The Buffalo Bills sent shockwaves through Western New York if not the entire NFL Tuesday afternoon by sending third and seventh round draft picks to the Carolina Panthers for wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Alrighty then.
I have some thoughts…
♦ Before getting to Benjamin joining the Bills specifically, I have a pair of nuggets to address. For me the highlight of Tuesday wasn’t acquiring Benjamin but having the deadline pass without seeing an Adam Schefter tweet saying Cordy Glenn had been traded. I was adamant that dealing him was a terrible decision unless getting a huge haul in return, and I think Buffalo is far better off with him than without—something I’m not sure you could say with recently departed big-name stars Marcell Dareus and Sammy Watkins. Until now I’d classify Glenn’s Buffalo career as “very good.” He still has room to get better and maybe even become considered elite. He damn sure looked good against the Raiders on Sunday. Glenn’s healthy again and I’m thrilled he stayed in Buffalo.
♦ Speaking of the Raiders, it feels like winning Sunday did much more than just improve Buffalo to 5-2. If they fall at home to Oakland maybe they move Glenn. They damn sure don’t go out and get Kelvin Benjamin. I’m extremely confident in saying the Raiders victory putting them three games over .500 this late in the season officially switched the button from standing pat (or dealing Glenn) to deadline buyer.
♦ That being said, I’m still astonished to see the Bills cough up picks for a veteran. It’s a stray from the model in place since the new regime took over. If Buffalo were going to make a deal, T.Y. Hilton, Jarvis Landry and Martavis Bryant were three guys reportedly being floated around, so when Schefter tweeted out the deal just before the deadline, it was shocking to say the least.
♦ My first intuition was one of suspicion, pondering why Carolina would deal their top receiver for such modest compensation. It’s not like the Panthers are in rebuilding mode, as they’re 5-3 and very much in the playoff hunt. Trading their top receiver felt fishy, but listening to WGR Sal Capaccio’s interview with Charlotte TV reporter Kurt Gregory helped ease my mind. Apparently Carolina wants more speed on the field and ridding themselves of Benjamin opens up more opportunities for Curtis Samuel and Russell Sheppard to work the field with Christian McCaffrey. Plus, they like Devin Funchess, a similar receiver. Lastly they probably found themselves knowing they didn’t want to pay Benjamin $8.5 million for 2018, so getting something for him now was a savvy play on their end. It’s comparable to the Bills dealing Sammy Watkins this summer at least in part to not owing him an astronomical figure next year and beyond.
♦ I felt like if there was going to be a deal the Bills would get themselves a burner to stretch out the defense. But the more I thought about Benjamin I quickly became sold. At 6-foot-5 Benjamin’s one of the tallest pass catchers in the NFL and instantly upgrades Buffalo’s red zone offense. If used to his full potential Benjamin can be terrifying for opposing defensive backs.
♦ It’s important Bills fans realize they didn’t just trade for Antonio Brown or Julio Jones. Benjamin’s very talented but won’t dominate games by himself. He’s had 100 yards or receiving in just 8-of-40 games so far in his career, so don’t expect him to set the world on fire or even be as dominant as Watkins occasionally was. What you can expect is Benjamin to legitimately upgrade the offense and provide it with better opportunities to finish drives with seven instead of three points. Don’t pigeon hole Benjamin as just a red zone threat either—he’ll move the chains and he’s very capable of making big plays if corners make a mistake.
The short version is the Bills got themselves a significantly more skilled and accomplished Andre Holmes.
♦ I also like the move for Zay Jones. With Jordan Matthews and Benjamin on the outside Jones can spend more time in the slot, where he excelled in college. Look, I know a lot of fans are down on the dude but I’m not. He’s very talented— I just don’t think he was ready to be a reliable pass catching machine as a rookie, and that’s OK. Jones looked more comfortable against Oakland and having Benjamin on the field should only help his game going forward. Even if doesn’t and the addition of Benjamin takes snaps away from the rookie, at least he’s not saddled with as heavy a burden as he’s surely felt since Watkins was traded and Anquan Boldin retired.
♦ As WKBW’s Joe Buscaglia always does, he pointed out a brilliant thought in his reaction column, referring back to the beginning of free agency when the Bills were reportedly in on a couple of higher end tight ends to pair with Charles Clay. Benjamin isn’t a tight end but has the height and body offensive coordinator Rick Dennison has longed for. I can’t wait for Clay to get back and play with this guy, hopefully Thursday night but more realistically 10 days later against New Orleans.
♦ Without over-analyzing any further, the Bills were last in both receptions and receiving yards from their wide receivers. Where’s the problem here, folks?
THE BIG PICTURE: It blows me away how far this team has come in such short period of time. I’m a New York Yankees fan and in many ways Buffalo’s start has mirrored New York’s. The Yanks had building blocks but weren’t expected to contend so quickly and certainly not in 2017. Guys stepped up, they had success and before you knew it became trade deadline buyers instead of sellers. I feel like the Bills beating Tampa and Oakland after the bye got them on the exact same track, where it suddenly made more sense to add talent instead of subtracting it. Moving down in the draft this April for better 2018 picks felt like rebuilding 101, and dealing both Watkins and Ronald Darby for picks before the season seemingly put a stamp on 2017 being about the future.
Ultimately it still is, but similar to the Yanks dealing for David Robertson, Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahle and Sonny Gray—the Bills swinging a trade for Benjamin shows they’re immediately all-in for ending the 17-year playoff drought right now. Who knows how the rest of the season plays out but Buffalo’s 5-2 start coupled with Tuesday’s deadline move should be lauded by fans.
Apparently the future’s arrived earlier than anticipated.