The Friday news dump is always interesting, but the NFL offered up a whole new level of madness this week as folks prepare for their weekend activities.
In case you missed the big news of the day, here’s a brief overview.
The NFL handed down a six-game suspension to Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, citing some very serious findings (read more about that here).
Then, as everyone discussed that big event, the Buffalo Bills engaged in two huge trades. First they sent wide receiver Sammy Watkins packing to Southern California. Then they acquired another receiver to take his place, landing Jordan Matthews in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles.
That’s a heck of a lot of activity going on before the first weekend of preseason games wraps up. We’re taking a look at these three big-time events to determine who benefits the most, and vice versa.
Winner: NFC East teams not named Cowboys
The NFC East was going to be a battle to the end, even if Elliott had not been suspended. Now that he’s out until Week 8 (Dallas has its bye in Week 6), the rest of the division has a huge chance to take advantage of this situation.
The New York Giants have the best chance of all to get ahead of the ‘Boys with a Week 1 tilt in Dallas that could have long-lasting ramifications. Remember, the Giants handed the Cowboys two of their three losses last year. If Dallas gets off to a slow start (something that was possible even with Elliott, as we’ll cover shortly), then things will get very interesting indeed.
Loser: Cowboys in trouble with Zeke gone for almost half a season
Let’s take a look at the veritable gauntlet facing Dallas to open the season, shall we?
The Cowboys will host the Giants in Week 1 before hitting the road for two games — one in Denver and one in Arizona. All three of these opening games were going to be huge tests, even with Elliott behind Dak Prescott in the starting lineup. Following this early road trip, the ‘Boys will host the Rams and Green Bay Packers before their Week 6 bye. Then they’ll hit the road once again for a Week 7 tilt in Santa Clara against the San Francisco 49ers.
So it won’t be all that shocking if Dallas opens the season with just two wins, or worse. This is amplified all the more when you consider Dallas has injuries and suspensions up front on defense that will make it much easier for opposing offenses to do work.
Though, we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that Elliott might end up playing out the season if his appeals case goes to court (more on that here). But even if he’s there, the media swarm that will encompass the ‘Boys throughout the ordeal will be suffocating.
Winner: Jared Goff finally has weapons
The Rams did a solid job adding talent to the offense in the draft and free agency. Goff was hamstrung as a rookie without protection up front and without reliable weapons in the passing game. The Rams have solidified their offensive line, and after adding Watkins in the trade Friday they have quite a potent offensive arsenal, too.
Watkins will join rookie Cooper Kupp, possession specialist and former Bills teammate Robert Woods and speedster Tavon Austin, not to mention rookie tight end Gerald Everett. This group should give Goff a much better chance to succeed in his second year.
Loser: LeSean McCoy will see a ton of eight-man boxes
With deep threat Sammy Watkins in Los Angeles, suddenly the Bills’ passing game has shrunk significantly. After the team signed Anquan Boldin on Monday and Watkins leaving town, the Bills suddenly have no real outside threat. Essentially, with Boldin, Matthews and rookie Zay Jones, Buffalo has three slot receivers as its three top receiving options.
Now, Charles Clay can still get down the field from the tight end spot, but he’s not a reliable playmaker. This means that opposing defenses can really ratchet down into the box to shut down McCoy and the running game. That’s not good news for a running back who’s entering the stage of his career in which decline is already inevitable. Fantasy owners beware. Shady might end up disappointing in a major way this upcoming season.
Winner: Bills doing work on the rebuilding front
Trading Sammy Watkins away was a pretty stunning move by rookie general manager Brandon Beane. After all, when healthy, Watkins is a terror to defend and has been Tyrod Taylor’s go-to guy for big plays. But when you look at what Beane is doing as far as a long-term view, it’s pretty darn impressive.
After making the two big trades on Friday, Buffalo now has two first-round picks, two second-round picks and two third-round picks in the 2018 NFL Draft.
This is exactly what NFL teams need when it’s time to rebuild. And make no mistake about it, despite what Rex Ryan would have you believe, the Bills aren’t making the playoffs in 2017. It’s not happening. Period. Instead, this is a year to stock up on talent, build that talent up and then make big moves for players that will help this team in the future once it’s draft time next year.
Loser: Arizona Cardinals stuck in middle of NFC West
Looking at the NFC West after Los Angeles made the trade for Watkins, there are no easy games for the Cardinals. A team that is already in a very bad way at the cornerback position, suddenly it has to contend with some dangerous receivers playing for its NFC West foes.
As we detailed before, Watkins joins what could be a dangerous receiving group in Los Angeles. Seattle is always tough, featuring the underappreciated Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, tight end Jimmy Graham and whoever else is out there with them from play to play. Then there’s the San Francisco 49ers, who have a very intriguing group, led by Pierre Garcon.
No matter how you slice it, Arizona has its hands full with every team in the NFC West and could be staring at another disappointing campaign.
Winner: Todd Gurley can finally breathe
Without an offensive line or a semblance of a passing attack to keep opposing defenses from crowding the line of scrimmage, Gurley was awful last year. He gained just 885 yards on the ground at a 3.2 yards-per-carry clip, scoring six touchdowns. Things should be a heck of a lot different for the talented running back this year. Not only does he have some receivers who can make big plays, but he’s got an improved offensive line in front of him.
This should get him back on track in a big way. Fantasy owners take note.
Loser: Tyrod Taylor setting up to be fall guy during rebuilding year
The Bills brought Taylor back to Buffalo after spending months debating about the prospect of letting him go. In the end, he had to take a massive pay cut to remain with the team. Already, there have been reports indicating Taylor has not performed well overall in training camp. Now he’s lost his top receiver.
Buffalo now enters the 2017 season with three top receivers who excel in the slot and none who do not. It’s going to really impact Taylor’s ability to make plays down the field, which has been a big part of his game. It certainly appears Taylor is being set up as a fall guy this year. We don’t expect him to have the kind of year that screams, “I’m your franchise quarterback!” This will give Buffalo license to move on without any real issues from its fan base next year.
Winner: Nelson Agholor’s time to shine as slot specialist for Eagles
With Jordan Matthews now in Buffalo, there’s no doubt about Agholor’s future with the Eagles this year. He’s going to be the team’s primary slot specialist. And based on every single report that’s emerged going all the way back to OTAs, he’s on a mission to succeed.
Offensive coordinator Frank Reich hinted even before Matthews was dealt that Agholor would be in line for more work in 2017 than he got last season. The former USC star has hauled in 59 passes for 648 yards and three touchdowns in his first two seasons in the NFL. If Agholor can stay healthy this year, he’ll easily exceed that two-year total with a big-time campaign.
Loser: Les Snead continues to gamble with future of Rams
Short term, what Snead has done to give his young passer a chance to succeed is pretty darn cool. Long term, however, what Snead has done the past couple of years could very well cripple the Rams from keeping the rest of the roster up to snuff. The Rams gave up a king’s ransom to move up in last year’s draft for Goff. Now they’ve given up next year’s second-round pick to land Watkins, who comes with some serious health risks.
We’ll be keeping an eye on how these moves impact the Rams over the long haul. Some teams in the past (like the Atlanta Falcons) have been successful using this strategy. Many others have not.