ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Buffalo Bills’ offseason overhaul isn’t over yet now that receiver Sammy Watkins and cornerback Ronald Darby became the latest players to be sent packing.
The Bills dealt both starters in separate blockbuster trades on Friday in an effort to reshape the roster under new coach Sean McDermott.
Watkins was traded to the Los Angeles Rams, while Darby was sent to the Philadelphia Eagles. Buffalo addressed both positions by acquiring receiver Jordan Matthews from Philadelphia and cornerback E.J. Gaines from the Rams.
The Bills also continued looking to the future by further stockpiling 2018 draft selections. They acquired a second-round pick from L.A. and a third-rounder from the Eagles, while also sending a sixth-round pick to the Rams. Buffalo now has two picks in each of the first three rounds next year after acquiring the Kansas City Chiefs first-round selection in April.
The additional picks provide Bills general manager Brandon Beane assets in a draft that looks as if it will have several top-end quarterback prospects. Bills starter Tyrod Taylor’s future is uncertain beyond this season.
McDermott acknowledged his most difficult challenge was not merely breaking the news of Watkins’ departure to Taylor.
“I’ll take it a step further: How do you sell it to the entire team?” McDermott said, before outlining his message.
“You put one step in front of the other and we move on,” he said. “I asked them to continue to trust me and our decisions in terms of what we’re doing.”
Just don’t call it a rebuilding plan , Beane said.
“This is not a throw-in-the-towel thing at all,” Beane said. “If we were throwing in the towel, I wouldn’t be trying to get that starting receiver back.”
The deals, however, involve more changes to a team with just 28 players who opened training camp on Buffalo’s roster a year ago. The Bills also have just 14 players whom they’ve drafted, not including this year’s six-player class.
The trades caught Bills players by surprise a day after a 17-10 preseason-opening loss to Minnesota.
“It’s tough to lose a guy like Sammy,” Taylor said. “We have to put a positive lining. It’s a win-now league. And as a team, we have to refocus, do whatever it takes to win games.”
Watkins’ future in Buffalo was already in question after the Bills declined to pick up his fifth-year contract option in May. Matthews is also entering the final season of his contract.
When healthy, Watkins showed glimpses of being a dynamic threat since Buffalo gave up a 2015 first-round pick to trade up five spots and select him fourth overall in 2014. He has 153 catches for 2,459 yards and 17 touchdowns in three seasons, but topped 1,000 yards just once, in 2015.
Watkins has been hampered by an assortment of injuries and limited to playing just eight games last season after having surgery for a broken left foot. He required a second operation in January after aggravating the injury last season.
He joins a revamped group of receivers on a Rams offense that has ranked last in the NFL in each of the past two seasons.
Buffalo is also retooling its receiver position, with the trade coming four days after signing veteran free agent Anquan Boldin .
Matthews was Philadelphia’s most productive receiver, averaging 75 catches, 891 receiving yards and six touchdowns in his first three seasons. But the Eagles signed free-agent receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith and drafted Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson.
The key for Philadelphia was adding a starting-caliber cornerback in Darby to a defense that plays in the pass-happy NFC East.
“It’s a corner-deficient league. It’s hard to find those guys,” Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said. “And teams that have them aren’t really ready to move them.”
Darby started 29 games since the Bills selected him in the second round of the 2015 draft.
Gaines was a valuable defensive back in the Rams’ rotation. He won a starting job in 2015, but then got hurt before the season started. He became expendable after the Rams acquired Kayvon Webster this offseason, who is pegged to start opposite Trumaine Johnson.
McDermott is aware how the trades have the potential of setting back Buffalo’s preparedness at a time the franchise is in the midst of a 17-year playoff drought — the longest active streak in North America’s four major professional sports.
“I’m invested. I know and feel what they feel,” McDermott said, referring to Bills fans. “We’re building a football team that we want to compete in the short and long term and be good for a long time. Sometimes that’s a day-to-day process, and sometimes those are not easy decisions.”
NOTES: S Bacarri Rambo is listed week to week after hurting his hamstring against Minnesota. … The Bills are off Saturday before returning to training camp on Sunday. … Matthews and Darby will get to face their former teams on Thursday, when the Bills travel to play Philadelphia in a preseason game.
AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi in Philadelphia and AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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