Unless you’re desperate to see how your third-string linebackers are playing, preseason can feel like a bit of a dead time. Camp battles are fun and all, but you want something out of the leftfield to grab your attention. Well, Friday evening (UK time) gave us a couple of sudden, unexpected and intriguing trades to do just that. Let’s do a quick analysis of what happen, and what it means for all concerned.
Sammy Watkins -> LA Rams EJ Gaines -> Buffalo Bills
First of all, the Buffalo Bills traded wide receiver Sammy Watkins to the LA Rams, along with a sixth-round pick, in exchange for a second-round pick and cornerback E.J. Gaines. While it’s always surprising when a team trades one of their stars away, not all surprises are created equal. Buffalo obviously weren’t exactly satisfied with the time Watkins has missed due to injuried. Declining his fifth-year option with no other receiving quality on the roster was at best a bafflingly passive-aggressive move.
While that decision probably limited Watkins’ value, Los Angeles still paid a high price. For a second-round pick and a cornerback two years removed from a promising rookie year, they got a high-upside potential #1 wide receiver with injury history who is only under contract for one year. It’s like the Jamie Collins situation last year. You would hope the Rams are confident they can tie Watkins down to a long-term extension, because otherwise that’s a high price for a one-year rental.
As for the Bills, this trade gives them a second-round pick to go alongside their two first-round picks, and it gives them an extra body with NFL experience at cornerback, but about that cornerback corps…
Ronald Darby -> Philadelphia Eagles, Jordan Matthews -> Buffalo Bills
You might think Jordan Matthews is the headline in this trade, but for me it’s Ronald Darby that this trade’s legacy will hinge on. Darby is an excellent cornerback. Remember in 2015 when Marcus Peters got a bunch of interceptions and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie? Well, the best rookie corner that year was Darby, because where Peters was flashy and inconsistent, Darby was unassuming yet dominant. All that reversed course in 2016, as Peters kicked on to become an absolute stud and Darby took a step back. He definitely has the potential to be a #1 corner though, and Philadelphia will give him the opportunity.
While the Bills secondary now looks a bit sparser (even with the very underrated addition in the draft of Tre’Davious White), they can feel less worried by their receiver corps. Matthews isn’t the vertical threatWatkins is, but he’s a good slot receiver and will be a reliable weapon for a mercurial quarterback in Tyrod Taylor.
In gaining a third-round pick, the Bills now have two picks in each of the first three rounds next year. Could, you think, they be targeting a rebuild?
Winners And Losers From These Trades
Winner: Jared Goff and Todd Gurley
Holy hell does Jared Goff need a receiver capable of making him look good. And holy hell does Todd Gurley need Jared Goff to be able to throw passes to help unblock that box. Watkins gives Goff a vertical threat from an otherwise unexciting receiving corps. If Goff kicks on at all in year 2, things might ungum for Gurley. But before you get carried away: remember that the Rams have just substantially upgraded their receiving corps, and are now basically last year’s Bills WR group. Which wasn’t exactly inspiring.
Loser: Sammy Watkins
Okay, Tyrod Taylor may not be a receiver’s dream quarterback, with his efficient but low passing totals and penchant for running. But in his rookie year, Jared Goff struggled with accuracy, arm strength, reading the field, you name it. If Goff’s flaws were actual flaws rather than just rookie struggles, Watkins can run as fast as he likes and get as open as he likes, but Goff ain’t gonna find him.
Winner: Brandon Beane
He may have not been the most inspiring GM signing you can imagine, after years treading water in the Panthers’ back office, but Beane now has a huge opportunity coming into 2018. The Bills are self-evidently in rebuild mode. There are a vast swathe of team roles up for grabs. And now, thanks to three trades – including one organised by since-ousted GM Doug Whaley – Buffalo have two picks in each of the first three rounds of the 2018 draft. That’s a huge opportunity to build a young core for a franchise which hasn’t been to the playoffs since Bill Clinton was still president.
Loser: Rams mock drafters
Rams fans who love a good mock draft must be bored off their faces these days. After a slew of pick-heavy years, the Rams had no first-round pick this year, and now have no second-round pick in 2018. Look forward to feeling a bit disillusioned in April next year, Rams fans.
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
Just in general. Giving away a starting slot receiver and a third-round pick for Ronald Darby is, admittedly, a heavy price. But not too heavy. Matthews’ value to the Eagles was at an all-time low, after an inconsistent 2016, additions of Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith in preseason, and the emergence of both 2015 1st-round pick Nelson Agholor and fourth-round rookie Mack Hollins.
Corner, meanwhile, was as big a need as ever (and Philly have really struggled for corners in recent years). While they doubled-down on corners in the draft, both need time. 2nd round pick Sidney Jones was drafted despite a torn Achilles he sustained on his Pro Day. The pickup of Darby should release the pressure for him to be rushed in. Third-rounder Rasul Douglas has promise, but shouldn’t be exposed outside the slot in first year if possible.
And in general, it’s a win for GM Howie Roseman because no-one loves trades quite like Howie loves trades. Getting to have a bit of fun and throw players around is great, and to hell with continuity!
Loser: Tavon Austin
Austin’s always struggled to live up to his draft billing, and has ended up as more a ferociously overpaid gadget player than an offensive cog. Now that Los Angeles have acquired Watkins to go with the offseason additions of Robert Woods (free agency), Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds (draft), suddenly there are fewer snaps to go round for a player blessed with fantastic athleticism but a less-than-ideal grasp of playbooks.