ORCHARD PARK – The edict was laid down Thursday night by Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley, and he did not do it subtly.
When he worked a last-minute deal with Cleveland to move up from the No. 9 spot in the NFL Draft to the Browns fourth slot, and also gave up Buffalo's first-round draft position in 2015, Whaley made one thing perfectly clear:
The time to win is right now, in 2014, and the player he picked at No. 4 — Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins — is expected to be the player who will get the Bills, at long last, to the postseason after a 14-year absence.
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"We want to make the playoffs, so being 14 (years) and not making the playoffs, that is the tradeoff we expected," Whaley said in reference to mortgaging part of the future to go up and get Watkins. "It's a very high cost, but we thought it was a calculated risk and one we were willing to take. The high cost of not making the playoffs is something we weighed and we thought this guy is going to get us to the playoffs. We thought it was well worth it."
Besides, Whaley said that the first-round pick he traded to the Browns won't be a big deal because it's not going to be in the top 10 where the Bills have been accustomed to drafting. After all, teams who make the playoffs draft in the 20s and 30s.
Russ Brandon and Doug Whaley talk about Sammy Watkins
"You're going to have to give up something and yes, we gave up something," he said. "We thought it was a win for us now. We're building our roster now, and granted, you hate giving up No. 1 picks, but what we thought he brings us now is worth giving up a low (No. 1) that we'll be giving up next year."
If that sounded like a guarantee, Whaley said it wasn't.
"That's not a guarantee; I'm saying we expect it to be low," he said. "I'm a competitor, call me crazy, I like those odds."
Hey, no pressure Sammy.
And speaking of pressure, there's now a bit on the shoulders of second-year quarterback EJ Manuel, too.
By making this move, Whaley has now given Manuel a premier talent at wide receiver, something the Bills have long lacked. In essence, what the GM is saying is that Manuel now has the weapons he needs to succeed, and it's on him to make things happen in the Buffalo offense.
He already has a pretty good group of wideouts in Stevie Johnson, Mike Williams, Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and T.J. Graham, though Johnson's future with the team could be in question now. Manuel also has C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson in the backfield, a reliable tight end in Scott Chandler, and an offensive line that, while not great, will probably be more efficient than it was in 2013.
Now you add Watkins to the mix, and there's no excuses for Manuel
"Dynamic playmaker," Whaley said of the 6-1, 211-pound speed burning Watkins. "This game is about making plays and surrounding our quarterback with playmakers. He's automatically going to make our quarterback better. We want to surround EJ Manuel with every possible weapon we can to help us get to where we need to go."
Watkins was widely considered the most polished and NFL-ready wide receiver in the draft. He caught 101 passes for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns last year for Clemson, and he finished his three-year career with 240 catches for 3,391 yards and 27 TDs.
His greatest strengths are his speed (4.39 seconds in the 40), his ability to play bigger than his size thanks to a physical frame and a 34-inch vertical leap, and his tremendous run after catch skills.
"I think I bring a lot to the table," Watkins said. "You're going to get a great citizen, a hard player, a guy that loves the game, a guy that understands the game, and understands the power of preparation. I think if I keep doing what I've been doing at Clemson, it will translate to the NFL."
Buffalo was rumored to be a team interested in moving up, but it just seemed like the price to do so would be too much for a team that covets its draft picks, and needs them because it still has holes on the roster.
But this trade was too good to pass up, so the Bills took their shot.
"We went into this draft saying we were going to be bold and we made a bold move," said team president Russ Brandon. "We're very excited about what just happened. Sammy Watkins was a player who was very, very high on our board and someone who could contribute immediately."
That's fine with Watkins. He's up for the challenge.
"I didn't really think they were going to come up and get me, but I had my interview with them and Mr. Doug just kept telling me he was going to get me," Watkins said. "The next thing I know, I'm chosen to be a Buffalo Bill.