Saturday 21st October, 2017
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Five things to know about Fridays swap meet

Sports Xchange - Saturday 12th August, 2017

First-year coach Sean McDermott is leading yet another rebuild of the Bills, shipping two of the team's top players out of Buffalo in separate trades Friday.

Wide receiver Sammy Watkins went from No. 1 on the depth chart to the Los Angeles Rams and top cornerback Ronald Darby, pegged to fill the shoes of Stephon Gilmore as the lead cover man in Buffalo, was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for wide receiver Jordan Matthews.

Here are five things to know about Friday's swap meet:

Buffalo is undeniably rebuilding

Declining the fifth-year option on Watkins' rookie deal in the spring was the writing on the wall from McDermott and Buffalo's rebuilt front office that he wasn't part of the plan beyond this season. Watkins had three foot surgeries in the past 15 months and played only eight games with 28 receptions in 2016. That didn't stop him from public declarations that he was ready to cash in on a massive contract.

E.J. Gaines might sound like a throw-in cornerback but his college tape at Missouri was impressive against bigger receivers -- notably Mike Evans, the No. 8 pick in the same draft in which the Bills drafted Watkins and a Pro Bowl superstar with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- and is a better fit in McDermott's scheme than Darby.

The trades set the Bills up to replace quarterback Tyrod Taylor, to whom McDermott and ownership in Buffalo are noncommittal, with this draft deck in April 2018: two first-round picks, two second-round picks, two third-round picks.

Philadelphia all-in on Agholor

The fastest player in training camp for the Eagles is also the fastest-rising skill player on the depth chart. Agholor, mostly a slot receiver, will play all across the formation for head coach Doug Pederson and get increased targets with Jordan Matthews in Buffalo. Matthews was incredibly prolific in his first three seasons. He's one of only seven receivers in NFL history to post 225 receptions, 2,500 yards and at least 19 touchdowns before his fourth season. The company? Evans and Odell Beckham -- notably drafted behind Watkins in 2014 -- plus Randy Moss, A.J. Green, Larry Fitzgerald, DeAndre Hopkins.

Matthews was targeted 117 times last season compared to 69 for Agholor, who averaged only 10.1 yards per catch. Some of those looks go to Alshon Jeffery, who joined the Eagles on a one-year deal in March, but there is no question Agholor's summer showing was a serious motivator for the Eagles to pull the trigger.

Expiring contracts critical trade variable

Matthews, Watkins and Darby (restricted free agent) can all catch a payday in March 2018 and are young enough to warrant top dollar. Mathews' production and the fact that he's only 26 during the 2018 season might make him the most attractive of the bunch considering Watkins' durability issues.

Watkins is moving to a new offense and unproven quarterback, which might not be the ideal proving ground for a talented athlete hoping to prove his worth.

Darby lands in the super-aggressive, blitz-heavy scheme of Jim Schwartz in Philadelphia and that sparks optimism for his future value, but regular assignments against division rivals Dez Bryant (Cowboys) and Beckham (Giants) are poison pills.

Eagles pass coverage intrigues

Getting Darby is a victory for the Eagles considering the revolving door at the position and the current state of the depth chart. Well-traveled Patrick Robinson, who entered the league as the No. 32 pick overall in 2010, hopes for a revival in 2017 with his fourth team but injuries have dogged him.

How the Eagles align against three- and four-receiver sets will be fascinating, a variable that plays into Schwartz's blitz-happy ways with safety Malcolm Jenkins the ultimate wildcard. He can cover the slot, tight end as a linebacker or blitz depending on the formation.

Running the show in Buffalo

McDermott has a general manager as a tag-team partner in Brandon Beane, who had been with the Carolina Panthers, another team whose confounding personnel approach raised eyebrows in recent seasons.

But McDermott appears to have an abundance of control and his no-nonsense style could prove a boon in helping the Bills return to contender status.

Consider the franchise well-armed for the 2018 draft and free agency. McDermott's first draft class -- general manager Doug Whaley was gone shortly thereafter -- looks promising.

Coming off the books in 2018 is defensive tackle Kyle Williams -- who has a $7.4 million annual average salary -- and center Eric Wood, who is likely to be replaced and on the wrong side of 30 averaging more than $6.3 million per season.

Quarterback is the pressing question for the Bills. The restructured two-year deal signed in March indicates Taylor is not the future. The 2019, 2020 and 2021 salary is voidable without penalty on the final day of the 2018 league year. That assumes he'll even get that far with the Bills, who can part with Taylor at the end of the 2017 season by not paying his $6 million roster bonus.

All of this points to another trade, with possible targets including the Jets, when McDermott's roster makeover resumes.

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