The Buffalo Bills have struggled over the past 20 years, but remain one of the NFL’s most storied franchises. The team has made some excellent trades throughout its history. Here are the five best.
5. LeSean McCoy, 2015
A second-round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009, McCoy spent six seasons in Philly, rushing for a career-high 1,607 yards and 17 touchdowns on his way to an All-Pro selection in 2013. He was also a terrific receiver out of the backfield, hauling in 300 passes over 90 games. Following the 2014 campaign, McCoy was traded to the Bills, as then-head coach Chip Kelly was purging the roster of some fan favorites. Buffalo sent linebacker Kiko Alonso to the Eagles. Alonso was a 2013 second-rounder who collected 159 tackles during his rookie year, but missed the entire 2014 season due to a torn ACL. He had reunited with Kelly — who coached him at Oregon — but Alonso was a backup for Philadelphia, and missed five games after spraining the same ligament he had torn a year earlier. During the 2016 NFL Draft, Alonso was traded to the Miami Dolphins.
Meanwhile, the Bills immediately signed McCoy to a five-year, $40 million extension and he gained 1,187 yards from scrimmage in 2015 despite missing four games. He topped 1,110 rushing yards in each of the next two seasons, and was released following the 2018 campaign. McCoy may have never been a fantastic player for the Bills, but he was very good, and considering what they gave up to get him, this trade ended up being a great value.
4. Jerry Hughes, 2013
Hughes was the 31st overall pick in 2010 by the Indianapolis Colts, but disappointed with only five sacks over his first three seasons. Indy sent Hughes to Buffalo in exchange for linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, a 2011 third-rounder. Sheppard spent one subpar season with Colts before being released and ended up with the Miami Dolphins. He played his final year in the league in 2018, unable to match his play in Buffalo with Indianapolis, Miami, the New York Giants, or the Detroit Lions.
Hughes logged 10 sacks in each of his first two seasons with the Bills, and has totaled 46.5 through seven campaigns. He’s consistently been one of the more underrated pass-rushers in the league, and has never missed a game with Buffalo. He may not put up eye-popping numbers, but he’s a solid player against both the run and the pass. And just like McCoy, he provided a tremendous value for what he was traded for.
3. Cornelius Bennett, 1987
An elite prospect out of Alabama, Bennett was selected second overall in 1987 by the Indianapolis Colts, but would never play for the team, Bennett and the Colts failed to agree to contract terms, and Indy began to seek a trading partner. They eventually developed a three-team deal that would send Bennett’s rights to the Bills, and other players and assets to the Los Angeles Rams. This was also the deal that sent Eric Dickerson to the Colts. In all, Buffalo gave up running back Greg Bell, first-round picks in 1988 and 1989, and a second-round pick in 1989 for the rights to Bennett.
Bell had two excellent seasons for the Rams, rushing for over 1,100 yards and 15 touchdowns in both 1988 and 1989. The selections that Buffalo gave up were used on RB Gaston Green, RB Cleveland Gary, and cornerback Darryl Henley. Gary had some solid seasons for LA, but Green and Henley didn’t last long in Hollywood.
Bennett, however, lived up to the hype, making the All-Pro team in his second season. He spent a total of nine seasons with the Bills, collecting five Pro Bowl nods. He ranks third in franchise history in tackles (793) and fourth in sacks (52.5). He cost a lot to acquire, but ended up being worth the investment.
2. Joe DeLamielleure, 1972
Drafted as a cornerback in 1968 by the Denver Broncos, Marlin Briscoe became professional football’s first African-American quarterback after he stepped into the starting role due to injuries ahead of him on the depth chart. He went 2-3, throwing for 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He joined the Bills in 1969, but as Jack Kemp was entrenched as the starter, Briscoe converted to wide receiver and had three solid seasons with Buffalo, making the Pro Bowl in 1970. Following the 1971 campaign, Briscoe was dealt to the Miami Dolphins for a 1973 first-round pick, and as the Dolphins won the Super Bowl in 1972 (and 1973), that pick was the final selection of the first round. Despite the (relatively) low value of the pick, the Bills managed to find arguably the best player in the draft in Michigan State guard Joe DeLamielleure.
He played seven seasons for Buffalo, never missing a game, and being named to five consecutive Pro Bowls and three straight All-Pro teams. DeLamielleure spent five years with the Cleveland Browns before returning to his original team for one last season in 1985. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2003.
1. Jim Kelly, 1982
In 1982, the Bills traded linebacker Tom Cousineau (who had yet to play a game for the team, despite having been the first overall pick in 1979) to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for a 1983 first-rounder, a 1984 third-rounder, and a 1985 fifth-rounder. Cousineau played four decent seasons with the Browns, and while two of the draft picks acquired ended up as non-factors, the first-round selection started at QB for 11 years, setting nearly every single Bills passing record.
Jim Kelly originally listed Buffalo as one of the cities he did not want to play in, as he wanted to be somewhere warm. He got his wish at first, as the Bills took tight end Tony Hunter 12th overall, but then chose Kelly at No. 14. Kelly spent four years in the United States Football League with the Houston Gamblers, but eventually made his way back to Buffalo, signing with the team in 1986. He retired in 1997 after going 101-59 and leading the Bills to eight playoff appearances, including four consecutive Super Bowls.
He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002, his first year of eligibility. Kelly is a football icon not just because of his excellent play on the field, but because of the perseverance he’s shown off of it. He’s beaten cancer twice and founded the Hunter’s Hope Foundation to honor his son Hunter, who sadly passed away at the age of eight to Krabbe disease. Kelly is a Bills legend, and the deal that brought him to Buffalo is far and away the best in team history.