Will Sammy Watkins Cripple The Bills Like The RG3 & Julio Jones Trades?
But if teams are copying things that work, wouldn't they stop copying things that don't, like trading up in the draft?
Jeff Fisher mocked the Washington Spud's organization for opportunities missed. At the coin toss of that $4 game, Fisher sent out six captains -- all of which were acquired during the blockbuster trade for Robert Griffin III, who had been benched by Jay Gruden. And if the Cleveland Browns weren't NFL Draft half-wits (seriously, I'm starting to think Kevin Costner is their General Manager), they could have done the same thing before their win over the Falcons. It's easy to forget oft-praised Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff traded an unending sum of picks for oft-injured wideout Julio Jones.
Those trades were somewhat understandable. The reason the Spuds traded for RG3 was good: they would have a franchise quarterback in-hand (who would go on to win Super Bowls). The reason for the Falcons' trade was good: they had the missing piece to go win a Super Bowl. Neither of those panned out, but at the time they seemed to have a plan, which revolved around winning Super Bowls.
Which brings up a question worth asking: What were the Bills thinking when they traded draft assets to select Sammy Watkins? Did the Buffalo Bills really think they were one player away? Did they think they had a quarterback of the future in E.J. Manuel? Did they not realize that Odell Beckham would still be on the board?
All these questions are worth puzzling as you review these aforementioned blockbusters from the last five years.
Atlanta Deal (2011):
Cleveland Browns get:
-2012 22nd-overall (quarterback Brandon Weeden)
-2012 fourth-round pick (packaged for running back Trent Richardson).
-2011 27th-overall pick (packaged for defensive tackle Phil Taylor)
-2011 second-round pick (wide receiver Greg Little)
-2011 fourth-round pick (fullback Owen Marecic)
Atlanta Falcons get:
-No. 16 overall pick Julio Jones
DC's deal (2012):
St. Louis Rams get:
-2014 No. 3 overall pick (tackle Greg Robinson)
-2013 third-round pick (wide receiver Stedman Bailey)
-2013 first-round pick (linebacker Alec Ogletree)
-2013 sixth-round (running back Zac Stacy)
-2012 14th-overall pick (defensive tackle Michael Brockers)
-2012 second-round (cornerback Janoris Jenkins)
*(note: there were additional trades/players/intricacies involved -- this is the abridged version)
BonercatsSpuds (just making sure you're still reading) get:
-2012 No. 2 overall pick (Robert "as good as Andrew Luck" Griffin III)
Bills' Deal (2014):
-2015 first-round selection
-2015 fourth-round section
-2014 No. 9 overall pick (Justin Gilbert)
-2014 No. 4 Overall pick (Sammy Watkins)
The weight of the Sammy Watkins trade is significantly less than the previous blockbusters. The Bills didn't give up nearly as much as D.C. and the Falcons, but the Bills also didn't move as far up the board as either team. And while the promise of an elite quarterback is incredibly rare (in the case of RG3) and the promise of an elite receiver is an enormous luxury (in the case of Jones), it's becoming clear those players are not worth what the teams gave up.
On the other side of the trade table, the Browns have not made their picks count. While their season started with surprising success, they regressed into a preseason-esque quarterback controversy, and so they're playing like it's the preseason and taking naps on the field. The Rams aren't exactly a model franchise in recent years either. So, it's not clear whether trading down in the draft is hugely beneficial. The Rams seem like a team primed to turn the corner with a good quarterback. Perhaps the Browns are too (*ahem* Any time now Johnny).
But one thing is corollary: Teams hit a cliff after big draft trades.
Jones couldn't hoist the Falcons onto his back. They're pre-Jones-trade talent carried them through 2012, when the lost in the NFC Championship to the 49ers. Then they fell off the "trade-up cliff." Their 4-12 season last year was ugly, and this year's 5-9 season leaves the Falcons third in the NFL's division that everyone ignores in Playoff discussions like that radioactive, bastard child with a third arm. It's definitely there, but it doesn't warrant discussion.
RG3 is a fine quarterback -- perhaps Mark Sanchez-esque -- but he's right when he says that he needs a little help every once in a while. It's almost irresponsible to trade for a quarterback and then strip him of all future assets. The Redskins pre-RG3 talent got him through his rookie season. Then the team hit a "trade-up cliff" of their own. The team couldn't surround him with young talent, so he struggled. Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers can hoist teams onto their back. Yes, Andrew Luck can, too, but he has been a once in a generation talent. No one should be held or compared to those standards -- not even the guy (RG3) picked just after Luck. This isn't to excuse RG3 entirely, but young quarterbacks can't put teams on their back without other young talent, particularly on the offensive line.
So bearing in mind those outcomes -- and the more reasonable sum of draft picks the Bills gave for Watkins -- how is this going to end for the Bills and Sammy Watkins?
Bills future at best:
The Bills get a wildcard spot this year and win the AFC East next year. There's no way the Bills can win the AFC Championship or a Super Bowl with Kyle Orton at the helm, and he's likely going to play out his contract for the next two years. That's what the Sammy Watkins trade is so puzzlingly short-sighted. The Bills weren't one player away -- no team is one player away. They didn't need to make a big push for a great wide receiver, because wide receivers don't have as big of an impact on the game. Note to Bills: There are corners like Darrelle Revis, Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson to nullify great receivers. So at best, they'll rain on the Patriots parade, and Brandon Spikes will do his best Sherman imitation rant after stuffing Tom Brady on a last second quarterback sneak on the goal line. Jim Nantz will yell, "AND THE BILLS WIN THE AFC EAST!" Bills fans everywhere will shudder.
Bills future at worst:
The Bills opt to let Kyle Orton go in 2015 free agency after placing second (or third) in the AFC East yet again. They enter the 2016 season with 2015 second-round pick Bryce Petty (or CSU's Garret Grayson, etc...). With running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson gone, the Bills offense has no backbone. Their young quarterback experiment fails, and Sammy Watkins is underutilized in their offense. While the Bills continue to struggle to find a strong quarterback, Watkins' early-career is wasted. Frustrated with the Bills' organization, he enters free agency and signs with Johnny Manziel and the Cleveland Browns -- the Browns win a Super Bowl. The Bills are compared to the pre-Super Bowl Browns, as they search for a Manziel of their own.
What? I said worst case... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The Bills future lays somewhere in between the two extremes. But no outcome will warrant their sacrificing a first and fourth round pick for getting Watkins. He'd need to be the next Jerry Rice, a player that brings Super Bowls. Because that's the only reason to trade up -- to win Super Bowls.
Follow or direct angry qualms to Henry McKenna on twitter @McKennAnalysis.
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