The Buffalo Bills have traded wide receiver Sammy Watkins and a sixth-round pick in next year’s draft to the Los Angeles Rams for cornerback E.J. Gaines and a 2018 second-round pick, the Bills announced Friday.
The Bills’ decision to trade their top receiver and top cornerback for future draft picks signals that first-year general manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott view the Bills as a long-term rebuilding project.
Buffalo now owns two selections in the first, second and third rounds of the 2018 draft. The Bills previously acquired the Kansas City Chiefs‘ first-round pick in trading down during the 2017 draft to select cornerback Tre’Davious White at No. 27.
The departure of Watkins strips quarterback Tyrod Taylor of his top passing target this season. Taylor took a $10 million pay cut to remain with the Bills this offseason but his future with the team remains in doubt. The Bills can release Taylor before paying him a $6 million roster bonus next March and save most of his $18 million cap number in 2018, the final year of his contract.
Darby, who finished second in voting for defensive rookie of the year in 2015, had two years remaining on his contract. White now projects as the Bills’ top cornerback this season with Gaines likely to start opposite him.
Matthews has been a highly productive player since being selected 42nd overall in 2014. He ranks first in receptions (225) and third in receiving yards (2,673) among all-time Eagles in their first three years, and is one of only five players in NFL history with 65-plus receptions and 800-plus receiving yards in each of their first three seasons, joining a club that includes Randy Moss, Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans and A.J. Green.
Despite the production, the Eagles never got serious about working out a contract extension with Matthews, who is in the final year of his rookie deal. Executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman has a history of re-upping homegrown players early if they have been identified as part of the core. It was telling that he chose not to aggressively pursue a new contract with Matthews.