Reggie Ragland trade cements Preston Brown's spot in Bills' defense

When the Buffalo Bills demoted linebacker Reggie Ragland to the third-team defense Aug. 8, there were two lines of thinking about the decision.

One theory was that Ragland, drafted by former general manager Doug Whaley to fit former coach Rex Ryan's 3-4 defensive system, was not a good fit in first-year coach Sean McDermott's 4-3 scheme. As a 2016 second-round draft pick without a projected role on the 53-man roster this season or in future seasons, Ragland was a natural candidate for a trade.

The Bills, perhaps as a negotiating tactic, instead pushed the idea that Ragland was simply slow in recovering from an ACL injury that wiped out his rookie season. On Aug. 10, first-year general manager Brandon Beane said not to read into Ragland's demotion, while McDermott called Ragland "a young player who is coming off an injury and is only going to continue to get better." Last week, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier added that Ragland was smart and athletic enough to play in his system.

As it turns out, Ragland was traded. The Bills dealt him Monday to the Kansas City Chiefs for a 2019 fourth-round pick, which is good value for someone who might not have remained on the team after Saturday's roster cuts to 53 players.

If Ragland's demotion was purely about his recovery from the knee injury, Buffalo likely would have found room to keep him around for a second season. Once Ragland overcame any remaining physical or mental hurdles about his surgically repaired ACL, he could have contributed for the Bills in 2018, when incumbent middle linebacker Preston Brown's contract is set to expire.

Instead, the Bills' decision to part ways with Ragland before he played one regular-season game indicates that he simply was not going to work in McDermott's scheme, either in 2017 or beyond. Without the possibility of Ragland competing for his job down the road, Brown is now in the spotlight in his contract year.

Brown's performance this summer has been positive. He has exclusively been a part of the first-team defense in both practice and in three preseason games. Unlikely to play in Thursday's preseason finale, Brown will finish the preseason with 12 tackles and can rest easy that he has locked down the starting middle linebacker job.

From 2012 through 2016, that position in McDermott's defense in Carolina was manned by Luke Kuechly. While Brown is not on the level of Kuechly, who is No. 12 in ESPN's NFLRank for 2017, he can make an impact as the quarterback of Buffalo's defense this season, setting himself up for a new contract either with the Bills or another team in 2018.

Brown, whom the Bills selected in the third round in 2014, is among nine of Whaley's 20 draft selections who remain in Buffalo. Here is a look at which players Whaley drafted from 2014 through 2016 and their current status:

Still with Bills: Brown (2014 third round), OT Seantrel Henderson (2014 seventh round), G John Miller (2015 third round), TE Nick O'Leary (2015 sixth round), WR Dezmin Lewis (2015 seventh round), DE Shaq Lawson (2016 first round), DT Adolphus Washington (2016 third round), RB Jonathan Williams (2016 fifth round), CB Kevon Seymour (2016 sixth round).

No longer with Bills: WR Sammy Watkins (2014 first round; traded to Rams in August), OT Cyrus Kouandjio (2014 second round; waived in May; now with Lions), CB Ross Cockrell (2014 third round; waived in August 2015; now with Steelers), G Cyril Richardson (2014 fifth round; waived in September 2016; now with Bears), LB Randell Johnson (2014 seventh round; waived in September 2016; currently a free agent), CB Ronald Darby (2015 second round; traded to Eagles in August), RB Karlos Williams (2015 fifth round; waived in August 2016; currently a free agent), LB Tony Steward (2015 sixth round; waived in April 2016), Ragland (2016 second round; traded to Chiefs in August), QB Cardale Jones (2016 fourth round; traded to Chargers in July 2016) and WR Kolby Listenbee (2016 sixth round; waived in June; currently a free agent).