BOSTON (CBS) — While most of us are just gearing up for the weekend, the Buffalo Bills were busy reshaping their roster with an eye to the future.
Buffalo pulled off a pair of big trades on Friday afternoon, sending wide receiver Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams and cornerback Ronald Darby to the Philadelphia Eagles. In return, Buffalo acquired corner E.J. Gaines from the Rams and receiver Jordan Matthews from the Eagles (along with an assortment of draft picks changing hands, but more on that later).
The Bills were ready to move on from Watkins, whom they traded up to draft fourth overall in 2014, surrendering their 2014 and 2015 first-round picks and a 2015 fourth-round selection to the Cleveland Browns. Buffalo got two strong years from the receiver, who had 15 touchdowns and over 2,000 yards his first two seasons in the NFL, but he voiced his displeasure over a lack of targets early in the 2015 season. He was limited to just eight games in 2016 due to a broken bone in his foot, and Buffalo recently declined his fifth-year option, meaning Watkins will be a free agent after the upcoming season.
Like Watkins, Gaines is a young player with a lot of upside but has also dealt with injuries during his young career. He had a breakout rookie season in 2014 with a pair of interceptions and 15 passes defended, but missed the entire 2015 season with a foot injury. He played in 11 games in 2016, finishing with no interceptions and 56 combined tackles. Now he comes to the AFC East, where he’ll get to deal with Tom Brady and the Patriots’ potent offense twice in the upcoming season.
To address their vacancy on the depth chart left by the Watkins trade, the Bills then flipped Darby to the Eagles for Matthews, also a member of the 2014 draft class (42nd overall). Matthews has 19 touchdowns over his first three seasons in the NFL, though he had career-lows in touchdowns (three) and receiving yards (803) in 2016, and was also bit with a case of the dropsies. Like Watkins, Matthews will be a free agent after the season.
Matthews caught three passes for 36 yards and a touchdown in Philadelphia’s shocking 35-28 win over the Patriots at Gillette Stadium during the 2015 season.
The biggest takeaway from the moves is that the Bills replenished some of their draft stock with the two moves, picking up a second- and third-round pick in 2018. It appears the move was focused more on the future than the present, with New England owning a stranglehold over the AFC East.