ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Sammy Watkins is heading from Buffalo to Los Angeles, as the Bills dealt the receiver to the Rams the afternoon following the team's preseason opener.
Also shipped out in a separate trade was cornerback Ronald Darby to the Philadelphia Eagles. Darby and Watkins were the team's top draft picks in consecutive years, Watkins in 2014 and Darby in 2015.
The undeniably talented Watkins was quickly placed on a first-name basis with fans after the blockbuster draft night trade, where the Bills dealt up to No. 4. Watkins was the first wide receiver selected, in front of standouts Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., and others, including Jordan Matthews, who the Bills received in the Darby trade. More about him later.
Watkins has totaled 53 receptions for almost 2,500 yards and 17 touchdowns during his time in Buffalo, but was slowed by injuries, and drafted by the previous Bills regime, who traded two years worth of top picks to Cleveland for the right to move up.
Days before the Bills hired Brandon Beane as general manager, the franchise declined to exercise Watkins' 5th year option on his rookie contract.
Beane said he laid out the trade option to owner Terry Pegula after the preseason game vs. Minnesota. He also said, in the post-trade press conference, that it's a hard sell to the team's veterans, but he's trying to build "sustained success."
"I don't like the word untouchable. I'm not actively shopping guys, selling guys, that's the honest-to-God truth," Beane said. "You're always looking in this business to help yourself now and tomorrow. That's the facts. I can't stand up here and say that I won't trade a guy in the next three weeks, but I'm not actively shopping anybody."
In return, a 2018 2nd round pick and cornerback E.J. Gaines are heading to Buffalo, which also sent a 6th round pick to the Rams.
As part of the Darby deal, the Bills acquired a 3rd round pick along with Matthews, who brings consistency and health. Matthews has better numbers than Watkins, with 225 catches, nearly 2,700 yards and 19 touchdowns.
"We have to put a positive on it. Like you said, it's a win-now league," said quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who said he's familiar with Matthews from past workouts.
"It's tough to lose a guy like Sammy, but as a team we have to refocus and continue to keep working hard to get better each day."
"It's past my pay grade. Guys make decisions for our team, and as players, coaches, they coach and we play, and that's how it works," said running back LeSean McCoy.
While Beane and Head Coach Sean McDermott are not conceding anything, the Bills look stocked in terms of the 2018 draft, with two 1st, 2nd and 3rd rounders apiece.
"We believe that you build through the draft, and in order to get us into a situation where we can achieve success and sustain it, building through the draft is the way to go," McDermott said.
"I said it the day we signed (wide receiver) Anquan (Boldin), I'm always going to try to win today and win tomorrow, and that's the nature, that's how I'm wired, that's how I think you win in this league," Beane said, "so again, if I'm coming off a 14-2 season, if someone offers me something that I think is good capital and is a worthy investment, I have to consider it."
The final word goes to two respected veterans who've spent their entire career in the Bills locker room.
"My attitude and my leadership and the way that I work can't change, because if it changes, guys change," said defensive lineman Kyle Williams.
"And above all that, I trust Sean. I'm going to do what I've always done, and I'm going to go out there and get ready to win."
"Yeah, it stinks. Sammy lives right behind me. I'm going to offer him some assistance and whatever I can do for him," said center Eric Wood.
"There's been a lot of guys in our neighborhood over the years that have needed help too. It stinks."