Note: Yes, Doug Whaley deserves a majority of the blame for the Watkins’ deal. However, the point of this piece is to uncover other variables that aren’t just on the unemployed GM.
6) EJ Manuel
EJ Manuel is not a starting QB in 2017. However, if we go back to 2014, he was a QB prospect who was pretty average when compared to other rookie QBs of the last 15 years. The hope was that he was going to get better. His first 10 NFL starts, when compared to other rookie QBs wasn’t awful. Out of the 45 QBs picked in the first round since 2000, EJ ranked 17th in passing yards per game, 16th in QB rating, and 16th in completion percentage during his rookie year. Again, this is his rookie year, when there’s a HUGE learning curve. So we weren’t in that “FUCK EJ, HE’S A BUST” world yet.
EJ was always the x-factor. The Bills and everyone else were hoping that he was going to keep progressing. If EJ became the QB the Bills wanted, the pick would have been fine. In essence, it wouldn’t have been much different than from what the Falcons did when trading up with the Browns to take Julio Jones when they had Matt Ryan. Instead, Doug Marrone hated EJ and EJ didn’t evolve and basically lost his job. If the roles were reversed and Odell Beckham played with EJ Manuel and Sammy Watkins played with Eli Manning, everything would have been totally different. QBs accentuate WRs more so than WRs accentuate QBs.
One of my greatest frustrations with #brandonfinger is how much the Bills and some in the media have always lied to us about Brandon’s involvement. Without going down a wormhole – which I will do one day in “Timeline: The Devil Wears #onebuffalo Underwear” – let’s just go to what Brandon himself said about taking over from Ralph:
“There’s one clear difference with this role from me than when Tom was here,” said Brandon at his press conference. “He’s the General Manager. He’s in charge of the football operation – Buddy Nix is. Buddy will have the autonomy to run the football operations moving forward. The only difference is he reports to me.”
Russ basically says he’s giving carte blanche to Buddy Nix to do everything. Bullshit. I have a pet rock to sell you if you think Russ let Nix hire Doug Marrone. Yeah, Brandon is going to allow Nix to hire Marrone and then completely leave out the backdoor. Again, that’s how Russ works. And who did Russ replace Nix with? Doug Whaley. Sometimes when you get your dream job as the GM of a football team, you tend to really be in debt to the person who hired you. Brandon gave Whaley his first crack at it. Additionally, Russ had the taste of being a GM before and who’s to say he doesn’t go rogue with trying to have his imprint on the roster.
So with that, let’s go to draft day.
I had a private message from a media person who told me that after the Watkins trade went down, Russ Brandon said Watkins was the best player in the league. Yes, you read that correctly. BEST. PLAYER. IN. THE. LEAGUE without playing a down. Factor in how excited Russ was with his Nation of Domination fist pump after nailing the pick and you can tell he had something riding on it. Additionally, if he’s the acting owner at that time and we are all exasperated with Whaley making this move, shouldn’t he take responsibility since he was the acting owner? I know, you are going to tell me he’s just the marketing guy. Well, take a look at this tweet from draft night:
#Bills president Russ Brandon kept telling WR Sammy Watkins they would draft him. Whatever, not at 10. But Brandon knew what was up.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 9, 2014
Hmmm…That sure sounds like Brandon knew what was up and REALLY wanted Sammy and it is pretty odd that he was on the phone with him PRIOR to the pick. I will always believe that Russ manipulated Doug Whaley into making the Watkins deal. He wanted to save his ass and win now by using Ralph Wilson’s death as a way to be more in control. He also wanted to sell hope to fans as Eric Ebron at #9 wouldn’t have done that.
4) Sammy was the best player in the deal
Do you guys know where the players the Browns drafted through the Watkins trade are now? Justin Gilbert (9th pick in 2014) is out of the NFL. Ibraheim Campbell (4th round pick in 2015) has started 8 games at safety and has zero INTs. Cameron Earving (1st rounder in 2015) has started 17 games in two seasons, went from center to right tackle this past season, and was benched in his last game. His NFL future has been brought into question. (Watch video below.)
This isn’t exactly the Herschel Walker haul for Dallas we are talking about here from Cleveland. It is funny, but I think back to the Cornelius Bennett trade. The Bills gave up a TON for the former 2nd pick in the 1987 draft. They gave up their first two first round picks in 1988/1989, a 2nd round choice in 1989, and Greg Bell, who was a former 1,000 yard rusher here. Yes, it was a different time in terms of the draft, but can you imagine that sort of deal going down now? You know draft gurus would be 2nd guessing it.
Aside from Bennett being great, I think a main reason that trade worked out so well was because the Rams used those picks to draft garbage. Gaston Green (1st rounder in 1988) had just 451 yards rushing in three seasons with the Rams. Cleveland Gary (1st rounder in 1989) played 6 seasons in the NFL and had just over 2,600 yards rushing for his career. Darryl Henley (2nd rounder in 1989) played 76 games and had 12 INTs for his career and went to jail for trafficking cocaine and attempting to murder a judge and witness by hiring contracted killers. Yes, I did not make that last part up!
Can you imagine if the Rams hit gold on those picks? Who knows how the Monday morning QB would have viewed that trade differently then. The point is you still have to hit on the additional draft picks. Looking at all the guys involved in the Sammy deal, he’s easily the best player involved.
3) Bad luck
After the 2015 finale when Sammy Watkins made Revis Island look like Gilligan’s Island, I tweeted how it may be time for Bills fans and the media to shut up about the Watkins deal. At that point, Sammy had played unbelievably over the 2nd half of the year. From week 8 on he was in the top 5 for receiving. Sammy seemed to be on the right track for his career.
During his rookie year, Sammy Watkins had 982 yards receiving, ranked the 17th most in league history for a rookie WR. His 65 catches ranked 24th most for rookie WRs in history. Sammy gained 2,029 yards in his first two NFL seasons which ranked as the 19th most in league history after two seasons. His 16.23 YPR ranked 9th best of the 25 WRs who had over 2,000 yards receiving during their first 2 seasons. Oh, and he missed 3 games and did it with Kyle Orton, EJ Manuel, and Tyrod Taylor as his QBs.
Alas, #becauseitsbuffalo, last season was a disaster in large part due to injuries, which his stupid team basically helped along by having him play in meaningless preseason games. Right now the trade looks bad because we haven’t really seen that “Sammy game” he had during his first two seasons for a while now. I think we’ve forgotten just how good Sammy can be if he’s healthy. No one would have thought when they drafted him how injuries would be a concern because there weren’t any in college.
2) Sammy was the best WR in that draft…AT THAT TIME
Hindsight is a great thing when it comes to the draft. Odell Beckham has been a superstar in NY which totally makes the Sammy pick look worse. Not so fast. The draft consensus at the time from mockers and experts was that Sammy Watkins was not just the best WR in the draft, but the best WR prospect in years.
Here’s what Mike Mayock said about Sammy Watkins:
NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock has made no secret of his appreciation for the skills of former Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, calling him a top-10 pick and a franchise-caliber receiver at the NFL Scouting Combine two weeks ago. Thursday on “NFL AM,” Mayock took that praise a step further, calling Watkins one of the best wide receivers he has seen on tape in the last decade.
Last decade…LAST DECADE. That’s a lot of praise there.
Here’s what NFL Network said about the pick when it happened. Again, Sammy was KING at that time.
There were question marks about Clowney because of his work ethic and Bortles was someone slotted everywhere from 3rd to like 23rd. Mack was a freak, but had faced shitty competition in college. Everyone said Sammy was the safest pick of that top 5. No one talked about Odell Beckham making one-handed catches and he was predicted to go in the middle of the first round. Mike Evans was the #2 WR in the draft. There was a little chatter from experts that he was better, but I always felt that was more guys feeling like they gotta say something different to make neverending draft coverage a little more interesting. The bottom line is that there wasn’t much of a Leaf vs Manning type debate for WR at the time. It was Sammy Watkins, head and shoulders above every other available WR.
1) Pressure to win now
Let’s go back to the 2014 off-season/draft. Ralph Wilson has died and no one has any idea if the Bills are going to be bought by Bon Jovi, Jim Kelly, Donald Trump, Tom Golisanso, or the Pegulas. The Bills had a 2nd year coach and a GM who had been with the organization for four full seasons. The front office was filled with a bunch of Ralph Wilson lifers who should have been fired years earlier. It wasn’t hard to believe that if new ownership took over, they were going to fire everyone and bring in their own people. On top of that, the Bills were 13 years without playoffs. Pretty much no one had earned the right to keep their jobs. God knows that if it were up to me, I would have torched that place upon my arrival like I was Terminator in the police station. There’s a good chance Whaley, Marrone, and Brandonfinger didn’t give a shit about the 2015 NFL draft. They had no idea if they’d be there to make the selections. I mean, Donald Trump buying the Bills? He would have fired everyone. Or paid them all to build a wall outside of One Bills Drive to keep the Mexicans out.
There is a part of me that wonders if Ralph Wilson was alive or if Terry Pegula was the owner, would they have done that Watkins deal? Again, I can’t stress to you the “chickens were coming home to roost” element of this with new ownership coming into play. If you think it is a make it or break year for you, you are damned right you are going to mortgage the future to win now instead of later.