ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — So the rumors about the Bills looking to trade up in Thursday’s first round of the draft were true ... now the question is whether the expense was worth it.
We’ll find out quickly.
When Buffalo made a deal with Cleveland to move up from its ninth spot to the Browns position at No. 4, and surrendered its first- and fourth-round picks next year, the Bills’ selection of Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins recalled a similar deal three years ago.
That’s when Atlanta sent five draft choices to Cleveland to move up 21 spots in the first round to take Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones.
The Falcons’ reasoning was that it was worth trading places in the first round, plus the No. 1 pick the next year, a second and two fourth rounders for a player they felt would get them to the playoffs.
Sure enough, Jones’ first two years, thanks in large part to his impressive production, Atlanta made the post season including a trip to the conference championship game. And there are those who will tell you that the reason the Falcons finished 4-12 last season is that Jones played only five games before an injury cost him the rest of the campaign.
That’s the kind of impact the Bills personnel department expect from Watkins, the draft’s highest-rated receiver and the sixth-ranked player in the lottery by nfdraftscout.com.
And Buffalo general manager Doug Whaley admitted as much.
“(It’s a) very high cost,” he conceded. “We thought it was a calculated risk and a risk we were willing to take. The high costs of not making the playoffs is something we weighed in and we thought this guy was going to get us to the playoffs.
“We think, for us, it was well worth it.”
Team President and CEO Russ Brandon agreed.
“We’re certainly excited,” he said. “We went into this draft saying we were going to be bold and we made a bold move.
“Sammy Watkins was a player that was very, very high on our board and someone we felt could contribute immediately.”
Whaley credited Brandon with pulling off the deal.
“He allowed us to make this move,” the first-year general manager said.
“He OK’d it and was willing to give up the resources and future to go up and get a guy that we think will help us get where we need to be.
“Anything that’s worth having ... you’re going to have to give up something. We gave up something, but it was a calculated effort that it was a win for us, now and in the future.”
Whaley added, “We’re building our roster and granted you hate giving up No. 1 picks, but we thought what he brings to us now is worth the low one we’ll be giving up next year.”
Of course, that “low” first-rounder will only materialize if the Bills make the playoffs.
As Whaley conceded, “That’s not a (playoff) guarantee ... I’m saying I expect it to be low . I’m a competitor and, call me crazy, I like those odds.”
He explained that the gamble was taking Watkins and the increased post-season chances he brings as opposed to a possible 15th straight season of missing the playoffs.
And there could well be another reason why the Bills made such a dramatic deal.
Next year at this time, the Bills will be under new ownership and there’s no guarantee that either Whaley, or Brandon for that matter, will have a job.
But the latter denied that was a factor.
“Not at all,” Brandon said. “We’ve been very upfront about that ... when it comes to how we go about our day-to-day (details), it’s business as usual. I’m not worried about anything relative to the sale of the franchise when it comes to the football operation.
“This trade was made as a football decision that’s focused on the 2014 season.”
And it’s had to deny the Bills made that move with conviction.
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)