ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Almost three months ago, Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane shocked the NFL world by trading one of his team’s top talents, receiver Sammy Watkins, to the Los Angeles Rams.
In stark contrast to shipping out Watkins for cornerback E.J. Gaines and a 2018 second-round pick, which signaled the Bills were more about tomorrow than today, acquiring the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Benjamin is a salvo to the rest of the NFL that the Bills mean business in 2017.
“If you’re 0-7, I’m not sure you’re giving away a [draft] pick,” Beane said at a news conference Tuesday evening. “Years where you start like this, you’re always looking to help yourself win now and win in the future, and I honestly think that’s what this does.”
The Bills are 5-2, their best start since 2011. Should they improve to 6-2 with a win Thursday night over the New York Jets, it would be the franchise’s best mark through eight games since 1993, when they went 7-1 en route to their fourth consecutive Super Bowl appearance. Buffalo entered Week 9 with a 61 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.
If the Bills were to be serious about making their first postseason appearance since 1999 and ending a 17-year playoff drought that has burdened an entire region and fan base, they had to address the most glaring weakness on their roster: wide receiver.
Through seven games, the Bills rank last in the NFL in catches (45) and receiving yards (594) by wide receivers. They’ve gotten the occasional big play from Jordan Matthews, Andre Holmes or Deonte Thompson, but that group — along with struggling rookie Zay Jones — would eventually catch up to the Bills. They needed more.
Enter Benjamin. The trade depends on him passing a physical in Buffalo on Wednesday, but should his surgically repaired knee check out, he instantly becomes the Bills’ No. 1 wide receiver. Even if he does match his statistics from his fantastic rookie season — 73 catches for 1,008 and nine touchdowns — he provides a safety net for quarterback Tyrod Taylor and should take some attention away from running back LeSean McCoy.
At a minimum, the Bills will have Benjamin under contract through the 2018 season, which provides a future element to this trade. Should Benjamin show promise, the Bills have the cap space — freed up from their trade last week of Marcell Dareus — to give Benjamin a contract extension as he approaches the prime of his career.
Using a third-round pick to acquire a first-round talent for two or more seasons seems like a more than reasonable investment for Beane, who stocked up on draft capital by making six trades since he was hired in May. Those deals gave the Bills 19 draft picks between 2018 and 2019, including 12 in the first four rounds.
With “only” 11 picks in the first four rounds, the Bills are still well-stocked to either make further moves (e.g., trading up for a quarterback in next April’s draft), or using the picks to add young talent to a team that could be playoff-bound in 2017.