AFC East: Sammy Watkins

Sammy WatkinsBrett Carlsen/Getty ImagesBuffalo traded a first- and fourth-round pick in 2015 in a bold move to get receiver Sammy Watkins.
As players and coaches trickled off the Buffalo Bills' practice field following an organized team activity last week, one man stayed on the field to run sprints.

In a team-issued T-shirt and shorts, he ran for about 15 minutes over the hum of equipment carts cleaning up after the two-hour practice.

No, it wasn't EJ Manuel or Sammy Watkins on the field.

It was general manager Doug Whaley, the man who has been tasked with turning around an organization that is under increasing pressure to win.

Out of the playoffs for the past 15 seasons -- the NFL's longest active postseason drought -- the Bills need a winning team now. Ralph Wilson, who founded and owned the Bills for 54 years, died in March. There will be a new owner in place by early next year, just in time for the new boss to make sweeping changes if the team can't reverse its fortunes this season.

It would be natural for any general manager in that position, with potentially tenuous job security, to have an increased sense of urgency.

[+] EnlargeDoug Whaley
AP Photo/Bill WippertBills GM Doug Whaley knows teams can no longer give a coach or QB several years to develop.
But when he sat down recently with, Whaley sent the message that the Bills' looming ownership transition hasn't changed his mindset. The urgency was already there.

"Everybody's like, 'Whoa, you're in a win-now mode.' The NFL is a win-now mode," Whaley said. "I disagree when people have been saying it's a win-now mode because of the ownership. It's always a win-now mode in this. So that's something I'd like to dispel as quickly as possible.

"It's a results-based business," Whaley said. "You guys, as soon as we lose two years in a row, you're going to be like, 'This needs change, that needs change,' so it's just a sign of the times, for whatever reasons -- from the constant media exposure to owners that want quick results to fans that are willing to quickly judge because of the transient nature of our business nowadays. So that's fine. I got no problem with that."

Results-based, indeed. Some of the league's decision-makers have noticed the same trend: Patience in the NFL seems to be at an all-time low.

"I've just seen this -- and I believe it is a sudden rise -- of owners letting go of top leaders and key leaders, not because they want to but because of public pressure and the pressure of finances," Atlanta Falcons assistant general manager Scott Pioli, formerly GM of the Kansas City Chiefs, said at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in March.

"I have seen a number of head-coach and general-manager firings over the last several years where owners really didn't want to fire people. They really wanted to give them more time," Pioli added. "They're saying this off the record, behind the scenes, authentically that they don't want to really fire them. However, they're running a business, a billion-dollar business, where they're trying to get stadiums, they're trying to keep fans. There are so many [pressures]."

Speaking on the same panel at the Sloan conference, San Francisco 49ers president Paraag Marathe was quick to agree with Pioli's observation.

"Absolutely. And the thing is, we can sit here and say that, but you'll never get an owner -- very rarely, in public -- be able to say that because they can't," Marathe said. "They say it in confidence, but that's because teams and owners would like to, in theory, on paper, like to say 'Yes, we're going to give a coach the best chance to succeed. He's drafting these players. These players take four or five years to develop.'

"But, at the end of the day, if the team doesn't perform in the first couple of years, there are so many external pressures around the billion-dollar business that they are forced to make decisions sometimes despite the fact that they don't want to."

Much of Whaley's background came with the NFL's most stable organization. He was a scout for 11 seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have been owned by the Rooney family since the team's founding in 1933 and have changed head coaches only twice since 1969.

But that doesn't mean Whaley hasn't watched the league change from afar. Look no further, he said, than teams that draft quarterbacks in the first round, and you'll find three-year plans swapped out for the "What can you do for me now?" approach.

"Before, it would never be thought of to put a [first-round quarterback] in [a game as a rookie], even if he was better than the second string. He'd sit on the bench for a couple years," Whaley said. "You can't do that nowadays."

Whaley says one culprit is the 2012 draft, which produced three immediate-impact starters at quarterback: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson.

"Those guys have success their first year, then everybody's like, 'Why can't this guy do it?' And then you're considered a failure if you don't," Whaley said. "But maybe you're not a failure. You just weren't ready yet.

"But because of the 24-hour media circus, then people say, 'He sucks, he sucks.' And then they don't get the chance again. So it's just the business we're in."

As Bills assistant general manager last spring, Whaley helped scout Manuel. In one of his final acts as general manager before retiring, Buddy Nix traded down to select Manuel 16th overall -- but Manuel missed six games during his injury-plagued rookie season, which cast doubt on him growing into the franchise quarterback.

"It was incomplete last year," Whaley said. "I don't think you can truly judge a guy off the number of plays and number of games that [Manuel] started."

Whaley's defining act as general manager could be his bold trade last month that sent the ninth overall pick, plus the Bills' first- and fourth-round pick in 2015, to the Cleveland Browns for the fourth pick.

The apple of Whaley's eye was Watkins, a wide receiver from Clemson. Whaley believes Watkins will help Manuel's development at quarterback.

"[Watkins] is a dynamic playmaker. That's what this game is all about," Whaley said. "We got to score touchdowns."

Strike gold with Watkins and the Bills could be back in the playoffs. Miss -- or have Manuel struggle in his second season -- and not having a first-round pick next year will sting all winter.

So, yes, there is a risk involved -- though Whaley, who briefly worked as a stockbroker before beginning his NFL career, views it differently.

"What you learn from [stock trading] that you apply is, people say risk, but successful people see it as potential," Whaley said. "When you look at it that way, it puts a whole different mindset on it. The most successful people -- not only in business, but in anything -- see potential where other people get scared away and see risk."

For better or worse, that’s life in today's NFL. When others are jogging -- sprint.

Bills fallers from OTA practices

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
Earlier Friday, we highlighted some of the Buffalo Bills' "rising" after three weeks of organized team activities (OTAs).

Now it's time to look at the other end of the spectrum: which players left something to be desired in OTAs? It's a harder question to answer, since the practices are voluntary, are not held in pads, and are geared towards installation -- not necessarily evaluation.

With that in mind, here are our notes on some players who didn't have as good a showing in OTAs as we would have expected:

[+] EnlargeEJ Manuel
Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY SportsEJ Manuel had an up-and-down performance during OTAs, particularly struggling with downfield throws.
QB EJ Manuel: The Bills' chances this season start and end with Manuel. Naturally, that's going to put a spotlight on his every move in OTAs, minicamp, and eventually training camp. There were times over the past three weeks when Manuel showed poise. In Thursday's final OTA, Manuel looked calm and collected in pouring rain as he completed several throws in a row. On the other end, there were times when his performance wasn't ideal. One might expect a second-year quarterback to have a comfort level throwing downfield, but Manuel leaned heavily on dump-offs and scrambles in OTAs, saying afterward that he needed to take what the defense was giving him. That's smart, but only to a point. When the Bills needed to move the ball in two-minute drills, or needed to score a touchdown in red zone drills, his accuracy left something to be desired.

WR Sammy Watkins: Watkins might have been a victim of his own success in rookie camp. Those three days of practice last month consisted of positional drills and routes against air, and Watkins looked the part. His catch radius and precision with his footwork are unmatched by any other receiver on the roster. Yet as OTAs progressed, Watkins reminded us that he's still a rookie. The mental part of the game -- lining up after the huddle, reading defenses, etc. -- just wasn't at the same level as some of his teammates, who needed to direct Watkins to the right spot at times. Again, he's new, so that's not out of the ordinary. But if there was one red flag to be had from Watkins' OTAs, it was his drops this week. His final week of practice was his sloppiest from a pass-catching standpoint. The sticky mitts we saw in rookie camp and early in OTAs weren't there, although they could easily return in minicamp. We'll just have to wait and see.

On a side note, why would the NFLPA, the organization whose purpose is to represent and protect players, schedule their rookie premiere when teams were conducting OTAs? Watkins missed two of the Bills' nine OTAs because of that event, which includes a photo shoot for trading cards. Watkins should have been on the field learning the Bills' offense, and that's entirely the fault of the players' union, not him.

TE Scott Chandler: There are few players as well-spoken and respected as Chandler within the Bills' locker room. But the 6-foot-7 tight end, who will turn 29 in August, looked older than his age in OTAs. He's coming off knee surgery and was limited the first few days of OTAs as he continued to recover, but when he was on the field, he looked uncomfortable. Perhaps that will change once training camp rolls around. But not having drafted a tight end, the Bills need Chandler to be their top target at the position. After watching Chandler run on the practice field the past few weeks, I have questions if he's the right piece for what the Bills want in a fast-paced, athletic offense.

WR Mike Williams: When Williams arrived via trade in April, my first reaction was that he could be a top target in the Bills' offense. I'm less convinced now. Williams didn't stand out in OTAs and seeing him in action, there isn't a particular skill that he brings to the table that is different from the rest of the receiver group. If Watkins and Robert Woods become fixtures on the outside and Chris Hogan can continue to contribute in the slot, Williams starts to slide down the depth chart. The Bills will keep Marquise Goodwin and Marcus Easley on their final roster, so Williams will have to fight Hogan and T.J. Graham for the final spot. He could change my opinion in minicamp or early in training camp, but for right now I wouldn't call his spot on the team a sure bet.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills' luck with the weather ran out as they held their ninth and final organized team activities session Thursday.

Skies opened about halfway through the outdoor practice, with players initially toughing it out during an 11-on-11 drill before moving indoors to their practice facility.

Even before the weather was a factor, it was a practice to forget for quarterback EJ Manuel and first-round pick Sammy Watkins. In a routes-versus-air drill, three of Manuel's throws directed towards Watkins in the end zone were off-target. Watkins got his hands on each but couldn't haul them in.

Later in the practice, back indoors, Manuel hit Watkins with a well-thrown pass but Watkins couldn't get ahold of the ball. Manuel also had multiple passes on fade patterns sail over receivers in the end zone, a trend during the three weeks of OTAs.

The Bills wrapped up practice with a full-team red zone drill. Manuel's first pass was an incomplete fade pattern, while his second pass was overthrown. Following a hand-off to Anthony Dixon that went for a touchdown, Manuel's next pass was thrown away, while his final pass was intended for Dixon on a dump-off but was off the mark.

From a big-picture standpoint, the one sequence of the one OTA doesn't mean much, but it wasn't the way the Bills wanted to end their three weeks of practice. Manuel and Watkins will look to bounce back next week at mandatory minicamp.

Attendance-wise, linebacker Brandon Spikes was not spotted Thursday after participating in the first eight OTAs. Cornerback Leodis McKelvin, who has been practicing on a limited basis following hip surgery, was also not on the field.

Cornerback Stephon Gilmore took a step forward in his recovery from hip surgery, taking reps at first-team cornerback in an 11-on-11 drill. Linebacker Kiko Alonso (hip surgery) also had an increased workload Thursday.

Offensive lineman Doug Legursky returned to practice for the first time in a week.

Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin participated in positional drills Thursday but was limited as he recovers from a knee injury suffered earlier this week.

Defensive end Bryan Johnson, who was carted off the field with an apparent left leg injury Monday, will be out until training camp, coach Doug Marrone said.
Fourth-overall pick Sammy Watkins was among 28 players taking part in the Buffalo Bills' first practice of their rookie minicamp Saturday.

Watkins caught passes from former Ohio State quarterback Kenny Guiton, who is a non-roster tryout this weekend, during the hour-long session that included mostly light positional drills.

"[He was] smooth coming in and out of the break. Obviously he can make the catches, makes nice catches," coach Doug Marrone said of Watkins' first practice.

That, of course, is just what the Bills expected to see. Anything less would be alarming.

"He's a first-round draft pick. If I came out here and he dropped five balls and he fell down five [or] 10 times, we'd be pissed. Crying," Marrone said, laughing.

"First day, I think it went pretty good overall," Watkins said. "Still have a lot of things to work on."

Watkins did not take part in special-teams drills Saturday, instead receiving one-on-one instruction from offensive coordinator Nate Hackett and wide receivers coach Rob Moore:


The Bills' rookie minicamp will continue through Monday. Watkins will begin working with starting quarterback EJ Manuel during organized team activities later this month.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Coaches and reporters will have their first chance Saturday to see the Buffalo Bills' rookie class together on the practice field.

The Bills kick off a three-day rookie minicamp this afternoon. Practices are closed to the public.

There are 30 players expected to participate in the practice sessions, which cannot be held in pads. Former Ohio State quarterback Kenny Guiton, invited on a tryout basis, will be the lone quarterback taking part. EJ Manuel and the other three quarterbacks on the Bills' 90-man roster are not eligible to participate, as they all have at least one accrued season of NFL experience.

That means Guiton will be throwing to the six receivers in attendance, including first-round pick Sammy Watkins.

Practices during rookie minicamps are typically held at a slower pace to allow for teaching and basic installation of the playbook.

Here is a look at the 30 players expected to participate:

Draft selections:
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins
Offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio
Offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson
Guard Cyril Richardson
Linebacker Preston Brown
Linebacker Randell Johnson
Cornerback Ross Cockrell

Undrafted free agent signings:
Defensive tackle Damien Jacobs
Defensive tackle Colby Way
Linebacker Jimmy Gaines
Linebacker Bryan Johnson
Linebacker Darrin Kichens
Cornerback Darius Robinson
Safety Derek Brim
Safety Deon Broomfield
Safety Kenny Ladler

First-year players:
Wide receiver Cordell Roberson
Wide receiver Chris Summers
Offensive tackle Edawn Coughman
Guard Randy Colling
Defensive end Igbinosun Ikponmwosa
Defensive end Jacquies Smith
Linebacker Nathan Williams
Cornerback Michael Carter
Safety Jajuan Harley
Punter Jake Dombrowski

Non-roster undrafted tryout players:
Quarterback Kenny Guiton
Wide receiver Caleb Holley
Wide receiver Fred Lee
Wide receiver Ivan McCartney
Earlier Thursday, we passed along grades from third-party analytics website Pro Football Focus, which deemed Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel a "poor" starter based on his play last season.

Another major football analytics site, Football Outsiders, has hang-ups about Manuel's newest receiver, Sammy Watkins. The Bills traded up to select Watkins fourth overall last week, but Football Outsiders assistant editor Scott Kacsmar believes Watkins' success at the college level may not translate to the NFL.

Here's what Kacsmar writes on Watkins:
To spend a top-five pick (and then some) on a wide receiver, he'd better be a special player. Watkins is not the type of athletic freak like Calvin Johnson capable of catching a jump ball in triple coverage, but who is? Watkins is not as polished with his route running or sure-handedness as Torry Holt or Larry Fitzgerald. Watkins is not an all-around threat like A.J. Green and Julio Jones. Those are most of the receivers who were worth a top pick.

Watkins gained 71.3 percent of his receiving yards after the catch at Clemson, numbers that Kascmar says compare to receivers like Tavon Austin or Percy Harvin -- talented in the short game and after the catch, but not necessarily big-play threats.

At the Bills' pre-draft news conference last month, player personnel director Jim Monos was asked how Watkins compared to elite NFL receivers like Jones or Green and also made the tie-in to Harvin.

"Those guys were bigger, height-wise. Talent-wise, he’s on par with them," Monos said. "His style is more like Percy Harvin, with the ball in his hands, he’s special like that. Those guys were just so big, but yeah he’s right on par with those guys."

Kacsmar believes the deficiencies of the Bills' passing offense last season (Buffalo ranked near the bottom of the NFL in most statistical categories) would have been better addressed by selecting Texas A&M's Mike Evans.

The underlying argument isn't that Watkins will flop at the NFL, but that the Bills paid too high a price to acquire him.
This is why Buffalo continues to miss the postseason. Big resources are used on players who turn out to be adequate, but not great. Watkins and Manuel have to make each other great, but it's going to take much more than dozens of bubble screens to get there in the NFL.

The Bills have plenty of reason to be excited about acquiring Watkins, but digesting an outside, national perspective -- like Kascmar's take, in this case -- can also be healthy.

Buffalo Bills draft wrap-up

May, 10, 2014
May 10
NFC wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- A wrap-up of the Buffalo Bills' draft. Click here for a full list of Bills' draftees.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
AP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtThe Buffalo Bills landed a potential star wide receiver in Sammy Watkins in the draft's first round.
Best move: The cost of the trade notwithstanding, the Bills moving up to acquire Sammy Watkins will far and away have the greatest impact. It's hardly news at this point, but Watkins is a difference-maker. He immediately becomes the Bills' top receiver and will draw the attention of opposing defensive coordinators each week. The Bills' passing game was dismal at points last season -- it ranked near the bottom of the league in nearly every statistical category -- and having Watkins should change that. He will make EJ Manuel better. With that said, the Bills still have a potential bottleneck at quarterback. Despite having Larry Fitzgerald, one of the game's most explosive receivers, the Arizona Cardinals haven't been able to get over the hump because they haven't had the right quarterback. The Bills will look to avoid a similar fate.

Riskiest move: Giving up a first-round pick for Watkins was the greatest "risk" the Bills took in this draft. However, in terms of players, selecting Cyrus Kouandjio in the second round deserves some consideration. Kouandjio was red-flagged medically by some teams because, according to an NFL Network report, he had an arthritic condition in his knee. The Bills doctors apparently didn't share those same concerns. The Bills view Kouandjio as a potential long-term starter at right tackle, and if he can't stay healthy, then, naturally, those plans might not come to fruition. Is that reason enough not to draft him in the second round? Probably not. But from a medical standpoint, Kouandjio is a riskier pick than another top tackle who remained on the board at the time, Virginia's Morgan Moses.

Most surprising move: The Bills' first four picks were all pre-draft visitors and players already on the radar, so not too much was surprising about the team's draft. However, selecting Louisville linebacker Preston Brown with the ninth choice in the third round was curious. Ourlads, a reputable NFL scouting service that has produced a draft guide for 33 years, projected Brown as a sixth- or seventh-round choice. That doesn't mean NFL teams agreed with the ranking; perhaps some teams had him much higher on their board. He makes sense as a potential replacement at "Mike" linebacker if Brandon Spikes departs via free agency next season. Still, you have to wonder if the Bills could have waited until the fourth or fifth round to take him off the board. Brown doesn't have the athleticism that would make him a good fit in the Bills' sub packages, so his main contributions as a rookie might come on special teams.

File it away: With their final pick -- No. 237 in the seventh round -- the Bills took massive Miami tackle Seantrel Henderson. At 6-foot-7, 331 pounds, Henderson is one of the draft's biggest linemen and would have gone much higher in the draft had it not been for his questionable judgment. Henderson was suspended three times at Miami for marijuana use and, after explaining those incidents to teams at the NFL combine in February, tested positive for marijuana at the combine. Bills GM Doug Whaley said Henderson "knows he has one shot," so the team will apparently have a minimal tolerance level for Henderson. After drafting him in the seventh round, the Bills likely won't think twice about cutting ties with Henderson should he run into trouble again.
That didn't take very long.

Less than 24 hours after trading up in the first round Thursday night to draft Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, the Buffalo Bills sent veteran wideout Stevie Johnson to the San Francisco 49ers on Friday afternoon for a conditional 2015 fourth-round pick.

The writing was on the wall for Johnson to be dealt. Watkins was the draft's top receiver, and after the Bills gave up their 2015 first-round pick for him, he'll also be the Bills' top target. There wasn't room for both Johnson and Watkins at the top of the depth chart.

[+] EnlargeStevie Johnson
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesStevie Johnson is the first receiver in Buffalo Bills history to post consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
Johnson was the Bills' leading receiver from 2010 to 2012. He rose to prominence during a brief offensive resurgence led by former quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and former head coach Chan Gailey, becoming the first receiver in Bills history to post consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.

That made Johnson the alpha male in the Bills' receiver room, but he stumbled through much of last season, missing time throughout the season with various injuries. He never seemed to click on the field with rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, and he finished with 52 catches for 597 yards, his lowest totals since 2009.

The Bills have hitched their wagon to Manuel this season and made a significant gamble to move up the draft board for Watkins. The team believes Watkins is ready to contribute "immediately" and views him as a similar talent to Julio Jones and A.J. Green.

Yes, it would be ideal if the Bills could line up Johnson and Watkins together on the same field -- much like the Atlanta Falcons do with Jones and Roddy White -- but that just wasn't in the cards. It was time to move on.

Friday's trade gives greater clarity to the Bills' depth chart at receiver. Watkins, save for any significant rookie struggles, is the unquestioned top receiver. Robert Woods, the Bills' second-round pick last season, should continue in his No. 2 role and continue to develop. Offensive coordinator Nate Hackett will find a way to fit Mike Williams, acquired via trade this offseason, and Marquise Goodwin, a fourth-round pick last season, into the puzzle. T.J. Graham will still be fighting for his roster spot.

But by dealing Johnson, the Bills avoid any potential headaches from Johnson, who was one of the more free-spirited and outspoken players in the locker room in recent years.

The Bills don't benefit financially from trading Johnson this offseason, but the savings will be more found over the final two years of Johnson's deal. He had a $8.85 million cap number in 2015 and a $8.95 million cap number in 2016, which the Bills will avoid with this deal.

With Johnson gone, the Bills continue to move forward with their rebuilding project under second-year general manager Doug Whaley. They're betting on Watkins helping push them into the playoffs. Johnson isn't around as insurance, but that might be for the better.

The Bills could have potentially waited until after the draft, trying to squeeze more out of a team that wasn't able to land a receiver this week. In that sense, trading away Johnson might have come earlier than expected, but the move was predictable and understandable.

Watkins is now Buffalo's guy.
In Sammy Watkins, the Buffalo Bills got their guy.

He was the top-rated player on their draft board and widely considered the top receiver available in the draft. The Bills say that he can contribute right away and if all goes according to plan, he'll soon be in a category with A.J. Green and Julio Jones.

"Talent wise, he's on par with them," player personnel director Jim Monos said at the team's pre-draft luncheon last month.

That sets the bar high for Watkins, even in his rookie season. As a rookie -- playing in 15 games -- Green caught 65 passes for 1,057 yards and 7 touchdowns. In 13 games his rookie season, Jones had 54 catches for 959 yards and eight touchdowns.

The Falcons moved up 21 spots -- from 27th to sixth -- to select Jones. They were coming off a 13-3 season that ended in a disappointing Divisional playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers. In Jones' first season, Atlanta slipped to 10-6 and lost in the first round of the playoffs before rebounding and reaching the NFC title game in 2012.

Here is deal that the Falcons swung with the Cleveland Browns (sound familiar?) for Jones back in 2011:

Falcons received:
2011 first-round selection (No. 6; used to select Julio Jones)

Browns received:
2011 first-round selection (No. 27; later traded to Kansas City; Browns moved up to No. 21 to select Phil Taylor)
2011 second-round selection (No. 59; used to select Greg Little)
2011 fourth-round selection (No. 124; used to select Owen Marecic)
2012 first-round selection (No. 22; used to select Brandon Weeden)
2012 fourth-round selection (No. 118; later traded to Minnesota)

Meanwhile, the Bills moved up five spots on Thursday night to select Watkins:

Bills received:
2014 first-round selection (No. 4; used to select Sammy Watkins)

Browns received:
2014 first-round selection (No. 9; later traded to Minnesota; Browns moved up to No. 8 to select Justin Gilbert)
2015 first-round selection
2015 fourth-round selection

Essentially, the Falcons moved up 16 more spots in the first round than the Bills did, with the difference in the trades being Atlanta's current-year second- and fourth-round selections included in the deal.

Time will tell if Watkins measures up to Jones -- and if the Browns can do better than Weeden with their extra first-round pick next season.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- It's playoffs or bust for the Buffalo Bills.

It wasn't their trade that was stunning Thursday night. Many have prognosticated that the Bills could move up to No. 4 and pluck Clemson's Sammy Watkins, the draft's best receiver, off the board. It made sense months ago, and it still does.

But giving up a 2015 first-round pick for Watkins? That makes this is a win-or-else season for the current regime in Buffalo.

It's even something general manager Doug Whaley, who is entering his second season at the helm, suggested shortly after making the trade.

"Very high cost. But we thought like it was a calculated risk, and a risk we were willing to take," Whaley said. "The high cost of not making the playoffs is something we weighed in and we thought this guy is going to get us to the playoffs."

What's the high cost of not making the playoffs? It could very well be Whaley's job.

The Bills are being sold and the process could be completed as soon as this summer. CEO Russ Brandon said it's business as usual, but the transition has to be in the back of Whaley's mind. With ownership changes often come leadership changes, and if the Bills can't make the playoffs this season, Whaley and possibly Brandon could be out of work.

Brandon stepped to the podium after the trade and called it a "bold move." Oh, it's bold. But the Bills moved up only five spots. Let's not confuse bold with reckless. The Bills are teetering on the latter with this deal.

Giving up their first-round pick next season strips the Bills of their most significant future asset. If EJ Manuel isn't the answer at quarterback, the Bills could have used their first-round pick next spring on a quarterback, giving their rebuilding project a shot in the arm. That option is now essentially gone.

Watkins is a dynamic playmaker and he has the potential to make Manuel better. But there are other good players in this draft that wouldn't have required the Bills giving up their first-round pick next year. They could have stayed put at No. 9 and selected tight end Eric Ebron or an offensive tackle like Taylor Lewan or Zack Martin. None is the same caliber player as Watkins but they both fit positions of need and help build out the roster.

Instead, any notions of slow and steady team building are now out the window. In passing up those players and dealing their 2015 first-round pick for Watkins, the Bills are confirming what is becoming increasingly clear: They're going for broke this season.

The Bills need Manuel to take a big step forward, or else. The Bills need to win several games in the division, or else. And most importantly, the Bills need to make the playoffs. Or else.

"Call me crazy," Whaley said. "I like those odds."

For the Bills' sake, he better be right.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The pick: Sammy Watkins, wide receiver, Clemson.

My take: Wow. The Bills traded their No. 9 overall pick, their 2015 first-round pick and 2015 fourth-round pick for this selection. That's too high of a cost for Watkins in this opinion. Yes, Watkins gives EJ Manuel his best shot at succeeding in his second season, but the Bills have now depleted their draft board in what could be a critical third year of this coaching staff. Perhaps it's an indication that Doug Marrone and general manager Doug Whaley believe their jobs are on the line this season. There will be a new owner in Buffalo, and if their 14-year postseason drought isn't snapped, the new owner could go in a different direction. Watkins is one of the draft's best talents, but I just don't think you give up your first-round pick next year for him.

Stevie Johnson's future: Stevie Johnson's future in Buffalo immediately becomes murky with this move. Johnson, the team's top receiver for the past several seasons, now must make room for Watkins on the depth chart. The Bills invested a second-round pick last year in Robert Woods and sent away a sixth-round pick last month for Mike Williams. That's a crowded picture, even before you consider Marquise Goodwin or T.J. Graham. Johnson has an $8.5 million cap number this season, but the Bills' cap savings this season would be negligible by releasing Johnson. This is a situation that bears watching. Shortly after Watkins was selected, Whaley told reporters that Johnson "is on our team. He's under contract. He's another weapon in our arsenal."

What's next: The Bills were able to preserve their second-round pick (No. 41 overall) with this trade. It's highly unlikely that they'll trade back into the first round, so they're likely done for Thursday night. See you Friday. They'll likely be searching for a tight end and offensive tackle with their second- and third-round picks.
Several reports over the past several weeks have placed the Buffalo Bills among teams interested in trading up as far as No. 1.

Fox Sports' Jay Glazer reported Wednesday that the Houston Texans were looking for three first-round picks, plus a second-round pick, in order to move out of the top spot. That meshes with what we've been hearing and what we noted when we swung a deal with the Texans in our NFL Nation mock draft.

It's highly unlikely any team would give up three first-round picks for that top spot, as there isn't an Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III available in this draft. Long-time Texans and NFL reporter John McClain reported early this morning that the Texans are now asking for two first-round picks (in 2014 and 2015), as well as second- and third-round picks this season in order to move down.

Of course, the story could be different depending on how far the Texans would be moving down. Perhaps they'd do that deal to move to No. 5 or No. 6, but as far as No. 9, where the Bills currently sit? Perhaps not.

We said Wednesday that it remains unlikely the Bills will trade up as high as No. 1. The likely trigger for any trade-up would be Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins slipping down the board. Otherwise, I'm not sure the Bills pounce.

Here's another name to keep in mind at No. 9: LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Last week, we called him a sleeper pick for the Bills in that spot, and there's been some more chatter this week, including reports from's Peter King and WGR550's Joe Buscaglia noting the Bills' interest in Beckham.
Jadaveon Clowney, Sammy Watkins and Khalil MackGetty Images, AP PhotoThe Bills shouldn't give away 2015 picks for Jadeveon Clowney, Sammy Watkins or Khalil Mack.

Whether their interest is legitimate or not, the Buffalo Bills appear to be in the market to trade up in the first round of next week’s draft.

If it means giving up their first-round pick next season, the Bills shouldn’t make the deal.

Not for Jadeveon Clowney. Not for Sammy Watkins. Not for Khalil Mack.

Why? The Bills need to save their top 2015 pick for a quarterback. Trading away that selection has the potential to set back the franchise in a way that having Clowney, Watkins or Mack wouldn’t overcome.

The Bills are in a critical second year of a rebuilding project. Their results this season could begin to determine the fate of coach Doug Marrone and general manager Doug Whaley, although it would take a significant downturn for either to be fired after this season.

Second-year quarterback EJ Manuel might not have that same security. The 16th overall pick last April, Manuel enters what could be a make-or-break season.

[+] EnlargeEJ Manuel
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsSecond-year quarterback EJ Manuel may be entering a make-or-break season after struggling during his rookie year.
If Manuel improves on his 4-6 record and 42.3 QBR of last season, the Bills have a better shot at making the playoffs. The pressure would be eased and the Bills would be free to use their first-round pick as they wish next spring.

But if Manuel continues his average to below-average play -- or suffers another injury (or three, as he did last season) that muddles the picture -- then the Bills will need to mull over their options. Drafting a quarterback in the first round of the 2015 draft should be on the table.

In a way, that makes last year’s draft and next year’s draft more important to the Bills than what they will do next week.

The Bills could use the 2014 draft to build around Manuel. They could stay put with the No. 9 pick and select an offensive tackle -- Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan could be on the board -- and bolster their offensive line to help protect Manuel.

Buffalo could also keep its original pick and select a difference-making receiver or tight end. North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron is a popular choice, while LSU receiver Odell Beckham Jr. would be more of a sleeper pick at ninth overall.

The Bills could also move up a few spots and pluck Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans, who has the size (6-foot-5) that Whaley covets.

But moving up for one of the draft’s blue-chip prospects like Clowney or Watkins would undoubtedly mean trading for the first, second or third overall picks. The Bills can probably get as far as No. 4 with their second- or third-round selections from this draft, but it will take a future pick -- probably their 2015 first-round pick -- to get up any higher than that.

Clowney has long been considered the top player available this May. He has rare athleticism and would join forces with current Bills defensive end Mario Williams, as well as Pro Bowl defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus, for unquestionably the NFL’s best defensive line.

Yet Clowney is not a quarterback. He’s not Andrew Luck. Clowney can start 16 games, rack up double-digit sacks and the Bills could still go 6-10 again.

Why? Because the team’s success hinges on Manuel.

“It’s a quarterback-driven league, so we’re going to give every avenue and every piece of the puzzle to surround EJ and make him as successful as possible,” Whaley said last week. “Our main focus is making sure EJ progresses.”

Clowney would help the Bills’ defense get off the field on third downs, which would have some benefit to Manuel, but his presence would hardly aid Manuel’s development beyond that.

What about Sammy Watkins? The Bills would likely have to give up a little less to secure the Clemson standout’s services -- he could drop to No. 3 or 4. But if getting him means giving up a first-round pick next season, the Bills shouldn’t do it.

Watkins would help Manuel more directly. In fact, having Watkins and a strong running game -- spearheaded by Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller -- would be the most ideal environment for Manuel to succeed.

It’s not just a guarantee that Manuel will succeed, and the Bills shouldn’t give up their most valuable future asset banking on Manuel’s improvement.

Would the Bills even consider giving up their first-round pick next season? Whaley hinted at the possibility last week.

“We give up our whole draft? You’re mortgaging our future,” he said. “If we give up a second-round [pick] or a pick next year, again it’s a calculated decision. I would say it all depends on the deal.”

Part of the Bills’ calculations should be placing a premium on their top pick next season. Their optimism in Manuel may very well come to fruition, so having that selection will give the Bills flexibility to push even further.

If Manuel doesn’t pan out, the Bills need a fallback plan, which should include using that pick on a quarterback in next year’s class.

It would be wrong to say this isn’t an important draft for the rebuilding Bills, but it’s sandwiched between two drafts in which the Bills could use their first-round pick on the game’s most critical position -- quarterback.

Not even Clowney should get in the way of the Bills’ giving up that card from their hand.

McShay: Bills trying to trade up

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29
Add some more fuel to the fire.

There have already been several reports over the last month placing the Buffalo Bills among teams looking to trade up in the draft.

In his latest mock draft released Tuesday, ESPN NFL Draft expert Todd McShay says that he's been hearing the same.

"I've heard from three league sources in the past week that the Bills are trying to trade up," McShay writes. "If they do make a move, it'll likely be to land [Jadeveon] Clowney, [Greg] Robinson or [Sammy] Watkins."

Of the three, Robinson would seem to be the least likely target for a trade-up. The Bills could potentially select Texas A&M's Jake Matthews or Michigan's Taylor Lewan at No. 9 and fill their need at offensive tackle, without giving up the significant assets it could take to acquire Robinson at the top of the round.

Meanwhile, Watkins and Clowney are considered top-flight prospects at their positions. Trading up for Watkins would give EJ Manuel another offensive weapon, while Clowney would give the Bills -- already well-stocked with Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, and Marcell Dareus -- the NFL's best defensive line.

Yet trading up as far as No. 1 would likely require the Bills to give up their No. 9 pick, their 2015 first-round pick, and potentially more. We explored the impact of such a move Monday.
The Buffalo Bills are hosting Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins on a pre-draft visit Wednesday.

Watkins is widely considered the top wide receiver available in next month's draft and could be off the board by the time the Bills select at ninth overall. In order to pick Watkins, the Bills would likely have to trade up.

The Bills don't have an immediate need at wide receiver after trading for veteran Mike Williams earlier this month, but Watkins is a talent that would be hard to pass up. The Bills have also hosted Texas A&M's Mike Evans and LSU's Odell Beckham Jr., considered the next best receivers in the draft, on visits.

The Bills also hosted Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin and McGill offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif on visits Wednesday. Martin is a potential first-round pick and could challenge Michigan's Taylor Lewan and Texas A&M's Jake Matthews as the second offensive tackle off the board, following Auburn's Greg Robinson, who is considered the best tackle available.

Duvernay-Tardif is considered a mid-to-late round pick but would still fill a position of need for the Bills.