During 2014’s draft, only one NFL team traded away a future first-round pick in order to move up this year, as the Bills sent their 2015 first-rounder to Cleveland as part of a package to move up five spots to snag wideout Sammy Watkins. Buffalo is the also the only franchise known publicly to be available for purchase in the near future, with the sale process expected to begin soon. According to Judy Battista of NFL.com, a new owner is likely to be in place by the end of the year, with as many as eight groups viewed as potential bidders.
Given the uncertainty of the club’s ownership situation, and the fact that we’ve seen many new owners overhaul NFL front offices, many observers wanted to connect the dots on the Bills’ upcoming sale and their decision to mortgage their future to land an immediate playmaker. If Watkins helps the team improve right away, it could make GM Doug Whaley and CEO Russ Brandon look more appealing to new ownership. However, Brandon denies that possibility played a role in the Bills’ decision to move up for the standout receiver.
“It has nothing to do with the future,” Brandon said. “It is everything about the future is now. Doug Whaley and our player personnel department are empowered and have full autonomy to make football decisions. That was a football decision, and it wasn’t tied to the future of the organization. It is business as usual. We’re making football decisions, no matter what. … It has not one iota of an impact on who the future owner may be.”
While Brandon’s comments don’t come as a surprise – if the ownership situation played a role in the decision, he likely wouldn’t admit it – it’s still fair to read them at face value. It’s not as if drafting Watkins provides any guarantees for the Bills — even though the 20-year-old certainly has the talent to make an immediate impact, his ability to contribute will be directly linked to the performance of quarterback E.J. Manuel, and it’s possible the move could backfire, at least in the short term. In that case, Brandon and Whaley would be even more vulnerable when new ownership takes over, having made a risky decision that didn’t pan out.