Earlier today, I wrote a "breaking news story" article about the Evans trade. Now that some time has passed, I wanted to share my overall reaction to this trade from a forward-thinking perspective, as well as to share some reflections on the current state of the Bills organization.
Evans was a popular player in Buffalo, and was always a professional in handling the media following one losing season after another. Now he is gone the way of Paul Posluszny and Donte Whitner, ex-Bills high-draft picks that are now exiting the team stage left.
It is curious that three former Bills players that were drafted in either the first or second round have all departed the team in the span of 16 days, but a player like Aaron Maybin still remains.
There appears to be a disconnect between the current regime and the Bills prized veterans, considering that they were some of the Bills former high-draft picks that actually materialized into something of worthwhile value. It is not difficult to recall how many of the Bills prior high-draft picks that have been total busts.
Upon further reflection, the other main thought was that there appears to be mixed messages about what we can expect from the Bills in 2011. We painfully see Posluszny going to Jacksonville, and then we sign 30-year-old Nick Barnett as a replacement to keep the team competitive. So far, so good. But, then we trade away 30-year-old Lee Evans because we can get a fourth-round draft pick for him? Call it what you want to, but to my way of thinking that is one big mixed message.
Another aspect of this trade to consider is Chan Gailey's job security. If the trade means that Buffalo's offense is downgraded, and the team scores fewer points due to the absence of Evans stretching the field, then the team would be less competitive. It would be fair to worry that the Bills record does not show the necessary improvement to keep Gailey employed as the head man in Buffalo. It would be interesting to know what Gailey's private reaction to this trade was, off-camera of course.
Personally, I wondered if Evans had truly taken a step backwards after his 2010 disappointing season. After attending the very first night practice at St. John Fisher College on July 31st, I watched Evans in drills and he seemed to still have the fire and drive, and made plays throughout the practice session.
You would like to think that suffering through years of losing, that the veterans like Posluszny and Whitner could see that the rebuilding effort was starting to take hold and gain momentum, and that they would like to remain with the team to see the Bills back in the playoffs. Evans remained in the fold and stayed loyal to the Bills for all these years, but that is now all in the past.
What does this trade mean for the Bills organization going forward?
Clearly the promise or optimism that Bills fans had for the 2011 season should be downgraded. It is no accident that it took Stevie Johnson three years to finally fulfill his promise and blossom in the NFL. That is the traditional benchmark for wide receivers to come of age, their third year in the league.
So, it may be somewhat far-fetched for the Bills to expect breakout seasons emerging from the likes of sophomores David Nelson, Donald Jones, Marcus Easley and Naaman Roosevelt. While it is possible that their targets and receptions will increase, it is unlikely that any of them will approach the production that Stevie Johnson enjoyed in 2010.
Speaking of Johnson, most Bills fans will recall that his catches plummeted when Lee Evans' season ended after going on the I.R. list. Defenses shifted their attention to Johnson, and his productivity immediately went downhill. That aspect of what Evans brought to the table to keep defenses honest is somehow being lost in the shuffle or is conveniently forgotten.
The reality is that somebody will inevitably step forward and gain many more targets from Ryan Fitzpatrick than they were originally projected to receive. Beneficiaries could include Craig "Buster" Davis and Roscoe Parrish. In fact, the whole offense could see more targets now, which would include Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller, Johnny White and the tight ends.
Now, we address the bottom line. For those of us that were thinking the Bills were going to finish 2011 with a record of anywhere from 6-10, 8-8 or even 10-6 with some good bounces of the ball, that type of thinking is probably no longer realistic.
Don't be surprised if the sophomore quartet of Nelson, Jones, Roosevelt and Easley goes through some early-season struggles as they attempt to take on greater responsibilities in the Bills offense. In fact, Stevie Johnson may struggle as well.
The likelihood of a .500 season in 2011 seems to have vanished.
I would love for the Bills to prove me wrong, but I am now thinking our record might revert back closer to where we finished in 2010 (4-12). But if that winds up being the final result, the Bills would probably find themselves very much in the thick of things to be able to draft Andrew Luck.
So, if we had the luxury to be able to see into the future and know that the Bills draft Luck, this trade could be viewed as a blessing and not a regret.
For one thing, the quartet of sophomore receivers will have one more solid year of experience under their belt and will be ready to break out in their third year in the league. Another factor is that Ryan Fitzpatrick's contract would be up. The Bills have signed Tyler Thigpen and Brad Smith to long-term contracts, so Luck would have some help to fall back on.
As long-time suffering Bills fans know only too well, we have learned to look for the silver lining, and that is what this exercise today is partially about.
Hope springs eternal, and that is what I keep telling myself. After today's news, I will be repeating that line over and over. Hang in there, Bills fans.