Friday, August 11th started like any other day after a Buffalo Bills preseason game. Then the Bills ripped the schedule apart at the seams, announcing two blockbuster trades. As the Buffalo Rumblings staff scrambled to report on the events of the day, several unanswered questions built up in our heads. Friday night, we talked out the situation on our staff Slack channel. Here, in the style of a FiveThirtyEight Slack roundtable, is what we had to say about the trades.
Dan Lavoie: Okay, well let's get into it - the Bills traded Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby today. The Brandon Beane era is now in full swing. Snap judgments on the two trades - approve, disapprove, not sure?
Dylan Zadonowicz: Darby trade I approve, Sammy I'm not sure
Jeff Hunter: Hard to say right now, without seeing how exactly the Bills plan on using Jordan Matthews and EJ Gaines. The picks are a nice touch, but I'm by no means a fan of tanking, so...we'll see how the preseason plays out.
Andrew Griffin: "Not sure" as of yet.
Dan: I'm not happy about the Sammy trade. I think his talent potential far outstrips the return. The Bills punted on trying to sign him long-term without allowing this season to play out. That's weak. The Darby trade, I can rationalize. Getting a WR2 and a 3rd round pick for a CB2 is a solid deal, even if Matthews only has one year left on his contract
Dylan: I will be more convinced the trades were great moves based on the draft picks. If in 2019 the second and third rounders they gained from this trade turn into solid staters, I'll consider it a success
Jeff: I really can't separate the trades in my mind. They lock together so well, and Beane said that if one fell through he might not have moved on the other, so I can't say I like one and dislike the other.
Grif: Jeff, would you say that the team is tanking, even if the coaches won't cop to that?
Dan: Haha, Grif with the hard-hitting question right off the bat!
Jeff: I wouldn't...we cover the Bills, but we all remember the Sabres and the McEichel draft a couple years ago. That was a tank. This is a move with a definite eye for the future.
Dylan: Now that they have 6 picks in the first three rounds, the possibility of them having to give up picks for a quarterback is more comforting with those insurances
Dan: I think the Bills saw an opportunity to build for the future... without a tank. They can argue that they're getting 85% of the production from the players they just lost, from the players they just gained. And added two high draft picks in the process.
Dylan: The Bills brass seems to be much more concerned with long term success rather than pushing for a wild card spot in 2017
Dan: I'll add that this team doesn't feel like one that could tank even if it wanted to. Unless they just up and traded Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy away.
Grif: I'm immediately reminded of the Pirates GM who told one of his star player: "We finished eighth with you, we can finish eighth without you."
Jeff: The idea of moving for a quarterback is always interesting, but is this the kind of draft where they'd need to? It's entirely possible that a quality starter could be found in the middle parts of the first round.
Good point, Grif. No team that's tanking is keeping Shady around.
Dan: I think they're taking the same philosophy the Browns FO used under Sashi Brown - accumulate a crapton of picks, just because they get more options that way. They still picked a QB this year, but didn't necessarily pay a king's ransom for him.
Dylan: Jeff you could argue that Tyrod is a quality starter now. If the Bills want to target their franchise for the next 12 years, they'll most likely need to move into the top 5
Grif: This draft is the one to move up in, yes.
Jeff: I've looked into trading into the top five in the past, and I'm 115% against it, but that's a story for another day.
Dan: Right. It usually turns out terribly. But if the Bills mitigate the risk because they have a full set of extra draft picks... is it a bad idea anymore?
Grif: Let's get back to the Watkins trade. Do any of you think the WR corp is worse than last year?
Dan: Well, by default, no. Last year's was putrid. No offense to Robert Woods, it was more about the supporting cast behind him
Jeff: Having a lot of ammo helps in trading up, but yes, back to the point.
Dylan: Absolutely not, if Goodwin and Woods were on this team they would be fighting for the 4 spot.
Grif: And the team went 7-9 last year, essentially without Sammy
Jeff: I always liked Woods more than most, but again, it's hard to say where everybody goes at this point.
I'm assuming Zay and Matthews on the outside with Boldin in the slot. Any objections?
Dan: All three guys can play in the slot and do well. But Boldin's limited speed probably puts him there the most
Dylan: No objections that sounds right, Boldin is too aged to get outside IMO
Dan: It'll be risky asking Jones (who's a rookie) and Matthews (who has struggled on the outside at times) to split out wide. But that's probably the best configuration
Jeff: That brings up another point. Dan, you've spent a lot of time looking at the offense the Bills should be running under Rick Dennison. It's not fair to ask whether Matthews is a better fit, because Watkins should fit into any offense, but will the scheme help or hurt him in 2017?
Dan: So I actually love the concept here of making the top three receivers on the roster inside/outside types. The scheme just got way more flexible. Come out in trips bunch. Motion one receiver to the other side. Start in a tight formation, then widen it. Bring a slot receiver across the formation. It will force defenses to declare their intentions, and it lets the offense be deceptive. In other words, this strategy is beneficial to Taylor and the offense as a whole.
Matthews is a strider who struggles against press coverage, but has good top speed. That definitely means he'd succeed more as a flanker or slot receiver. I think he might be miscast if they try to use him as a direct Sammy Watkins replacement.
Grif: As we've been talking about since Dennison was hired, the WCO is all about stretching the field horizontally. It doesn't depend on guys with deep speed as much.
Dan: Right. I think this scheme will create opportunities for the receivers. But it's on Matthews to separate and catch the dang ball when his opportunity comes
Jeff: I imagine somebody's going to stick on the roster just to keep defenses honest (Streater, I assume)
Dan: Yeah, Streater or Powell could fit that role.
Dylan: That's always been a bright spot for Tyrod. Deep balls are his bread and butter so not being able to take as many shots is something he will have to get used to
Grif: They were his bread and butter.
Jeff: He seemed to dial the deep balls down last year anyway, probably a result of not having Sammy. He just needs to work the middle of the field and get the ball out faster.
Dan: Next question: Armando Salguero just reported that Ryan Tannehill is taking season-ending surgery for his ACL. So the Dolphins are Jay Cutlerville for 2017. With that in mind, and the Jets already terrible, could you make the case that the Bills were in contention for a wild card spot this year? Do you think they still could after the trade?
Grif: I think they were in contention and still are.
Jeff: I think a lot of that depends on Gaines. The secondary was already a huge question mark...if he's not up to at least pretending to replace Darby, there could be a lot of 400-yard passing days against the Bills.
Grif: I think the secondary will be protected by scheme largely
Jeff: It definitely feels weird to imply that EJ Gaines is the key to the season, but he could be a big part of it.
Dylan: Yes and yes. The Dolphins even with Tannehill are mediocre and last season was one from the heavens. The Bills have to get better defensively and Lawson and Dareus being in full swing should help that. The secondary is the question mark but being in zone should help the younger guys.
Dan: Gaines or Kevon Seymour suddenly matter a great deal. There's less room for error on the injury front, as well.
I do think the Bills can contend, even now. The AFC is just awful. They'll rise near the top if nothing else because of rotten teams around them.
Jeff: Yeah, the Dolphins got a huge boost from their run game last year...something they'll probably try to do again.
Dan: Assuming Ajayi stays healthy... He had a concussion already in camp
Jeff: I think the Bills can contend, I'm just not terribly optimistic about it...but to be fair, I wasn't yesterday, either.
Dan: I mean, Cleveland's bad. The Jets are contending for 0-16. The Jaguars and Broncos have decent rosters but horrid quarterbacks. Cincy missed the playoffs and then lost a number of talented vets. The Ravens are counting on Joe Flacco to lead them to wins with a back brace on.
There are six teams that make the playoffs. New England's a given. Pittsburgh is likely too. Who else? The Titans? The Colts have a lousy roster, but Andrew Luck, but he's dealing with a shoulder injury and hasn't thrown
Grif: Raiders too
But point taken
Dan: Raiders are definitely going to compete for a top six seed
Jeff: The Titans are sneaky as all get-out in 2017
Dan: But yeah, I don't think our roster is particularly talented, especially without Watkins and Darby. But I just think the other teams aren't that great either. It'll come down to the close games, right?
Corey Giacovelli: cue Steven Hauschka
Grif: As the games always do.
Sean Murphy: I'm late to the party, but if I had to sum up my feelings--dealing Watkins is the part I'm not thrilled about. He's so damn talented that I feel like we're bailing way early on a guy who's easily the most talented person physically at the position that we've had since Eric Moulds
Dan: Please no missed extra points please no missed extra points
Jeff: I watched a few of his missed XPs from last year...he had some really bad blocking up front
Sean: Darby in a zone isn't a guy who helps much, and Gaines was epically bad last year, but he's a minor player. Seymour will be the starting outside guy. I like Matthews...but as a complementary piece in a corps with Watkins, not as he headliner to replace him
Jeff: Texans made the playoffs last year with a tire fire at QB...if Watson is even semi competent they can make noise
Sean: That might actually have been a tire fire inside of a dumpster fire, Jeff
Dan: I think the value of a freak receiver who can really win just about any one-on-one matchup is something we haven't realized how bad we'll miss it. I can remember reading years of Buddy Nix laments about not being able to have a reliable open target.
Dylan: Will their defense return as good as they were? I know they get JJ Watt back but that secondary is shaky
Dan: They did lose A.J. Bouye
Grif: I think the point is that we can all agree the team is much better than people think. All the commentators have been saying that the Bills are now competing with the Browns and the Jets for the #1 pick now. Mike Rodak said they “blew up the season.” That’s just not true. Even without Watkins and Darby, the Bills roster is miles better than both those teams, especially where it counts (at QB).
Jeff: It's hard to just brush off getting back the best defensive player of his generation, but point taken
The Bills aren't that bad. Hell, the Browns aren't that bad. The Jets have the first pick sewn up.
Remind me I said that when Josh McCown leads them to 11-5 and two playoff wins.
Sean: The Jets have the worst roster I've ever seen
Dan: First he needs a neat name like "McMagic"
Sean: Including the 0-16 lions
Dylan: I agree but the front 7 didn't miss much of a beat with Watt gone. Whitney Mercilus played out of his mind last year
Dan: Let's circle back to the trades. Do you think the Bills got fair value? Feel free to break it into the individual trades if you want.
Jeff: As a package deal, I'd say so on the assumption that Watkins wasn't going to resign of his own volition.
The second-round pick is from the Rams, which could be a pseudo-first
Grif: I would've preferred different players. Ones that are not in contract years.
Jeff: That is a fair point.
Gaines' health is also a big concern there. If they're getting 2014 Gaines, yes...2016 Gaines? Not so much.
Dylan: I think the Darby trade was fair but the Sammy trade we could've gotten more value from their roster
Sean: A player of Matthews' caliber AND a third for Darby is a great deal
Dan: I think the Bills getting a second round pick for one year of Sammy Watkins is... actually a fair deal in this market, IMO. Borders on pro-Bills. Brandin Cooks netted a 31st overall pick, and he had two years on his contract. They also got a potential starting corner there, for a sixth round pick in return. So not too shabby, if you knew you weren't going to try to re-sign Watkins
(And for the record, it's ridiculous that they never asked Watkins if he WANTED to re-sign before pulling the trigger)
Sean: A player of Watkins' caliber and a second for a player who might be an okay zone corner while also giving up a (very low value pick but still a pick) selection isn't as great, but it is the market for WRs
Jeff: Yeah, I'm fine with defending McBeane, but to hear GMBB talk about considering "re-signability" after he said he never discussed the issue with Sammy is absurd
Grif: Is it though Dan? I feel like Watkins would've just said "how much are you going to pay me?"
Sean: And my answer would've been "the franchise tag"
Dan: But at least then they know what he'd want, right?
Jeff: Probably, but they could have at least broached the subject.
Dan: They just assumed he's outside their market. Or something.
Sean: Teams still had the hammer in the NFL because of the cap and the tags
To assume that is awful, unless they really just wanted to move along
Dan: Like, maybe they don't actually want to pay a receiver $50 million. That would certainly make sense. But they could still ASK! And Sean is absolutely right that they could tag him if they wanted to keep him.
Sean: Which I think is also pretty brutal
Grif: That's why I don't think they wanted Watkins at all.
Sean: Or they were worried about him getting hurt again, then he'd have no trade value and they'd look dumb to franchise him
Sean: So they cut bait early rather than going late
They didn't want to gamble.
Dan: I'm just saying, Watkins was, entering the league, considered a can't-miss WR prospect. When healthy, he PLAYS like one. They could've waited a year, seen him confirm it, then signed him to an extension! Or tagged him! This is Buffalo's front office taking the "safe" route and getting something in return for the pessimistic belief that he'd either be bad or not come back.
Grif: Would one year of healthy play have confirmed it for you?
Jeff: Trust The Process, Dan
Dan: Think what kind of return they could've had if he had 1400 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns, then gotten tagged and traded. I just...
[Emoji of Buddy Nix wearing sunglasses]
Corey: If I could pose a question...if the team is in contention around the deadline could the possibility of packaging picks for an "X-Factor" be on the table?
Jeff: Hard to say...the trade deadline is, what, Week 6?
Dan: Last year it was November 1st
Dylan: I had no idea that was Buddy Nix next to your name until right now, Dan
(Yeah, Dan uses a miniature Buddy Nix emoji as his status badge on Slack)
Dan: So the Bills would have played about half their season
Jeff: Right, they moved it back but it's still too early to really separate the middle of the pack
Dylan: Hm that's interesting, if they are 5-1 by week 6 then I could see them pulling the trigger to get better in their worst area
Jeff: If they're 5-1 by Week 6 nobody is going to remember any of this and Canalside will be on fire
Grif: All we know is that McBeane likes stockpiling picks, so I doubt it,
Dan: At this point, I suppose nothing would shock me.
Dylan: If Seattle came to Beane and said give me a second for Sherman, do you think he would do it?
Jeff: Setting financials aside...yes?
Corey: Sherman is who I was thinking actually. and I think so
Dan: A bolstered back seven would really be the ticket to locking up a playoff spot. I guess all we can do is have the season play out until then.
Corey: or Josh Norman [eyes emoji][joy emoji]
Dylan: I think that could be a real possibility since there have been soooo many rumors of them wanting to trade him
I think Norman would Cost waaaay too much for McBeanes liking
Dan: Norman would cost waaay too much for Washington to trade away this year. So that ain't happening. Good thought though
So yeah. The Bills got (marginally worse), but it doesn't qualify as a tank, and at least they got good value from these trades.
But for the sake of all of us at home... Next time, don't announce it on a Friday afternoon, guys?
Grif: Sunday would be good
Jeff: And check with Matt Warren first...make sure his schedule is clear
Dan: [Emojis pointing up at Jeff’s message]
Dylan: Yeah let's have a Bills PR guy on our staff so we know ahead of time.