It was a rather eventful and newsy week in Buffalo on the personnel front, and that’s rarely a good thing for any team in mid-May, when the off-season program is in full swing. I spent a couple days around the Bills this week, shortly after news broke of Sammy Watkins’s foot injury and Shaq Lawson’s need for shoulder surgery.
I spoke with both Bills coach Rex Ryan and general manager Doug Whaley about the club enduring setbacks to both their lead receiver and rookie first-round draft pick as they prepare for the 2016 season, as well as Dri Archer’s failure to report after Buffalo claimed the running back/return man on waivers.
Ryan on Shaq Lawson’s shoulder surgery and the questions it raised about his selection: “That’s part of the deal with Shaq. We drafted him for the long haul success, not for one season. They say me and Doug Whaley share the blame. You’re damn right we do. We’ll share the blame, that’s fine. Oh, by the way, there should be another end to [the story]. Let’s see what kind of kind of player this kid is over the long haul. And we will stand by drafting this guy.”
On the concern that Sammy Watkins is becoming injury prone: “The kid loves to work. This isn’t a china doll situation. The china doll deal is for someone else. All I know is when he’s healthy, you can’t cover him, it’s as simple as that. No cornerback in the league can cover him, and you can quote me on that, and I’ve got video proof of it. The best of the best can’t cover him.
“Has he missed a little time? Yeah. Big deal. He and everyone else. The [Odell] Beckham kid came out the same year, and he missed how many games with a hamstring issue? Believe me, I was trying to trade for him [with the Jets] when he had the hamstring. I was reading the [New York] papers, and I was like, ‘Well, hell, we’ll take him.’ But Sammy’s not even going to miss any time. He’s going to be ready to roll when it matters.”
On whether the Bills’ pass rush will suffer without Lawson in the lineup: “We’ll look at whoever we got there, but I know one thing, we have the best group of defensive tackles who can rush the passer, in my opinion. Don’t forget, we had Kyle Williams for only five games last year. If he’s healthy, watch out. Kyle Williams is a disruptive force. Put him and Marcell Dareus together and I’ll take those two.”
On why Archer did not report to the team this week, prompting Buffalo to put him on the reserve/did not report list: “I never even talked to the kid, so we’ll see what happens. He won’t return a call. Is it him not wanting to be a Bill, or is it something else? I don’t know, but I guess there’s a reason Pittsburgh let him go [last November]. But when you find something out, let us know, because I’ve never even talked to him.”
Whaley on losing Shaq Lawson for the season’s first half: “We never even thought we’d have Shaq Lawson on our team, so if we’re losing Shaq for five months, and then he’s going to be with us for his entire career, we’re willing to invest in that and lose the first five months to have that guy.
“We look at it like we have two first-round picks this year, Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland. Because we were going to pick Reggie Ragland at No. 19 if Shaq wasn’t there, and then we got them both. So for us, we’re playing with house money.”
On whether expectations for Lawson have now been lowered: “We thought it would actually raise the bar, because we thought the bar would be lower knowing that he’s going into the season with an issue with his shoulder where he can’t play 100% and has some limitations. We think going with the surgery and getting him 100% healthy, that it’s going to raise the bar [in the second half of the season]. He’s going to be out there playing at an optimal level, rather than at a less than optimal level all season. That’s how we looked at it.
“You don’t want your first-round pick playing at 80% and limited and not playing at a level that everyone would think a first-round pick should play. A half season at full strength is better than a full season of playing with limitations.”