Bills deal Watkins, pick up Matthews

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS -

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 trades 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 con­tin­ued look­ing to the fu­ture by 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 City Chiefs’ first-round pick in a trade com­pleted in April, and the Bills now have two picks in each of the first

three rounds next year.

The ad­di­tional picks pro­vide 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-thetowel 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 also is en­ter­ing the fi­nal sea­son of his con­tract, so the Ea­gles faced the pos­si­bil­ity of los­ing him in free agency as well.

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.

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 6 touch­downs in his first three sea­sons.

But the Ea­gles signed freeagent 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, af­ter 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 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.”

Watkins

Matthews

AP/ADRIAN KRAUS

The Buf­falo Bills se­lected Sammy Watkins in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. The team traded the wide re­ceiver to the Los An­ge­les Rams on Fri­day for cor­ner­back E.J. Gaines.

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