Buffalo Bills trade WR Sammy Watkins and a 2018 6th round pick to the Los Angeles Rams for a 2018 2nd round pick and CB EJ Gaines
Buffalo Bills trade CB Ronald Darby to the Philadelphia Eagles for WR Jordan Matthews and a 2018 3rd round pick
The Bills made a pair of big trades that don’t just impact their roster in a big way, but also the rosters of the Eagles and the Rams, who they traded with. The Eagles sent Sammy Watkins to the Rams and replaced him with Jordan Matthews, who they acquired from the Eagles in a trade that sent top cornerback Ronald Darby to Philadelphia. Darby will be replaced in Buffalo by EJ Gaines, who was somewhat of a throw-in in the Sammy Watkins deal.
The Bills downgraded both wide receiver and cornerback, but get an extra 2nd round pick and an extra 3rd round pick in next year’s draft, which combined is the equivalent of a mid-to-late first round pick on the trade value chart, depending on where the picks end up. It’s not a bad strategy for a team that was not expected to be a contender this season. In my season preview, I had the Bills winning 6 games. I may adjust that to 5 in the wake of these trades, but the picks they received probably make this worth it.
Their trade with the Rams was a smarter move than their trade with the Eagles. The 4th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Watkins is a big name receiver who still has a monstrous upside, ahead of only his age 24 season, but he’s coming off an injury plagued season and was heading into the final year of his rookie deal. If Watkins had a big season this year, the Bills still likely would not have been contenders and they would have had to either pay him a boatload to keep him next off-season or lose him for a 3rd round compensation pick in 2019. If he had a down year or got hurt again and had to settle for a one-year prove-it deal, the Bills would have been lucky to get a 4th round compensation pick for him in 2019, given that compensation picks are largely based on the size of the contract that the player signs with his new team.
Instead, the Bills swap a 6th round pick for a 2nd round pick and acquire cornerback EJ Gaines, who could be a starter in Buffalo now with Darby gone. Gaines was one of the worst starting cornerbacks in the league last year and missed all of 2015 with a foot injury, but was a pleasant surprise as a 6th round rookie in 2014 and has some bounce back potential now another year removed from that injury. He too is a free agent after the season, but, even if he has a strong bounce back season, he’ll cost significantly less to keep than Watkins would have if Watkins were to have a strong bounce back season.
From the Rams’ perspective, I do not like this trade at all. They needed a receiver like Watkins in a bad way, but a 2nd round pick is a lot to risk for an injury prone player going into the final year of his rookie contract and they are now thin at cornerback without Gaines. If Watkins gets hurt again or signs elsewhere next off-season, the Rams will have blown a valuable pick which could easily be in the top-40 if the Rams are as bad as expected. Prior to this trade, I had the Rams at 3-13 with one of the three worst records in football. Watkins may add a win or two, but he is unlikely to turn this into a playoff contender immediately, especially since he’ll have limited time to learn the playbook and get comfortable with his new teammates.
Best case scenario, Watkins plays well and the Rams keep him next off-season as a long-term building block, but he won’t come cheap. Next off-season is a strong off-season for free agent wide receivers anyway, so the Rams could have had their pick of guys like Alshon Jeffery, DeAndre Hopkins, Allen Robinson, Terrelle Pryor, and Jarvis Landry even without giving up a 2nd round pick. It’s not a terrible trade for the Rams just because of Watkins’ upside and their need for someone like him, but they are giving up a lot and this trade could easily prove to be a mistake.
Darby, meanwhile, is not as big of a name as Watkins, but losing him could hurt the Bills even more because he still has two years left on his rookie deal. A 2015 2nd round pick, Darby burst onto the scene as a rookie, finishing 6th in the NFL in pass deflections with 21 and finishing 4th among cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus. He wasn’t nearly as good in his 2nd season in the league, but still finished around average on Pro Football Focus and has the upside to develop into a long-term #1 cornerback, still only going into his age 23 season. Gaines is an obvious downgrade. Matthews is also an obvious downgrade from Watkins, though he could be Buffalo’s best receiver this year, ahead of 2nd round rookie Zay Jones and veteran Anquan Boldin.
Philadelphia had to surrender a capable receiver and a relatively high pick (3rd round) to get Darby, but I think they’re the overall winner here. Matthews is going into the final year of his rookie deal and likely would not have been re-signed next off-season anyway, so the Eagles are really only trading away a 2018 3rd round pick and the 2019 compensation pick they would have gotten for Matthews (either 3rd or 4th round pick depending on his contract). Unlike the Rams and Bills, the Eagles figure to be in contention for at least the division this season, so it makes sense for them to trade away picks. I have them winning 11 games and this trade makes them even better.
Matthews was also not really needed at wide receiver with Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith coming in and 2015 1st round pick Nelson Agholor finally resembling an NFL receiver this off-season, while cornerback was a huge hole for an Eagles team that otherwise has one of the best rosters in the NFL. Darby becomes instantly their best cornerback by far and he has the upside to be one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL long-term. Unlike the other players on the move in these deals, he’s under team contract inexpensively for the next two seasons. If he develops, he’ll be expensive to keep, but the Eagles have two seasons until then.
Grade for Bills: B
Grade for Rams: C-
Grade for Eagles: A