The Bills are alive, but maybe not well.
The struggling franchise broke their preseason quiet Friday by announcing two consecutive trades, one of which sent talented but oft-injured wide receiver Sammy Watkins and a 2018 sixth-round pick to the Rams in exchange for cornerback E.J. Gaines and a third-round pick.
The Bills completed the instantaneous, positional exchange by dealing cornerback Ronald Darby to the Eagles in return for wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a 2018 third-round pick.
Watkins, selected fourth overall in the 2014 draft, has shown glimpses of brilliance over three seasons in Buffalo, but various leg injuries in 2015 and a season-ending broken foot in 2016 prevented the former Clemson star from playing a full season beyond his rookie year.
Doug Whaley, the former Bills GM who was fired in April after falling out of favor with ownership, acquired some doubters after he gave up two draft picks to the Browns to move up in the 2014 draft and land Watkins.
Watkins’ departure signals another step in owner Terry Pagula’s plan to rebuild his team — which is in the midst of a 17-year playoff drought — practically from scratch. Pagula fired head coach Rex Ryan in the last week of the 2016 season and waited until the day after this year’s draft to send Whaley packing.
Through all the changes, Pagula made clear who’s boss. Whaley shocked reporters in January when he said he was not aware Ryan’s job was in jeopardy and had no input in his ouster.
In May, Pagula tabbed Brandon Beane as the Bills’ seventh general manger over the 17-year span. Beane joined rookie head coach Sean McDermott, whom the Bills hired in January.
The Bills’ Watkins replacement, Matthews has been on the field for all but two games in his three-year career with the Eagles, after he was drafted in the second round of the 2014 draft. Matthews, 25, had his least productive season last year, amassing 73 receptions and three touchdowns in 14 games.
The Darby-for-Gaines trade appears to represent an even duller player swap, as each will be competing for a starting job with his new team.
At least the Bills have a few more draft picks to look forward to, results pending.