The second Bills trade of the day saw the team move starting cornerback Ronald Darby to the Eagles for wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a 3rd round draft pick. Unlike the Rams trade I don’t think there is much debate that this is a trade that is good for both sides and makes sense both for this season and the future.
When you look at the Eagles roster and you look at their biggest weakness I’d say a majority of people would say its their cornerbacks. It seems like a position they have been trying to fix, with limited luck, for 5+ years now. You can find good corners in free agency, but they are never cheap and the Eagles really don’t have the salary cap space to afford that luxury (they have the 2nd least projected cap room in the NFL next year), which leaves you with the draft.
In Darby they get a bit of a sure thing. Darby has started 29 games in his two years in the NFL and is just 23 years old. You wont find many younger players even in the draft than that, so a 3rd round pick for a proven starting corner with two years remaining on a rookie contract is almost impossible to pass up. For a cap strapped team to add a starting corner for just $1.85 million over two seasons is really a no brainer.
Matthews had already fallen out of favor with the Eagles and was looking to be a bit of a spare part for the team. Matthews never really grew into the role of a number 1 receiver and the team already signed Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith while continuing to develop draft selections. Philadelphia almost always extends the players they want to keep early in the season and I don’t think there were even rumors of them considering extending Matthews. The team saves about $1.1 million in salary this year by trading Matthews so they will actually create a little bit of cap room with the release.
This is not to say that Matthews can’t play its just that for this particular team he probably was no longer worth the investment if they could flip him for a different position of need. I can’t really come up with a scenario in which a team which spent $8.5 million on Zach Ertz could get Matthews to sign for less than that. I also doubt the Eagles would have received a comp pick for him since even with limited cap room the Eagles will always get creative enough to sign someone which would nullify their compensatory award.
Landing Matthews the same week as they signed Anquan Boldin lessens any negativity on the trade of Watkins and Matthews is the surer bet of the two receivers even if the upside isn’t the same. In terms of compensatory selections odds are both Matthews and Watkins will land similar deals and thus get the same return so they did not sacrifice there either.
I think this trade solidified the fact that the Bills view this as a two year tear down and rebuild. This kind of sounds like basketball but the Bills did bring back an expiring contract in Matthews while trading away the two year contract in Darby. When you look around the team the following players are going to be free agents within the next two years- Tyrod Taylor, Kyle Williams, Mike Tolbert, Eric Wood, Boldin, Matthews, Richie Incognito, Lorenzo Alexander, Jordan Mills, Ryan Groy, Philly Brown, Preston Brown, Baccari Rambo, and Leonard Johnson. That should mean most are expendable by next year or this summer if they can find a trade partner.
While the results on the field were not the worst over the last four or five years its hard to find a team, other than the Browns, that was worse run than the Bills. Horrible drafts. Terrible trades. Absurd contracts. Poor player development. So they are flipping whatever assets they can into draft picks for 2018 and 2019. Had the Bills made the moves in the front office earlier this year they probably would have moved some other pieces and that likely makes some free agent signings expendable once the season begins.
The bottom line for the Bills in this trade is they effectively swapped Darby for two third round draft picks and the loss of a few dollars in cap room. If you throw the Watkins trade into it, I’d say that the Bills will have gone from expecting a 4th round pick in 2019 for Watkins and having Darby on the team for two years to receiving a 2nd and 3rd round pick in 2018, a 4th round pick in 2019 (Matthews), a 6th round pick in 2019 (Gaines) and still having a decent corner and receiver on the team in 2017. They spent some cap room to make these moves (about $3.8 million) but since free agency is likely not in their 2018 plans nobody should care about that.
Matthews is likely a winner in this trade as well. While Watkins may be a loser I don’t see the same for Matthews. Matthews was going to see his numbers drop in Philly this year which was just going to reinforce the idea that his stats had more to do with opportunities created by lack of options rather than opportunity by talent. Some teams will still believe that but it’s likely he will put up similar numbers in Buffalo. I also like the idea of playing with a QB who is essentially playing for a contract versus playing with Carson Wentz who is simply developing in a system.
Robert Woods scored a $6.8 million per year contract coming out of that Bills offense and there is no reason Matthews wont score at least that playing with the Bills. There was a much lower floor had he dropped to 4th on the depth charts as an Eagle.
So I definitely think this is a trade that works for both sides and has little risk for either team. The Rams are the team that gains the biggest upside but also absorbs potential for on field disaster. The Eagles are a better team in 2017, barring injury to a receiver, than they were yesterday. The Bills are better set for the future and probably don’t lose much than they were at noon today.
I hope more teams follow these examples set by the three teams today. Trades were something we discussed in our book Crunching Numbers (shameless plug- available at Amazon) and how as general managers got younger and more removed from the pure football background that they would see the various possibilities that existed with trades rather than the traditional stay put and cut later approach favored for so many years. These teams all have front office personnel that fits that criteria and hopefully it rubs off on more squads. It makes the NFL much more exciting and can be very beneficial for all involved.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.