No, the Buffalo Bills aren't tanking and no, Sammy Watkins shouldn't be considered a bust yet. The injury prone receiver's trade to the Los Angeles Rams may seem like a bid for a complete rebuild, but the Bills should be (and seemingly are) viewing 2017 as a transition year. While they won't be contending for the AFC East this season, they're in a perfect situation to not repeat the mistakes that they made with Rex Ryan before Sean McDermott took the helm.
For starters, the Tyrod Taylor contract Taylor is locked in through 2018, with his 2019 salary being voided after a restructure. Some expected the Bills to sign Taylor to a massive deal, but they instead opted to bid their time a bit. The restructure, which Taylor accepted in March, is largely a transition contract while the Bills figure out exactly what their future is at quarterback. Should someone really stand out to them in the 2018 draft, they may take a shot on him, have him ride the bench while Taylor plays out his contract, and let the veteran test the market in 2019.
If Taylor makes it to free agency in 2019, he'll share a free-agent class that includes Carson Palmer, Matt Ryan and Alex Smith. Ryan will assuredly be re-signed by the Falcons, Palmer may hang it up after this contract and Smith will largely be determined by the Chiefs' success over the next few years. Bottomline: Taylor has the potential to be playing for a serious franchise QB contract, and if the Bills find a player that they love in the 2018 draft, they'll have the means to take a shot outside of Taylor.
According to Spotrac, in 2018 the Bills will have over $26 million of cap space available in free agency. Defensive tackle Kyle Williams and center Eric Wood will both be hitting the market. Both could be considered priorities during the offseason, but Williams will be 35 next year and 2016 third-round pick Adolphus Washington looms as a replacement, while advanced metrics loved the job Ryan Groy did last season filling in as an injury replacement on the offensive line.
If the Bills don't want to give Washington the starting job at defensive tackle or re-sign Williams, they could pursue Star Lotulelei of the Panthers, who is an unrestricted free agent in 2018. McDermott, of course, worked with Lotulelei in Carolina, and would give the Bills two potential stars in the middle of the defensive line. It's common practice for coordinators to bring some of their guys over upon team switches, and Lotulelei, who will be 28 next season, makes the most sense. McDermott is bringing back the 4-3 defense that Buffalo was successful in before Ryan tried converting them to a 3-4 base. With the talent that Buffalo has and McDermott's emphasis on pressure, Lotulelei is a great fit in Buffalo alongside pass rushing terrors like Jerry Hughes and potential 2016 first-round pick Shaq Lawson.
With all of this being said, there's one category that this benefits the Bills the most in: the draft. The Bills now have a cornucopia of options. They have two first-round picks, two second-round picks, two third-round picks, and a fourth, fifth and seventh. With nine draft picks -- six in the first three rounds -- Buffalo can now sit on them or try to deal them to teams that are seeking more early round talent.
The Bills Jordan Matthews, they have the entire 2017 season to evaluate needs and draft accordingly. Should they decide that they want someone more established, teams are always willing to flip established players for picks.(who selected Pat Mahomes), primarily for the Chiefs' 2018 first-rounder in addition to a pick-swap in the first round and a mid-round pick. Now, and E.J. Gaines and for a third-round pick and
The final factor:. Brandon Beane was hired from a Panthers executive position in March, and he seems intent on making sure that this is his Bills team. That isn't necessarily a bad thing -- every GM has different philosophies -- and Doug Whaley's may not have aligned with Beane's.
Beane's moves could be interpreted in one of two ways: a mad scramble to do whatever he can to claim the team before the season, or a calculated effort in which he realizes that the team as it stands likely isn't a 2017 contender, but has the potential to be in 2018 and onward. These moves, and the timing of them, appear to be the latter case. Transitioning between coaches is a difficult endeavor, transitioning between coaches and GMs is a titanic one. Beane's moves feel chaotic, but beyond surface level they seem to be highly pragmatic.
All-in-all, the moves leave Buffalo in a pretty good spot. They lose one of their biggest unproven contract obligations in Watkins, and they give the Rams -- a team that probably shouldn't be taking rental players -- a rental player in Watkins while getting back great value for him. The Darby move is a bit more questionable, but he fits the timetable, as Darby would be a free agent in 2019 and could be in position to cash in after following up his excellent rookie season with a solid 2016 performance. The Bills just made cornerback a massive need, what with Darby being gone and Stephon Gilmore heading to the Patriots, but they have the means to fill that need (and Gaines can be a stopgap if need be) and do have 2017 first-rounder Tre'Davious White as one long-term piece at the position.
These are moves made with a long-term plan in mind. Beane doesn't care about Watkins's Fantasy value, but rather what he means to the Bills' outlook, both now and in the future. Trading a player on an expiring contract that has had injury issues for a second-round pick is a practical move, and it sets the Bills up well for the near future. Even though fans might not like it, if Buffalo plays things right (starting in March of 2018), they'll cotton on quickly.