Bills going for broke with 'bold' trade

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- It's playoffs or bust for the Buffalo Bills.

It wasn't their trade that was stunning Thursday night. Many have prognosticated that the Bills could move up to No. 4 and pluck Clemson's Sammy Watkins, the draft's best receiver, off the board. It made sense months ago, and it still does.

But giving up a 2015 first-round pick for Watkins? That makes this is a win-or-else season for the current regime in Buffalo.

It's even something general manager Doug Whaley, who is entering his second season at the helm, suggested shortly after making the trade.

"Very high cost. But we thought like it was a calculated risk, and a risk we were willing to take," Whaley said. "The high cost of not making the playoffs is something we weighed in and we thought this guy is going to get us to the playoffs."

What's the high cost of not making the playoffs? It could very well be Whaley's job.

The Bills are being sold and the process could be completed as soon as this summer. CEO Russ Brandon said it's business as usual, but the transition has to be in the back of Whaley's mind. With ownership changes often come leadership changes, and if the Bills can't make the playoffs this season, Whaley and possibly Brandon could be out of work.

Brandon stepped to the podium after the trade and called it a "bold move." Oh, it's bold. But the Bills moved up only five spots. Let's not confuse bold with reckless. The Bills are teetering on the latter with this deal.

Giving up their first-round pick next season strips the Bills of their most significant future asset. If EJ Manuel isn't the answer at quarterback, the Bills could have used their first-round pick next spring on a quarterback, giving their rebuilding project a shot in the arm. That option is now essentially gone.

Watkins is a dynamic playmaker and he has the potential to make Manuel better. But there are other good players in this draft that wouldn't have required the Bills giving up their first-round pick next year. They could have stayed put at No. 9 and selected tight end Eric Ebron or an offensive tackle like Taylor Lewan or Zack Martin. None is the same caliber player as Watkins but they both fit positions of need and help build out the roster.

Instead, any notions of slow and steady team building are now out the window. In passing up those players and dealing their 2015 first-round pick for Watkins, the Bills are confirming what is becoming increasingly clear: They're going for broke this season.

The Bills need Manuel to take a big step forward, or else. The Bills need to win several games in the division, or else. And most importantly, the Bills need to make the playoffs. Or else.

"Call me crazy," Whaley said. "I like those odds."

For the Bills' sake, he better be right.