clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Bills traded Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby and are clearly rebuilding now

New, comments

The coup for the Bills was a pair of draft picks which gives the team two first-, second-, and third-round picks in 2018.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills took a step backward for the 2017 season Friday and instead began a long-term effort to restock the roster through the draft.

Make no mistake about it: Acquiring Jordan Matthews to replace Sammy Watkins and E.J. Gaines to replace Ronald Darby leaves the Bills in a lesser place with just a month until the regular season begins.

Matthews was a perfectly fine and productive wide receiver in Philadelphia, and Gaines developed into a solid starter for the Rams. But Matthews doesn’t bring the game-breaking ability that Watkins does, and Darby had a stronger start to his career than Gaines.

Why make the trades if the Bills are worse now?

The Bills made both deals because the team is stacked for the 2018 NFL draft. After the Kansas City Chiefs moved up to draft Patrick Mahomes, the team sent a first-round pick to the Bills. Now the team has two selections in each of the first three rounds — the Chiefs’ first-rounder, the Rams’ second, and the Eagles’ third.

Bills coach Sean McDermott acknowledged the moves were strategic:

Buffalo decided that Watkins and Darby will not be part of that long-term rebuilding effort.

For Watkins, the reason is obvious. He struggled to stay on the field and has continued to deal with nagging injuries since his rookie season. With a strong showing in the team’s preseason opener, the Bills likely thought it was their final chance to get good value for him with free agency on the way in 2018.

The trade of Darby is a little more surprising, but it is likely tied to the addition of Sean McDermott as Buffalo’s head coach. As defensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers, McDermott valued length in outside cornerbacks. The team drafted Tre’Davious White in the first round to give them that, but Darby didn’t as much.

So the Bills are tanking in 2017?

Getting Matthews and Gaines means the team doesn’t have a disaster at either position, but the coup of the deals for the Bills was the draft picks. The team was already a long shot to compete much in 2017, so losing Watkins and Darby doesn’t tank any Super Bowl hopes.

Matthews and Gaines are enough to keep the boat afloat, though.

Philadelphia drafted Matthews in the second round for the 2014 NFL draft, and he's been a decent receiver for the Eagles ever since. He's hauled in 225 passes for 2,673 yards and 19 touchdowns in three season but may have been phased out of the Philadelphia offense soon.

Philadelphia signed receiver Alshon Jeffery in the offseason, so it already has a No. 1 receiver to help quarterback Carson Wentz progress. With Nelson Agholor impressing in training camp, Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich didn't deny that Matthews could see reduced playing time to the former first-round pick.

Now Matthews has a chance for a one-year audition with the Bills before he becomes a free agent in 2018. With the team focused on the future, he and Gaines will have to prove they’re long-term pieces to stick around for a while.