Sully: Trade Deadline Nears, and Bills Need to Act
Sean McDermott was asked during his Wednesday media session if there were any players on the current Bills roster that he would consider untouchable in trades.
“I’m not into making predictions,” the head coach said with a smile. “Brandon handles most all those, fielding those calls. Right now I’m just focused on the Patriots”
The most predictable thing was McDermott’s answer. He deftly deflected the issue toward his general manager, Brandon Beane, who doesn’t speak to the media during the season and therefore isn’t required to field sensitive questions about his current players’ uncertain futures.
McDermott’s press conference concluded in a shade under eight minutes, which is about half as long as his typical Wednesday session. Maybe he wanted to get the heck out of the room before reporters peppered him with more specific queries about his roster.
But there’s no dodging the fact that the NFL trade deadline is at 4 p.m. Tuesday. As the deadline approaches, questions linger about the futures of some of the Bills’ older and more handsomely paid players, particularly running back LeSean McCoy and wideout Kelvin Benjamin.
There has been speculation about both players. A couple of weeks ago, the Eagles reportedly reached out to the Bills after losing Jay Ajayi to a season-ending knee injury. The Cowboys, deeperate for a No. 1 wide receiver, were said to be watching Benjamin before sending a first-round pick to the Raiders for Amari Cooper a few days ago.
What are the Bills’ plans, exactly? They’re losing ground while other teams make decisive moves. The Browns shipped Carlos Hyde to the Jaguars for a fifth-round pick. I felt Jacksonville could be a destination for McCoy early in the season when Leonard Fournette’s injury appeared to be more serious than people had believed.
The Giants traded two defensive starters early this week. They sent cornerback Eli Apple to the Saints for a fourth-round pick and a seventh-rounder. They also traded stud defensive lineman Damon “Stacks” Harrison to the Lions for a fifth-round pick.
Clearly, teams are maneuvering to collect draft assets and build for the future. So what are the Bills waiting for? There’s speculation that they’re waiting to see what happens Monday night against the Patriots at New Era Field. A big upset might change the way management is thinking about this year’s prospects at One Bills Drive.
Seriously, though? Would it make that great a difference if they shocked New England and got to 3-5? Does anyone really think they’d roll to a 7-1 record in the second half and make the playoffs again (or 6-2, assuming they might sneak in again this year at 9-7)?
It’s ludicrous. Monday’s outcome shouldn’t matter one bit in management’s thinking. The Bills have the worst offense in the NFL — by some measures, the worst in league history. They’ve been blown out four times in seven games. They’re not going anywhere. There’s more chance they’ll get the first pick in the draft than reach the postseason.
They should get something for Benjamin, even a late pick. He has been a disappointing and at times indifferent performer. Benjamin will be a free agent at the end of the season after being vastly overpaid on a one-year $8.5 million deal. He’s coming off his best game of the season (a modest four catches, 71 yards), so his value isn’t likely to get any higher.
McCoy is 30 and on the downside of his career. He’s been in concussion protocol since getting hurt on the second play of last week’s loss to the Colts. It would have been wiser to deal him after a couple of decent games against the Titans and Texans. Instead, they dragged their feet and McCoy wound up getting hurt.
There’s talk that the Bills want to keep McCoy through the end of his contract, which has one more year at a salary of $6.175 million. Why? Do they expect him to carry a rebuilding team to the playoffs? He’s their only star on offense, but McCoy’s average per carry has dropped dramatically since 2016. He has one 100-yard rushing day since last November.
The Bills ought to shop some other veterans, too. Charles Clay has one more year on his original deal, with a $9 million cap hit and $4.5 million base salary. That’s silly money for a tight end of Clay’s talents. He fumbled at a critical time against Indy last week. The offense is putrid with him, it can surely stumble along without him
Jerry Hughes can be a force at times, wreaking havoc with opposing quarterbacks. But he tends to disappear at times and is known to fly off the handle to his team’s detriment. Hughes is on the books for $10.4 million next season, with a $6.35 million base salary. Maybe they could get a high draft pick from a contender looking to bolster its pass rush.
Even Kyle Williams, the revered old pro, could be shopped around. Williams is having a solid season at 35. He has one more year at $5.5 million. Maybe he wouldn’t want to move after finally reaching the playoffs last season. Still, given a chance to actually make a Super Bowl run on another team, he might be amenable to a trade.
The Bills have moved out most of the players they inherited from the Rex Ryan regime. They clearly want to rebuild with their own players. They have only 35 players signed for next season, so they need to add starters at a number of positions while building the sort of depth an NFL team requires to make a serious playoff run.
They need draft capital and money to do it. The Bills are projected to have $91 million in cap space next season, so they’ll be active in free agency. But the true contenders are built on a foundation of solid drafts, which provide a base of low-priced contributors early in their contracts to supplement the high-priced veterans atop the roster structure.
They’ve spent some of their extra draft currency in the first two years of the McDermott era. They swapped a third-round pick for a fifth to move up seven spots for Zay Jones. They did the same thing to jump six spots for Tremaine Edmunds. They used two seconds to move up for Josh Allen.
All those deals could be huge wins. But in a major rebuild, you need draft assets to help with the construction. That means shedding overpriced veterans to don’t fit into the long-term scheme, guys who are excess baggage on a team headed for the top 10 of the draft.
Asked about the remaining schedule, which has all six AFC East games still to be played, McDermott called it “an opportunity.” He mentioned all the first- and second-year players who are getting significant time on the field. It sounded like the main benefit of this season was gaining experience for the younger guys, not winning.
Then someone asked the question about untouchables, and McDermott said his focus is on the Patriots. That’s what football coaches do when you’ve hit on a subject which they have no intention of addressing. End of press conference.