Bills trad­ing away Sammy Watkins lat­est proof ma­jor rebuild is un­der way ... Matthews and Gaines shuf­fle in ... Flacco should be ready ... Three done for year al­ready

Ottawa Sun - - SPORTS -

In two bold, sur­pris­ing moves that fur­ther sig­nal the Buf­falo Bills are re­build­ing for the fu­ture, the NFL club pulled off two big trades yes­ter­day.

First, the Bills dealt oft­in­jured wide re­ceiver Sammy Watkins and a sixth-round 2018 draft choice to the Los An­ge­les Rams, in ex­change for cor­ner­back E.J. Gaines and a 2018 sec­ond-rounder.

Sec­ond, the Bills sent start­ing third-year cor­ner­back Ron­ald Darby — the team’s first se­lec­tion in the 2015 draft, 50th over­all in the sec­ond round — to the Philadel­phia Ea­gles, in ex­change for wide­out Jor­dan Matthews (a sec­ond-round se­lec­tion in 2014) and a 2018 thir­drounder.

The trades are con­tin­gent on play­ers pass­ing phys­i­cals.

In sum, then, the Bills lose a start­ing wide re­ceiver and a start­ing cor­ner­back, gain a start­ing wide re­ceiver and a start­ing cor­ner­back — but ac­quire two high draft picks in the process.

You can ar­gue that Watkins has, by far, more up­side than any other player in these trades, which is true. So why would they will­ingly send him away? Well, end­less leg and foot in­juries have pre­vented Watkins from show­ing much of that po­ten­tial on the field, at least con­sis­tently.

And there are no guar­an­tees he has yet fully healed from surg­eries on the left foot that has pained and lim­ited him since the 2015 sea­son. In catch­ing Ty­rod Taylor’s first three passes in Thurs­day night’s preseason game against vis­it­ing Min­nesota, Watkins ap­peared to run some­what cau­tiously.

But if Watkins truly is healthy again, then why trade him? Af­ter all, the club sur­ren­dered first- and fourthround picks to move up five spots in Round 1 of the 2014 draft to se­lect Watkins at No. 4 over­all. That’s how sure gen­eral manger Doug Whaley was that Watkins was a rare top-shelf tal­ent, even if it Sammy Watkins, seen here at mini-camp re­cently, is the lat­est big-name player to be sent pack­ing by the Buf­falo Bills. turned out the Bills could have picked true su­per­star re­ceiver Odell Beck­ham Jr. — who fell to the New York Giants at No. 12 over­all — with­out mov­ing up.

But if Whaley’s re­place­ment in May, new Bills GM Bran­don Beane, be­lieves that ei­ther Watkins wouldn’t re-sign in Buf­falo next March when he’s set to be­come a free agent, or doesn’t have the de­sire to fran­chise-tag Watkins for 2018 at a likely $17-mil­lion guar­an­teed con­tract (which would count 100% to­ward the salary cap), or is un­sure if Watkins will ever be healthy or pan out, then per­haps the think­ing was they’d might as well get some­thing for him now.

Beane and his Bills foot­bal­lops co-leader, head coach Sean McDer­mott, are wast­ing no time in fur­ther turn­ing over Buf­falo’s ros­ter.

Af­ter Fri­day, 28 of the 53 men on the Bills’ fi­nal 2016 reg­u­lar-sea­son ros­ter are gone.

And look at what the McBeanes have stock­piled for the 2018 draft. Af­ter McDer­mott and lame-duck GM Whaley traded down with Kansas City on Day 1 of April’s draft to ac­quire an ad­di­tional 2018 first-round pick, the Bills now pos­sess two first-rounders, two sec­on­drounders and two third-rounders.

At his news con­fer­ence fol­low­ing the trade an­nounce­ments yes­ter­day, Beane took offence to the sug­ges­tion he’s sac­ri­fic­ing to­day for to­mor­row.

“This is not a throw-inthe-towel thing at all,” Beane in­sisted. “Quite hon­estly, that’s an­noy­ing to me.

“If we were throw­ing in the towel, I wouldn’t be try­ing to get a start­ing re­ceiver back (in the Philly trade).”

Still, the num­ber of one­time faces-of-the-fran­chises who have left the Bills since March is eye-open­ing. Can’t just be co­in­ci­dences.

Beane said he did not ac­tively shop ei­ther Watkins or Darby; the Rams and Ea­gles ap­proached him.

That said, is any Bills player un­touch­able? Any?

“I don’t like the word un­touch­able,” McBean said. “I’m not ac­tively shop­ping guys, sell­ing guys, any­thing like that. That’s the hon­estto-God truth. It’s just you’re al­ways look­ing in this busi­ness to help your­self now and to­mor­row. That’s the facts. I can’t stand up here and say I would never trade a guy in the next three weeks, but I’m not ac­tively shop­ping any­body.”

The de­par­tures of Watkins and Darby mean the Bills since March have failed to re­tain, or let walk away, or dealt away their first se­lec­tions of the 2012-15 drafts. In­deed, in ad­di­tion to 2014’s Watkins and 2015’s Darby, cor­ner­back Stephon Gil­more (the No. 10 over­all pick in 2012) signed as a free agent with the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots, and quar­ter­back EJ Manuel (Buf­falo’s epic-fail­ure of a firstround pick in 2013) signed with Oak­land for min­i­mum salary in the un­likely hope of beat­ing out last year’s QB draftee, Con­nor Cook, to be­come Derek Carr’s pri­mary backup.

The Bills’ abil­ity to draft well, and then re­tain their best drafted play­ers, re­mains abom­inable — a cri­sis all cen­tury long.

Only two draftees from Buf­falo’s 2011, 2012 and 2013 classes re­main on the team: un­der-per­form­ing DT Mar­cell Dareus from ’11 and LT Cordy Glenn from ’12. And only five from the 2014-15 classes: LB Pre­ston Brown and OT Seantrel Hen­der­son from ’14, and G John Miller, TE Nick O’Leary and WR Dez Lewis from ’15.

Beane said he is not ac­tively try­ing to purge play­ers from pre­vi­ous Bills regimes. But he made this salient point: “You have to draft well in this league to win.”

Looks like he’ll have plenty of chances to do so in about nine months.

The Bal­ti­more Ravens an­nounced that in­jured QB Joe Flacco (back) won’t play in any preseason games, but is ex­pected to re­turn to prac­tice be­fore Septem­ber and start Week 1 of the reg­u­lar sea­son … Detroit QB Matthew Stafford bumped knees with RB Ameer Ab­dul­lah at Fri­day’s prac­tice and went down briefly. But af­ter the sting wore off he was com­pletely fine, head coach Jim Cald­well said … Washington LB Trent Mur­phy, Mi­ami rookie LB Raek­won McMil­lan and Min­nesota RB Bishop Sankey all suf­fered torn ACLs in preseason games on Thurs­day night and are ex­pected to miss the sea­son … OT Bran­don Al­bert, who re­tired then un­re­tired this sum­mer, was cut by Jack­sonville.


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