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Tim Graham: Bills leaders admit they'll need to sell trades to team, fans

Tim Graham

Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane, the Buffalo Bills' rookie head coach and GM, each was asked if the 2017 roster got better after Friday's trades.

They slipped the questions as Floyd Mayweather would an off-balance roundhouse.

But throughout their news conferences at One Bills Drive, McDermott and Beane acknowledged they hurt their chances of winning this year.

The Bills traded lead receiver Sammy Watkins and a sixth-round draft choice to the Los Angeles Rams for cornerback E.J. Gaines and a second-round pick. They also dealt top cornerback Ronald Darby to the Philadelphia Eagles for receiver Jordan Matthews and a third-round draft choice.

McDermott and Beane conceded they would have to sell Friday's startling trades to the locker room and to fans who've waited nearly 18 years for the playoffs.

"I get it," McDermott said. "I absolutely get it. That's why I didn't sleep last night because these are tough decisions. I'm a part of that. When I signed my name to that dotted line, I became a part of that 17-year time period."

In sympathizing with Watkins, Bills running back LeSean McCoy gave an evaluation of the trade's talent differential. McCoy played with Matthews in Philadelphia until McCoy was traded to Buffalo for linebacker Kiko Alonso.

"I'm sure he's hurt," McCoy said of Watkins. "I've been there. ... It's a business, and he has to understand that. But I can understand that type of way he feels, being traded for a guy that he's probably better than."

Bills fans might need longer to get past the sting of losing some game-day luster.

But locker-room leaders indicated they have faith in the front office and coaching staff.

Important players seem to have bought into the sales pitch.

Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams needed to be persuaded to return for a 12th season. He didn't want to be a part of another rebuild. Now, his chances of finally reaching the playoffs appear to have waned.

"You could view it one way from my perspective if we got a pick this year, two more two years from now," Williams said. "We're actually getting guys that are coming back to play those positions."

Williams explained he must not let Friday's surprises infiltrate his head or disrupt his approach. If he considers the Bills a lesser team today, then his teammates will notice.

In other words, he must sell the front office's direction, too.

"The main thing," Williams said, "is you want to check in with those first-, second-, third-year guys maybe that aren't accustomed to big or sudden change like that.

"I talked to a few guys today and said, 'Listen, the only way I think that our team is going to be any good is how we respond in high and low times and how we respond to sudden change on the field and off.'

"It's an opportunity for us to see how we'll react ... and judging from today I thought we had a really good practice, high-energy, up-tempo."

Buffalo's draft picks, if used properly, will serve the organization longer than whatever Watkins and Darby would've contributed in 2017. Those losses are additionally mitigated by obtaining Matthews and Gaines.

Buffalo owns six selections within the first three rounds of next year's draft.

As one AFC general manager texted to me, second- and third-round picks for players the Bills obviously didn't want are a nice return.

Beane was asked how he'll convince Bills veterans they're still trying to field the best possible team and make a playoff run when they're trading away two of their best players.

"Well, it's hard," Beane said. "They don't necessarily know Jordan or E.J. So hopefully they'll reserve judgment until those guys get in and strap the pads on and jump in with them. We'll see where it goes from there."

When 15-year veteran Anquan Boldin signed a one-season contract with the Bills last week, he anticipated forming a receiving tandem with Watkins.

Boldin claimed he would have signed with the Bills anyway if he knew Watkins wouldn't be here.

"It was an initial shock for everybody," Boldin said. "I've been around for a number of years, and I've seen it go down a number of times.

"But for me, I trust the GM upstairs and the coaches, that they have the best interests of the team at heart. So any decisions they make, I'm behind them."

When quarterback Tyrod Taylor re-signed with the Bills this offseason, he expected to throw to Watkins.

Taylor and Watkins took 16 snaps together in Thursday night's exhibition against the Minnesota Vikings at New Era Field. Taylor connected with Watkins on each of the first three plays and sent five of the eight passes he attempted Watkins' way.

Fifteen hours after the game, Watkins was gone.

"I have faith in our management, have faith in Coach McDermott that they made a decision based on the betterment of this team," Taylor said.

McDermott was asked before Friday's practice how he would explain the trades to his quarterback.

Taylor this offseason restructured his contract to run through 2018 rather than explore free agency.

"I'll take it a step further and how you sell it to the entire team," McDermott said. "My stance with our football team and the leaders of our football team -- you mention Tyrod, being one of them -- is to be honest and up front with these guys.

"They know that we're going to do everything possible and make every decision that's in the best interest of this football team short- and long-term. That's my responsibility.

"I believe in clear and concise communication and developing trust, and that's what I hope has developed over the course of the first six months on the job."

Hope. Faith. Sell.

Those aren't words you use with woke NFL players and frustrated fans when a trade makes your roster noticeably better.

The draft picks are the prize that could pay off, but probably not until more players have moved on from the Bills.

For now, the leaders say they're buying into the new regime's jarring methodology.

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