In a blockbuster trade, the Bills have sent wide receiver Sammy Watkins and a 2018 sixth-round pick to the Rams in exchange for for cornerback E.J. Gaines and a 2018 second-round pick, Buffalo announced.
Los Angeles headed into the 2017 offseason with the goal of adding offensive weapons around second-year quarterback Jared Goff, and — when healthy — Watkins is a top-flight NFL wideout. After averaging 62 receptions for more than 1,000 and six touchdowns during his first two pro seasons, Watkins dealt with nagging injuries in 2016, and only managed 28 catches in eight appearances.
That lack of availability led Buffalo to decline its 2018 fifth-year option for Watkins, which would have paid him north of $13MM. As such, the Rams are acquiring Watkins as he enters his contract season, though they’ll certainly have options through which to retain him. The franchise tag will be on the table, and would allow Los Angeles to keep Watkins through at least 2018. Alternatively, the Rams could work out an extension with Watkins, something that’s presumably an ideal solution given the draft capital the club just sacrificed.
Watkins will now reunite with his former Bills teammate Robert Woods, who agreed to a free agent contract with the Rams this spring. Los Angeles also used several draft choices to upgrade a passing offense that ranked dead last in DVOA a season ago, selecting wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds while also adding tight end Gerald Everett in the second round.
Acquiring Watkins came at a price, however, as the Rams are not only giving up a 2018 second-round pick (a choice that, given the Rams’ current roster talent, could be a top-40 selection) but a young cornerback in Gaines. Gaines, 25, was a solid defender during his rookie campaign in 2014, missed the entirety of 2015 with an injury, and then struggled in 2016, grading as a bottom-four NFL corner, according to Pro Football Focus. Like Watkins, Gaines is entering the final year of his contract, during which he’ll earn $1.797MM.
For the Bills, this trade meshes with another deal struck by the club today in which Buffalo acquired wide receiver Jordan Matthews and sent cornerback Ronald Darby to the Eagles. Matthews, presumably, will be asked to replicate some form of Watkins’ production, while Gaines will be counted to start in place of Darby.
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