ORCHARD PARK, NY — Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane made one thing very clear Friday after dealing wide receiver Sammy Watkins and cornerback Ronald Darby: He was not actively shopping them.
The Bills traded Watkins and a sixth-round to the Rams for cornerback E.J. Gaines and a 2018 second-round pick, and a then shipped out Darby to the Eagles for wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a 2018 third-round pick.
During his press conference Thursday, Beane said it was the Rams and Eagles that came calling.
"What prompted the moves was they were two separate moves even though fortunately the timing worked out the way I wanted," Beane said. "I was not shopping these guys. I had calls from multiple teams about Sammy [Watkins] all the way back in June, shortly after I took over the job...LA got very serious about Sammy, Philly got very serious about Ronald. The timing worked out, and as the timing worked I was able to acquire Jordan [Matthews] to help fill in for Sammy and E.J. [Gaines] to fill in for Ronald."
That begs the question, if one trade didn't work, what would have happened?
"If someone backed out, I don't know," Beane said.
Beane said he presented the plan to coach Sean McDermott and owner Terry Pegula after Thursday night's game against the Vikings. While nothing was agreed upon, Beane said things were "very close."
It was a decision that Bills brass took a lot of time to discuss.
"Last night coming off my first game and trying to digest some of that, and then to have some of these conversations late into the night, I didn't get a lot of sleep," McDermott said. "It was difficult decision — one that we took a lot of time discussing. These are the types of conversations that have to be had. Some conversations are easier, some are difficult — like this one."
Despite losing Watkins and Darby, Beane doesn't think this trade signals the Bills are throwing up the white flag on this season.
"I'll always try to win today and win tomorrow. That's the nature that's the way I'm wired — that's the way you win in this league," Beane said. "Again, if I'm coming off a 14-win season and someone offers me something that has good capital and is a worthy investment, I have to consider it. That's what happened here."
Beane was asked bluntly if these moves made the team better for this season.
"You can make arguments either way," Beane said. "I'm thrilled that losing a guy like Sammy we were able to bring in a guy like Jordan Matthews' skins on a wall. E.J. has started 25 games in this league. He was on the NFL's All-Rookie Team, so he's got some pedigree."
The Bills acquired two more early draft picks, which will give them plenty of ammunition for the 2018 NFL Draft. The Bills now have two 2018 first-rounders, two 2018 second-rounders and two 2018 third-rounders.
"We believe that you build through the draft," McDermott said. "In order for us to get into a situation where we can achieve success and sustain it, building through the draft is the way to go."
McDermott said that even though Watkins is a loss, the team "still has a quality group of receivers."
However, the trade makes things interesting for how the Bills want to position their wide receivers. Watkins was one guy to be a sure bet to be one of the team's outside receivers. Matthews has played primarily the slot with the Eagles. Newly-acquire receiver Anquan Boldin has played the slot, too, for most of the latter part of his career.
"They can all play outside as well," Beane said. Jordan was "used a lot in the slot, but you can see he can win outside. I'll let [the decision of] where they lineup with [offensive coordinator] Rick [Dennison], Sean [McDermott] and those guys."
Watkins' future with has been uncertain for awhile. The Bills declined Watkins fifth-year option in May — writing on the wall that the team wasn't ready to commit to him long-term. Injuries were undoubtedly a big reason why.
Buffalo used two first-round picks and a fourth-round pick to trade up and draft Watkins in 2014. Since then, Watkins has battled through a number of ailments, including broken ribs, a groin injury, hip injury, calf injury and a broken foot.
His production has been decent in his three-year career, but not exactly what the Bills were hoping for when they took a gamble on Watkins over other first-round receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans and Brandin Cooks.
"You do have to consider everything," Beane said. "What he's done in his career over the three seasons, how much he's played, you do consider all that. Again, he's going into the last year of his deal, sign ability, cap situation. Everything, honestly, went into this decision. It was not looking at one situation or another."
Both Matthews and Gaines will likely have starting roles with the Bills, and they have four weeks to get acclimated with the Bills' systems before the team faces the New York Jets in Week One on Sept. 10.
"If you're going to make these moves, we wanted to do them now so we still have three exhibition games, a lot of training camp left to figure out how these guys fit moving forward," Beane said.
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