ESPN’s Bill Barnwell gave out his winners and losers from the trade earlier today between the Los Angeles Rams and Buffalo Bills that swapped teams for WR Sammy Watkins and CB E.J. Gaines with some draft capital thrown in. Perhaps surprisingly, not all is good for the Rams per Barnwell.
First, the positive:
As the Rams try to build some sort of offensive infrastructure for the 2016 first overall pick, it's hard to imagine their acquiring a better receiver to work with than Watkins, who averaged 80.5 receiving yards per game while healthy in 2015, good for what would be nearly 1,300 receiving yards over a 16-game campaign. While Watkins hasn't lived up to the draft-day trade that saw the Bills deal two first-round picks to move up and acquire him ahead of Mike Evans and Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014, injuries have been the problem, not talent.
Goff stands to benefit as he has a respectable receiving corps of Watkins, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp with Tavon Austin off the bench. What a difference a year and regime change makes.
Now, the negative:
So much of what the Rams do on a year-to-year basis seems to be about erasing or accounting for the mistakes they've made in the past. Here again they're addressing their disastrous investment and reinvestment in the badly miscast Tavon Austin by shelling out another draft pick and what is (in the best case) going to be a huge contract to retain Watkins for the years to come.
You could understand why the Rams would want to take a shot at Watkins, but the 2018 free-agent wide receiver class is staggering, including players like Matthews, DeAndre Hopkins and Allen Robinson. Some of those guys will re-sign with their current teams, of course, but maybe the Rams end up giving someone like Jeffery or Terrelle Pryor a big deal. That wouldn't be the end of the world.
What's frustrating about this move is that the Rams had to give up a second-round pick to acquire Watkins. Given that they're unlikely to be very good -- ESPN's FPI projects them to finish with the league's fifth-worst record -- chances are they'll be sending a high second-rounder to the Bills to acquire a player who hasn't been healthy for most of his career.
After trading away a bevy of picks to acquire Goff, the Rams can't be in the pick-trading business. If anything, they should be looking at trading down and acquiring selections. (I realize they're getting a sixth-rounder, but per Chase Stuart's chart, even the top pick of the sixth round is worth just 12 percent as much as the fifth pick of the second round, the selection the Rams project to send to Buffalo.)
Even if Los Angeles' bet on Watkins works out in 2017, the Rams are going to be stuck using their franchise tag or making a long-term bet on a player with a history of foot injuries. They could recoup a compensatory draft pick if they let Watkins leave, but that assumes Watkins will have a big-enough year to justify a serious deal in free agency while the Rams themselves mostly sit out, which seems like a very unlikely proposition.
They're also going to be in serious trouble at cornerback, where they just traded away Gaines and won't be able to afford franchising Trumaine Johnson for a third time after the season. Wade Phillips is a defensive genius, but the best guy on Los Angeles' depth chart for 2018 appears to be Broncos import Kayvon Webster, who played 58 defensive snaps last season and has spent the last several years buried underneath a stacked depth chart in Denver.
Basically, the Rams are giving up a ton of draft capital for a player that is a free agent. In addition, they are giving up valuable depth at cornerback, even though to be honest, Gaines played his best football in his rookie year.
With the Rams finally providing a deep threat and number one threat (albeit an injury-prone one), offensive improvement on paper has at least occurred. Now it’s on Goff and new Head Coach Sean McVay to maximize the influx of talent.