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Sully's Mailbag: Wide range of reactions on Watkins trade

Jerry Sullivan

I was about to put the Mailbag to bed on Friday when the big news broke about the Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby trades. So the column was put back a day and, not surprisingly, the roof nearly blew off the old mailbox.

People are all over the place about the trades, though the overall sentiment is positive. Bills fans are understandably conflicted. Many agree it's in the long-term interest of the franchise, but they're sick of suffering and feel betrayed after investing hope in this year's team.

One person said trading Watkins was the stupidest thing the Pegulas could have done. Someone actually said Sammy was punished for saying NFL players should be paid as much as NBA guys. One found it suspicious that the deal was made when fans could no longer cancel season tickets. On to the Mailbag.

Charles Z asks: So why didn't they opt for the 5th year? Watkins would be worth a lot more with two years left on his contract.

Sully: It's a decent point, one that I also received from @behrnsie. Keep in mind, the decision not to exercise Sammy's fifth-year option was made two days after the Bills fired Doug Whaley and a week before they hired Brandon Beane as general manager.

So it seems Sean McDermott didn't believe Watkins would be healthy this season and wanted him to prove it on the field. They could have slapped a franchise tag on Sammy if he had a big year. That suggests that they weren't planning to trade Watkins all along, as a lot of skeptics now believe.

Beane might have taken a harder line on Watkins when he became GM. He admitted on Friday that Sammy's injury history was a factor in the trade. Watkins was a diminished asset, and Beane was obviously open to moving him

The Rams might have given more if Watkins had that extra year on his deal. But if Watkins has a big year, they're likely to be talking about a big extension, anyway. So I'm not sure it would have made a huge difference.


Joseph Genco asks: If Matthews plus Gaines equals Sammy plus Darby, the Bills get draft choices, too. Doesn't that make an instant trade win?

Sully: Easy, Joe. I liked the trades, but it's a stretch to call it even on the players alone. Watkins is a potential superstar – if he stays healthy. It's a risk the Bills were no longer willing to take, but that doesn't make Matthews his equal. Matthews is solid and reliable, but he's no Sammy.

Darby slipped a year ago, but he's a potential No. 1 cornerback in the league and has achieved more than Gaines, who has struggled to stay healthy. So on raw talent alone, the Bills come out behind in the deals.


Mike Kickbush asks: Will the o-line improve? Or can any additions be made to help it? For pass protection?

Sully: The O line is a mixed bag, same as last year. They're very good in the running game, but shaky in pass protection. It's an issue, because teams will be even more prone to load up against the run to take away the team's strength and make Tyrod Taylor beat them with the pass.

They need to improve, but Thursday was not a good sign. The Vikings got pressure early, got a big hit on Taylor, and briefly knocked him out of the game. The Bills, who have no reliable backup, cannot afford to lose Taylor. But if they can't tighten up the pass blocking, Taylor is bound to get hurt.

Cordy Glenn's lingering left foot is a major concern. Sean McDermott admitted as much. He held Glenn, the team's franchise left tackle, out of the preseason opener. Glenn has ankle and foot woes that date back to last season. He's overpaid as it is, but they need him on the field.

Veteran Seantrel Henderson has looked good in camp, but he got abused in the opener. Henderson also has to sit out the first five weeks of the season on a suspension for using marijuana during his recovery from Crohn's Disease.

The right side is a mess. The Bills traded up in the draft to get rookie Dion Dawkins in the second round, but he hasn't seized the opportunity to unseat the ordinary Jordan Mills at right tackle. Vlad Ducasse is pushing veteran John Miller at right guard.

Despite blocking for the league's top rushing attack, the Bills' offensive line is a bit overrated. You can't be an average pass blocking line in today's NFL and consider yourself elite. Taylor isn't the only reason the coaches were conservative in the passing game the last two years.


Bills_Fan_In_San Diego asks: Is there a chance Reggie Ragland gets cut based on a poor performance Thursday night?

Sully: It's too soon to give up on a man the Bills moved up to take 41st overall in the 2016 draft. As McDermott is quick to remind us, Ragland is coming off a knee injury that cost him his entire rookie season.

But injury or not, it seems the old regime overestimated Ragland's ability to thrive in the NFL. His shortcomings in coverage were well-known. There's a reason he was sitting there in the second round of the draft. I don't see him getting cut, but it wouldn't shock me if Beane traded him.

The Bills picked him to play in Rex Ryan's 3-4. He's struggling to fit into McDermott's 4-3, which requires more dropping into coverage and making plays in space. Ragland is more of a straight-on run stopper. Linebackers need to be versatile in today's pass-happy NFL.

Ragland, who was expected to push Preston Brown for the starting job at middle linebacker, is now third string behind Gerald Hodges. He had an uneven game against the Vikings, playing against backups.


@Buffalodad asks: Being a young, first-year head coach, will McDermott try something new and different or do you anticipate the same old same old?

Sully: Football coaches generally come from the same mold, regardless of age. McDermott strikes me as a typical coach, talking about process and toughness and discipline and the importance of team. I've heard it all by now.

That doesn't mean he won't surprise us. McDermott seems organized and has a plan. That puts him ahead of Rex Ryan. But the real test will come on game days. Will he be another coach who is stuck in old-time thinking, or one who isn't afraid to try things that defy time-honored coaching conventions?

The Bills' starting defense looked good on Thursday. It was an encouraging sign. McDermott's expertise is on defense and it should become evident over time. He doesn't need to reinvent the sport, he needs to get the most out of his roster.


@lissmoe asks: Eight straight wins, pitching looking good, bats making a comeback at the right time. Another duckboat parade this year?

Sully: Way to jinx my Red Sox, who blew a late lead and lost to the Yanks on Friday. Thank heavens for Chris Sale, who should be a top candidate for Most Valuable Player, not just Cy Young. But Rick Porcello has been awful and David Price is hurt, so don't schedule any parades just yet.

Boston is entering a rough stretch of the schedule. Beginning with Friday's loss, they play the Yankees six times in 10 days. Then they have four at Cleveland and three at home against Baltimore. The Sox should make the playoffs, barring a 2011-type collapse. They blew a nine-game lead in September that year. Hey, I've a lifelong Red Sox fan, a chronic worrier. Let's see how the pitching holds up.

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