Looking Back…Who Won the Bills-Rams Sammy Watkins Trade?

The History

Watkins was electric to start his career. A solid rookie season was followed up by a star-making sophomore year, and it looked as if Buffalo would have a superstar wideout for years to come. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way.

Watkins battled through various ailments throughout his first two years, though nothing out of the ordinary for an NFL player. During the 2016 offseason, his injury issues started to get more serious, as he fractured his left foot during a workout. That season, Watkins was placed on IR after a teammate stepped on and reinjured his foot.

Despite coming back to finish out the season, he’s never fully returned to his old explosive self. After multiple setbacks and surgeries on that same foot, Buffalo deemed the situation serious enough to trade away the promising youngster.

Los Angeles viewed Watkins as a worthwhile risk. For a team riding one of the longest playoff droughts in American sports, almost any risk was worthwhile.

If he could stay healthy, Watkins was worth far more than Buffalo’s asking price. Especially to a team desperate for receiver help and general star power—the Rams were entering their second season back in L.A. and struggling to gain fans.

Los Angeles Post Trade

Photo by Alex Gallardo/AP

If you just look at Watkins’ stats, he was a huge disappointment. In 15 games, he posted 39 catches for 593 yards. Those are unacceptable numbers for a supposed number one receiver.

However, this is one of those cases where the numbers are deceiving. A receiving core that was supposed to be a huge weakness unexpectedly became a strength of the team. Rookie Cooper Kupp and free agent signing Robert Woods greatly outperformed expectations while Todd Gurley was one of the best pass-catching backs in the league.

Some of their success can be accredited to the attention Watkins received deep down the field, as multiple players and avid film watchers noted. Sure, it would’ve been nice for him to have better individual stats, but I doubt first-year coach Sean McVay was complaining much about the offense. In 2017, the Rams rode the highest-scoring offense in the league to their first playoff birth since 2004.

Watkins’ contract with the Chiefs speaks more about his value than any counting stats. After one season in Los Angeles, the Watkins signed a 3-year, $48 million deal to head to Missouri. Admittedly, I’ve called that an overpay since the day it was signed, but it speaks to how teams view him. L.A. also deserves credit here for avoiding the sunk cost fallacy by not overpaying Watkins themselves.

Obviously, one year of subpar production was not what the Rams were hoping for, but I don’t think the Watkins era was as bad as some may think. He played for pennies in L.A. and didn’t cost a ton to acquire. His departure also netted the team a third-round compensatory pick in 2019.

Compensatory picks are often wrongly when reviewing trades. In a roundabout way, the Rams traded a second-round pick for Watkins and a third, albeit with that pick coming a year later. They also hit on the pick they directly received, with Joseph-Day developing into a quality starter.

Los Angeles essentially got a year of good receiver play for peanuts, even if they had higher hopes at the time of the trade. I’m sure making the Super Bowl the year he left helped ease any pain of what-if questions, too.

Buffalo Post Trade

Photo by Matthew Healey/UPI

Under new coach Sean McDermott, the Bills joined the Rams in the 2017 postseason, ending an 18-year drought of their own. The team greatly surpassed expectations and showed no signs of missing their star receiver.

In that sense, the Bills did a great job trading away Watkins. A lot of teams would’ve kept him with the hope he returned to form. Realistically, that was unlikely to ever happen in Buffalo, so dealing him before he hit free agency was smart.

It’s hard to look at their compensation and call them a huge winner, though. Gaines played well as a starter in 2017 before signing with the Browns the following offseason. He’s back in Buffalo now, but that should play no part in evaluating this trade. And while the pick they received was used to get Allen, it was a relatively minor part of the package. As Watkins was still on his rookie contract, the deal didn’t save them much money, either.

Given all that, it’s tough to say they received a lot in return for Watkins. However, the current state of the franchise means they made the right choice. Another year-plus of Watkins may have surpassed the value of Gaines and the pick, but keeping him also would have taken them down a different path than this current one.

The Bills are the favorites to win their division and dark horse Super Bowl contenders, so if trading Watkins helped get them here, it was all worth it. Hell, they even have a new star receiver in Stefon Diggs. There should be no regrets on Buffalo’s side.

Final Verdict: Rams Win

Overall, this trade was solid for both teams. Buffalo may be in the better place today, but that’s not what this is about. It’s about who got more value out of the swapped assets, and that’s the Rams. They got an inexpensive receiver who helped transform their roster, a gem at defensive tackle, and a high comp pick once Watkins left. In exchange for a decent starting corner and a late second-round pick, that’s a win.

Who do you think won the Watkins trade? What trade should I look at next? Sound off in the comments.

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