The separate deals that saw Sammy Watkins sent to the Los Angeles Rams and Ronald Darby shipped off to the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday drove home a very important point for their now former teammates.
“Being in this league seven years, every day that you step into a building, it could be your last day,” quarterback Tyrod Taylor said.
That’s reality in the cold, calculating world of the NFL.
“When you see a guy of that caliber get traded, it kind of makes you think about your job security, especially younger guys that are new to this business,” veteran center Eric Wood said. “There’s a lot of turnover in this business. They’re making decisions that they feel is best for this team.”
Undoubtedly, more change is on the way.
“I don’t like the word ‘untouchable,’ ” General Manager Brandon Beane said. “I’m not actively shopping guys, selling guys, anything like that. That’s the honest-to-God truth. It’s just, you’re always looking in this business to help yourself now, and tomorrow.
“That’s the facts. I can’t stand up here and say I would never trade another guy in the next three weeks, but I’m not actively shopping anybody.”
Beane aggressively pushed back against the idea that under his leadership, along with coach Sean McDermott, the Bills are systematically ridding themselves of players brought in under former General Manager Doug Whaley.
“I’m not one that believes that ‘I didn’t draft him, so I don’t care about him.’ That is zero,” he said. “If they’re a good player and they can help us win a game today, then I’ll love them and I’ll take them every time. It’s not about getting the guys only that Sean and I brought in here versus the regime before we got here. There’s a lot of guys that have jumped right on board, doing the things that Sean and his staff have asked and we look forward to continuing to work with those guys.”
Shipping out Watkins and Darby, however, is a reminder that it’s a new era in Buffalo. Watkins was Whaley’s signature move as GM, while Darby was the first draft pick used by the team after Rex Ryan took over as coach in 2015. Symbolically or not, trading them both – on the same day – is turning the page on the the last few years.
“People ask about different players all the time around this league. You never know what’s serious or what’s just bait,” Beane said. “Again, I was not and we were not actively shopping either of these guys. We’re not actively shopping anybody, but L.A. got very serious about Sammy and Philadelphia got very serious about Ronald and the timing worked out.”
The Bills’ new general manager and coach have drastically rebuilt the roster in short order. Consider: Just 36 of the 90 players on Buffalo’s roster were acquired by a previous front office.
“If you've been around, you've seen stuff like this around the league,” defensive tackle Kyle Williams, the Bills’ longest-tenured player, said. “I think for some other guys it may have hit home: the things they've heard about the NFL are true.”
One of the natural questions to ask after trades like we saw Friday is: Who might be next?
With an eye on some of those 36 players who predate Beane and McDermott, here are the possibilities:
• QB Tyrod Taylor – No chance, right? Well, that’s what most would have said about trading Watkins before Friday. Taylor is signed through 2018, but the Bills could get out of the deal after the upcoming season with a manageable cap hit.
“Tyrod is the No. 1 quarterback on this team right now and we’ll let that play out before we decide how it goes into 2018 and beyond,” Beane said Friday.
By getting wide receiver Jordan Matthews and cornerback E.J. Gaines back as part of the trades – two potential starters – the Bills are not in “tank” mode. The signing of veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin last week also goes against that notion.
“It doesn’t say anything,” Beane said when asked what the trades mean for Taylor’s future. “Everybody’s forgetting we signed Anquan last week. This is not a ‘throw in the towel thing at all. Somebody mentioned that somebody said that out there and that quite honestly, that’s annoying to me because you don’t know me if you think I’m throwing in the towel.
“If we’re throwing in the towel, I wouldn’t have been trying to get a starting receiver back so to your question on Tyrod, it’s nothing. We’ve got Anquan, who we added and I told you, I honestly believe he’s a Hall of Famer and he still can play in this league. Jordan Matthews is a starting receiver and you look at his numbers, what he’s done and those aren’t to be laughed at, I guess to say. Tyrod will get every opportunity to lead this team and we’re all rooting for him. It’s in our best interest.”
Trading Taylor would be an undeniable “tank” move, so that makes it unlikely. But if the Bills get off to a horrendous start, and another team has an injury and a big need – thus making a big offer – would Beane say no? In rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman, the team has a player the coaching staff could want to get a better look at.
• RB LeSean McCoy – The Bills’ best player recently turned 29. That’s getting up there at his position, but McCoy still looks to be in his prime.
Trading him would also be a “tank” sign, so it’s just as unlikely as a Taylor deal would be. McCoy also makes big money for a running back, with cap hits of more than $8 million in each of the next three seasons. There is no obvious replacement on the roster, but running back is generally looked at a position that can be filled easily through free agency or the draft.
If the Bills were to move McCoy through trade, there would be a minimal cap savings this season, but significant space would be freed up for 2018. The expected return for running backs being so low — even when a player of McCoy’s caliber is involved — is another reason a deal would be a huge shock.
Money makes it tough
• DT Marcell Dareus – The Pro Bowl defensive tackle is schedule to count $16.4 million against the cap. Trading him would give the Bills a $10 million cap savings this year, but he would count $14.2 million next year. Dareus’ trade value is also at an all-time low considering he’s coming off a down season marred by a drug suspension and injuries. There is no obvious replacement for Dareus on the roster.
• TE Charles Clay – Clay’s cap hit would drop from $9 million to $4.5 million this year if he were traded, but he would still count $9 million against the 2018 cap. He’s also dealing with a chronic knee condition that could scare potential trade partners away. Depth behind Clay is another reason the Bills might be hesitant to move him.
They’re productive veterans, but …
• C Eric Wood – The veteran center is entering the final year of his contract and his release would save more than $4 million on this year’s salary cap. That number would stay the same if Wood was traded. There is a ready replacement already on the roster in Ryan Groy.
• LT Cordy Glenn – Cutting Glenn doesn’t seem like an option since doing so would cost the Bills more than $15 million on this year’s cap and nearly $10 million next season. Trading him would bring about a $9 million cap savings in 2017, but would cost the team $9.6 million in cap space in 2018. When Glenn was out during the spring, rookie second-round draft pick Dion Dawkins got all the work as starting left tackle. If Dawkins develops the way the team hopes, he most certainly could take over for Glenn sooner than later.
• LG Richie Incognito – The Pro Bowl left guard has two years left on his contract and is playing at a high level at age 34. He’s seemingly put his “BullyGate” past behind him, but McDermott might not see him as a good fit in the type of locker room he’s trying to build. Trading or releasing Incognito would save the Bills $3.275 million against the cap.
Young players who might interest other teams
• CB Kevon Seymour – A sixth-round pick in 2016, Seymour was expected to challenge for the starting slot cornerback job, but the Bills signed Leonard Johnson in the offseason and he has played there. Johnson has experience in McDermott’s defense from last year in Carolina. Seymour is on a cheap contract and provides decent depth, but if a team were to make an offer the Bills like, there’s evidence now that they won’t be shy to act. The addition of E.J. Gaines, acquired from the Rams as part of the trade for Watkins, helps with cornerback depth.
• LB Reggie Ragland – Consider this one likely. Acquired by Whaley with a second-round pick, Ragland actually cost the Bills three draft picks – their original 2015 second-rounder and the two fourth-round picks Whaley included to move up to get Ragland. Currently running with the third team, Ragland does not look like a natural fit for McDermott’s defense.
“I wouldn’t comment,” Beane said Friday when asked if the team has taken calls about Ragland. “We have lots of inquiries, so I don’t want to go into who’s asked about what players.”
• RG John Miller – The Bills signed veteran Vlad Ducasse in free agency and surprisingly mixed him in with the first team during the spring. That has continued some in training camp, although Miller seems to be ahead in the competition to start. Nevertheless, he's on a cheap contract that has two seasons remaining, making him potentially attractive to another team if the Bills wanted to go with Ducasse (or someone else) at the position.
"We have to continue to move forward," McDermott said Friday. "We’ve got to continue to move forward and that’s what you do in this business."
That point was driven home by the departures of Watkins and Darby.
"It’s just the nature of this business," Taylor said, "you can never predict things."