Bills GM Brandon Beane was sitting in John Dorsey’s chair around this time last summer as a first-year general manager with an itchy trigger finger, so he had to know the mindset of his counterpart in Cleveland.
If you remember, Beane had an underachieving first-round pick in wide receiver Sammy Watkins and was wrestling with his options. One was keeping Watkins, knowing the franchise receiver would demand big money on a long-term deal. The other was dumping him.
Beane chose the latter.
The Bills shipped Watkins and a sixth-round pick to the Los Angeles Rams for cornerback E.J. Gaines and a second-round pick in the 2018 draft. When the deal was completed, many viewed the move as a sign the Bills were giving up on the season before it began for the sake of rebuilding.
Watkins had 39 catches for 593 yards and a career-high eight touchdowns in his only season with the Rams before becoming a free agent and signing a three-year deal worth $48 million with Kansas City. Gaines started 11 games with the Bills before signing a one-year deal with the Browns.
Who won the trade?
The Bills did, eventually, because they used the second-round pick from the Rams as a sweetener in another deal with the Bucs that allowed them to move up in the draft and select … rookie quarterback Josh Allen.
Now, Beane had no way of knowing at the time that the trade with the Rams would lead him to his presumptive franchise quarterback. In fact, there’s a very good chance that Allen wasn’t even on the Bills’ radar last August.
Beane’s genius was making the deal and building capital that gave him more leverage, if needed. He was unwavering in his commitment to pull the Bills from salary-cap cap instability and create more options with his roster.
Oh, in case you forgot, the Bills made the playoffs last season without Watkins. They missed the postseason for three straight years with him.
Dorsey likely had a similar mindset this week when trading away Coleman, who had not played to expectations while fighting through injuries under a previous general manager. Rather than keep Coleman and pray for a break-through, knowing a big contract could await, he decided to sever ties and rebuild his roster without him.
Beane took a risk when he traded Watkins just as Dorsey took a risk when he traded Coleman. The difference, of course, was in the price. The Bills received a starter and second-round draft pick in the Watkins deal, but they only had to give up a seventh-rounder for Coleman.
"John is a good man and he’s doing what he thinks is best for the Browns," Beane told reporters at St. John Fisher College. "Obviously, I’m doing what I think is best for us here in Buffalo."
Coleman was a bust in Cleveland while battling through injuries. He had only 56 catches for 718 yards and five touchdowns in 19 games over two seasons. He broke his hand twice, both in games against the Ravens. He should consider skipping the Bills' season opener against Baltimore.
Beane believed, and rightfully so, that Coleman was worth the pick. No matter how he performed as a first-round pick for the Browns, he will forever be a seventh-round pick to the Bills. At age 24, he still has the same potential upside for the Bills that he had with the Browns after coming out of Baylor.
For Buffalo, it wasn’t a low-risk move. It was a no-risk move.
"We all go through things in life that don’t go our way all the time," Beane said. "I’m sure there’s things that went well there that, if you turn on his clips, he makes a lot of good plays. I’m sure he wished he played all 16 games both season."
The fresh start and change in scenery could help Coleman blossom in Buffalo. He could have all the speed in the world, but it wasn’t going to matter much in Cleveland with Tyrod Taylor's obsession with the short-passing game.
Now he has an opportunity to create chemistry with new quarterbacks while embracing the possibility he can grow with Allen once he takes over the offense. In short order, Beane has proven to be a savvy executive.