The Buffalo Bills finished 6-10 in 2013. But in a conference that produced just six teams above .500 a season ago, the franchise is operating as though they're going all-in on the 2014 season.
But are the Bills making a mistake by operating as though they're on the brink of contention?
Let's analyze three of their draft weekend trades to determine how it impacts their ability to win now, and the long-term development of the franchise.
Bills Trade 2015 First-Round Pick to Browns for Sammy Watkins
The Bills made their win-now mentality known early, when they sacrificed their 2015 first-round selection for Watkins.
Watkins will step into an immediate starting role as EJ Manuel's No. 1 receiver. He gives the Bills a well-rounded receiving corps along with Robert Woods and the recently-acquired Mike Williams.
Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett are creative offensive minds and will likely find ways to use Watkins and the electric C.J. Spiller in a variety of ways to confuse defenses.
While the trade obviously sacrifices the Bills' ability to fill holes that may emerge next year, adding a go-to target for Manuel was crucial. According to Advanced Football Analytics, the Bills didn't have a single receiver targeted on more than 20 percent of their total pass attempts.
There's certainly some value in the ability to spread the ball around, but every quarterback also needs a true No. 1 target to turn to in critical moments of the game.
Bills trade Stevie Johnson to 49ers for 2015 Conditional Draft Pick
With Watkins on board, the Bills no longer needed the services of Johnson. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Bills will get either a third- or fourth-round pick in return:
Filed to ESPN: 49ers trading a conditoonal 2015 4th-round pick to Buffalo for WR Stevie Johnson, per sources. Pick can become a 3rd.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 9, 2014
Obviously jettisoning their top receiver from a season ago doesn't initially look like a win-now move, but it did clear some cap space and bring in a valuable pick, which led directly to the Bills' trade on the third day of the draft.
Conditional trades can get complicated, but this deal might set the record for the most possible variations. I'll just let Tim Graham of the Buffalo News explain:
Bills send 2015 conditional 4th-round pick from 49ers in Stevie Johnson deal, swap 7th-rounders this yr w/Eagles for Bryce Brown (1/2)— Tim Graham (@ByTimGraham) May 10, 2014
If conditional pick from Stevie Johnson deal becomes a 3rd-rounder, then the Bills will instead give the Eagles a 2016 4th-rounder. (2/2)— Tim Graham (@ByTimGraham) May 10, 2014
Hey, guess what! There's more to that trade! Bills' pick to Eagles can become a 3rd-rounder if Brown hits rushing incentives. I need a drink— Tim Graham (@ByTimGraham) May 10, 2014
While the conditions of the deal might make your head hurt, it basically boils down to the Bills trading Stevie Johnson for Bryce Brown.
At first glance, it sounds like an odd move to bring in a third-string running back with limited experience during his two years in Philadelphia. But this trade has both immediate and long-term value for the Bills.
The Bills led the league with 546 rushing attempts last season, and C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson combined for 408 of those carries—more than nine other teams.
As C.J. Spiller enters his fifth year in the league, durability starts to become more of a concern with each passing year. And the 33-year-old Fred Jackson is obviously nearing the end of the road.
In the short term, Brown offers insurance behind Spiller and Jackson and will likely be used to lessen the load on the starters. In 2013, no other Bills running back had more than 35 carries (Tashard Choice), which will likely change this year with Brown in the backfield.
Brown is more than just a guy to plug in as insurance, though, as his style of play is actually a great fit for Buffalo. He's a big, physical back with impressive agility for his size. He has been a contributor in the passing game as well.
The Bills love versatile running backs, and Brown's ability to contribute in all areas of the game will make him a candidate to see his workload increased significantly in 2015 after Fred Jackson likely departs as a free agent.
It's easy to see why Bills fans may be uneasy about their approach to this draft. Parting with a first-round pick a year after finishing 6-10 is a risky proposition. And moving a fan-favorite wide receiver for a third-string running back is obviously a move that won't go over well with the casual fans.
All things considered, however, it's tough to argue that the Bills didn't get significantly better through these moves.
While it's fair to be skeptical of the decisions, the front office and coaching staff deserves credit for having a clear plan of attack and targeting players who fit their system. They executed a bold strategy, but it's a plan that deserves to be allowed to play out before passing harsh judgement.