Last week, the Buffalo Bills traded star wide receiver Sammy Watkins and a 2018 sixth round pick to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for cornerback E.J. Gaines and a 2018 second round pick. Additionally, they traded cornerback Ronald Darby to the Philadelphia Eagles and got wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a 2018 third round draft pick in return.
I live in in upstate New York, surrounded by Bills fans. The reactions to the trade were mixed but the majority of them were angry at the Bills for trading a receiver of Watkins’ talent to get back a mediocre defensive back and turning a sixth round pick into a second rounder. My response to them is this, “embrace it”. This type of move shows the Bills may finally become a serious team once again.
The Buffalo Bills have not made the playoffs in 17 years. That is a long time for a fan base to suffer. They’ve been plagued by injuries, bad luck, inability to find a consistent quarterback and short-sighted personnel moves.
Playing in the same division as the New England Patriots hasn’t helped matters. However, a look at what has made New England so successful for the past 14 years shows that Buffalo may have learned something from their hated division rivals.
Tom Brady is arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history and has been an enormous part of New England’s extended dominance but he isn’t the only reason. Over the years, the Patriots’ front office has had a history of making shrewd personnel moves that are always looking at the big picture without putting too much emphasis on the small one.
The Patriots have routinely moved on from players a year too early rather than a year too late. They scout and draft well and therefore manage to get talent at a lower price than veterans expecting big pay days.
They plan for injuries and always have viable options if someone important goes down. Outside of Brady and Rob Gronkowski, they have few players that would be considered among the absolute best at their positions.
What they do have are skilled, albeit unheralded players at almost every position. They always have a contingency plan, even for Brady and Gronkowski, employing one of the best back-up quarterbacks in the league in Jimmy Garoppolo and acquiring Dwayne Allen as injury insurance for Gronkowski.
The Bills’ trade of Watkins was a Patriot-type move and their fans should be excited by it. Unfortunately, years of futility can make it hard for a fan base to see the forest instead of the trees.
While undeniably talented, Watkins has only managed to play a single 16 game season in his three year career. He has eclipsed 1000 yards only once. Given his talent, he was likely to command significant money when his contract was up, despite his unreliability.
The short-sighted logic would tell you to hold onto this talent because with him, you would have a small chance of making a wild-card spot this year. For a fan base that hasn’t seen the postseason in 17 years, that’s hard to pass up.
The Bills’ new front office has chosen to take the long view. By moving talented players like Watkins and Darby, they’ve managed to start stockpiling draft picks while also finding players who can fill those gaps for now.
They’ve also avoided losing Watkins to free agency next Spring with nothing to show for it. The post Brady era is approaching and it appears as though Buffalo is starting to plan accordingly.
Time will tell if Buffalo’s new approach will work. It’s the NFL, nothing is certain. Regardless of how it turns out, the Bills are starting to act a little bit more like the Patriots. It may not look like it yet but there’s reason to hope again in western New York.