The Buffalo Bills aren't building for a long-shot run at snapping the franchise's lengthy playoff drought in 2017. They're investing in the future.
The Bills made two blockbuster moves Friday. The team traded cornerback Ronald Darby to the Philadelphia Eagles for wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a third round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. In a separate transaction, E.J. Gaines and a 2018 second round pick were acquired from the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for wide receiver Sammy Watkins and a sixth round pick next year.
Trading away Darby is an interesting decision since the Bills lack depth in the secondary. Is Gaines an upgrade over Darby? That's tough to say. Maybe the Bills' front office doesn't care. Gaines is in a contract year. It could be a one-year tryout for him to determine if the Bills want to sign him to a longer term deal.
The good news is that Matthews is no slouch. He's a solid wide receiver. He hasn't registered a 1,000-yard season yet, but he's been a top option for the Eagles. And he's had to play with a mix of quarterbacks in Philadelphia, so that says a lot about his versatility. Like Gaines, he's in a contract year. He could fill a gap for now, or he might be a long-term answer at wide receiver. Time will tell.
The headliner of these trades is Watkins. The writing was on the wall when the Bills decided not to pick up his option for 2018. That meant two things: Either the Bills would give him a one-year audition and sign him to a longer (more expensive) deal after this season, or they would part ways with him. Obviously, it was the latter all along.
Watkins had his moments in Buffalo, but he struggled to stay healthy. It didn't help that the Bills gave up so much to draft him in 2014 when there were other wide receivers — Odell Beckham Jr., to name one — available.
That trade was made under the previous front office. There are new sheriffs in town. There's a bit of irony to all of this: After the Bills sacrificed picks to draft Watkins in 2014, the team is now adding picks by trading him in 2017.
And that's really what this is about. Are the Bills in full-on tank mode? Maybe, maybe not. Sean McDermott, the Bills' new head coach, will want his team performing 100 percent each week. Gaines, when healthy, can be a strong corner. And Matthews is a very good receiver. He has the size and speed to make some plays.
But the Bills are investing in their future. With Friday's trades, they now have two picks in each of the first three rounds of the 2018 draft. They could either use those picks to build a quality roster or package a few of them to move up. The 2018 draft is supposed to be deeper at quarterback.
Darby and Watkins will be missed. Bills fans may be scratching their heads and wondering what to make of this. It may not pan out in 2017, but the Bills' front office is doing the right things to plan for 2018 and beyond.