ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – The Buffalo Bills’ offseason overhaul isn’t over yet with receiver Sammy Watkins and cornerback Ronald Darby the latest players to be sent packing.
The Bills dealt both starters in separate blockbuster trades on Friday as part of an effort to reshape the roster under new coach Sean McDermott.
Watkins was traded to the Los Angeles Rams, while Darby was sent to the Philadelphia Eagles. Buffalo addressed both positions by acquiring receiver Jordan Matthews from Philadelphia and cornerback E.J. Gaines from the Rams.
The Bills also continued looking to the future by further stockpiling 2018 draft selections. They acquired a second-round pick from L.A. and a third-rounder from the Eagles, while also sending a sixth-round pick to the Rams. Add in the acquisition of the Kansas Chiefs’ first-round pick in trade completed in April, and the Bills now have two picks in each of the first three rounds next year.
The additional picks provide Bills new general manager Brandon Beane assets in a draft that looks like it will have several top-end quarterback prospects. Bills starter Tyrod Taylor’s future is uncertain beyond this year.
Beane disputed the notion he’s strictly looking ahead to next year.
“This is not a throw-in-the-towel thing at all,” Beane said. “If we were throwing in the towel, I wouldn’t be trying to get that starting receiver back.”
The deals, however, involve more changes to a team with just 28 players who opened training camp on Buffalo’s roster a year ago. The Bills also have just 14 players whom they’ve drafted, not including this year’s six-player class.
Watkins’ future in Buffalo was already in question after the Bills declined to pick up his fifth-year contract option in May. He is entering the final year of his deal. Matthews is also entering the final season of his contract, so the Eagles also faced the possibility of losing him in free agency.
Watkins showed glimpses of being a dynamic threat when healthy in three seasons with Buffalo since being selected in the first round of the 2014 draft. He has 153 catches for 2,459 yards and 17 touchdowns in three seasons, but topped 1,000 yards just once, in 2015.
Watkins has been hampered by an assortment of injuries and limited to playing just eight games last year after having surgery to repair a broken left foot. He required a second operation in January after aggravating the injury last season.
He joins a revamped group of receivers on a Rams offense that has ranked last in the NFL in each of the past two seasons.
The change for the Bills came four days after signing veteran free agent Anquan Boldin . Matthews was Philadelphia’s most productive receiver, averaging 75 catches, 891 receiving yards and six touchdowns in his first three seasons. But the Eagles signed free-agent receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith and drafted Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson.
Darby started 29 games in his first two seasons in Buffalo. He was a second-round pick (50th overall) in the 2015 draft.
Though he wasn’t shopping either player, Beane said he first began receiving inquiries about Watkins in June. The Eagles’ interest in Darby then developed later and both deals began falling into place over the past week.
He presented both trades to McDermott and owner Terry Pegula on Thursday night, following Buffalo’s preseason-opening 17-10 loss to Minnesota.
McDermott said he had little sleep after spending much of the night attending meetings and going over the pros and cons of the two trades.
He’s also aware of how two new additions have the potential of setting back the team’s preparedness for the start of the regular season at a time the franchise is in the midst of a 17-year playoff drought – the longest active streak in in North America’s four major professional sports.
“I’m invested. I know and feel what they feel,” McDermott said, referring to Bills fans. “We’re building a football team that we want to compete in the short- and long-term and be good for a long time. Sometimes that’s a day to day process, and sometimes those are not easy decisions.”
Buffalo’s secondary will be completely revamped minus Darby. The Bills lost starter Stephon Gilmore and third-stringer Nickell Robey-Coleman in free agency and also released both starting safeties, Aaron Williams and Corey Graham.
Gaines was valuable defensive back in the Rams’ rotation. He won a starting job in 2015 but then got hurt before the season started. He became expendable after the Rams acquired Kayvon Webster this offseason, who is pegged to start opposite Trumaine Johnson.
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