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Former Bills receivers may be cashing in, but that's no reason to miss them

Marquise Goodwin signed a three-year contract extension with the San Francisco 49ers Thursday worth a reported $20.3 million, with $10 million guaranteed.

A year ago, Robert Woods landed a five-year, $39-million free-agent contract from the Los Angeles Rams.

Beginning Wednesday, the entire NFL can bid for the services of Sammy Watkins, who is entering the open market after one season with the Rams.

So the natural question is, why have these wide receivers cashed in (or are about to) after leaving the Buffalo Bills, who are as receiver-needy as a team can get? How is it that other clubs can recognize value the Bills' decision-makers couldn't see when it was right under their collective nose?

The answer is that the Bills didn't necessarily miss all that much, if anything, with any of them.

It's fair to argue the Bills lacked the quarterback to take advantage of their skills. They were, after all, catching passes from EJ Manuel, Kyle Orton and Tyrod Taylor. They didn't have most ingenious offensive scheming on their side, either.

Yet it's equally fair to say the Bills had more than reasonable cause to part ways with the trio, even though coach Sean McDermott, in setting a new course for the franchise, was working with a lame-duck general manager in Doug Whaley when the Goodwin and Woods decisions were made.

Marquise Goodwin

Buffalo's Marquise Goodwin has trouble getting up after injuring himself on a kick return Oct. 18, 2015. (Robert Kirkham/News file photo)

Start with Goodwin. The Bills fell in love with his world-class speed when they made him a third-round draft pick from Texas in 2013. They eventually fell out of love with his inability to stay healthy. In four seasons with the Bills, Goodwin played in only 39 games. He caught 49 passes (with 29 in 2016) for 780 yards (with 431 in '16), and six touchdowns.

Last season with the 49ers, Goodwin's ability to stay mostly healthy for the first time since he entered the league had plenty to do with his reaching career highs with 56 receptions and 962 receiving yards, along with two TDs. He developed instant chemistry with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Still, Goodwin suffered two concussions, bringing his career total to at least four.

Robert Woods runs during one of his games with the Bills in 2014. (Harry Scull Jr./News file photo)

Robert Woods

When Woods was with the Bills, who made him a second-round pick from USC in 2013, he was a nice No. 2 receiver. In four seasons with them, he caught 203 passes for 2,451 yards and 12 touchdowns. As a free agent, Woods sought to be paid at the level of a No. 1 wideout, and the Southern California native found a taker in his hometown team.

In 12 games, 11 as a starter, Woods caught 56 passes for a career-best 781 yards and five touchdowns, equaling a career high he reached in 2014. After a disastrous rookie season in 2016, Jared Goff looked more like the quarterback the Rams thought they were getting with the top overall pick of the draft. That was largely due to the influence of Sean McVay, who was named NFL Coach of the Year for his remarkable work at the tender age of 31.

Sammy Watkins

Goff's play and McVay's coaching also had something to do with what the Rams were able to get from Watkins, who was good but hardly spectacular with 39 receptions (second-lowest of his career) for 593 yards (third-lowest of his career) and eight touchdowns (one short of his career high in 2015).

Put another way, the Rams could very well have chosen to place a franchise tag on Watkins. Instead, they put it on safety Lamarcus Joyner.

A team will likely step up with a lucrative deal for Watkins, looking to tap into the big-play talent that intoxicated Whaley to the point where he gave up first- and fourth-round choices to move up to the fourth overall pick in 2014 to select the former Clemson star.

The fact is, Watkins, even with insufficient quarterback play, never stayed healthy enough nor was productive enough to justify his lofty draft status. His public outcry in 2015 for more targets might have gotten the desired response from former coach Rex Ryan and former offensive coordinator Greg Roman. However, it didn't exactly endear Watkins to McDermott or the new GM, Brandon Beane.

McDermott and Beane came in with the intention of changing what they viewed as a decided "me" culture to a "we" culture. And with Watkins entering the final year of his contract, they jumped on the opportunity to ship him off for something of substance — a second-round pick and the unanticipated bonus of throw-in cornerback E.J. Gaines becoming a starter — rather than get nothing this year.

Yes, the Bills muddled through last season with no one approaching the level of a difference-maker at receiver. They're hopeful that second-rounder Zay Jones, who recently underwent shoulder surgery, can stay healthy and become more reliable and productive. They're hopeful that Kelvin Benjamin, acquired from the Carolina Panthers with a third-round choice, can stay healthy as well and be the dominant force he was expected to be as a rookie. And they'll probably use the draft and/or free agency to address receiver in the coming days and months.

Does it mean they should regret no longer having Watkins, Woods or Goodwin? Not necessarily.

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