interceptions, missed all of 2015 with a foot injury, and then started 10 of 11 games in 2016 and did not make a pick.
Sal Maiorana, USA Today