Rumors have been swirling about Sammy Watkins’ likelihood to return to the Kansas City Chiefs next season. Watkins will count a whopping $21 million against the cap in 2020 and many believe this will make the sixth year WR a much too expensive option for KC. Most expect that the Chiefs will be forced to cut Watkins unless he agrees to a significant pay cut. Brett Veach said that he wants Watkins back next season. But is it in Sammy’s best interest to come back for less money?
Watkins is a dangerous receiver. He has great hands and his 4.43 speed makes him a threat to beat the defense deep. Watkins caught 52 passes for 673 yards last season. While those numbers don’t jump off the page, remember he was the third option in the passing game behind Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Another factor was rookie Mecole Hardman whom the Chiefs tried to incorporate in the offense as well. Considering all these factors, Watkins’ numbers look pretty good.
And let’s not forget how well Sammy played in the playoffs. He had 14 catches for 288 yards. He made crucial plays as well, extending drives on 3rd and long, catching a deep TD pass to seal the AFC Championship Game, and a huge reception in the Super Bowl that set the Chiefs up to regain the lead. Both seasons in Kansas City, Watkins came up with big plays when the team needed them in the postseason. He was a major factor in the Chiefs playoff success the past two years.
If Watkins is released, he could try to parlay his success with the Chiefs into signing as a WR1 with a new team. In his first two seasons with the Buffalo Bills he was a 1,000-yard receiver in the number one role. But then injuries shortened his third season and the Bills decided to move on. Watkins has averaged around 600 yards per season as a role player on offense since leaving the Bills. But injuries continue to be an issue for Sammy. He’s missed 8 games the last two years in KC. Admittedly, I am not an NFL contract expert but I can’t imagine a new team offering Watkins any more than $10 million per season.
Granted, if Watkins were to sign for that amount it would likely be more than he would be offered to stay in KC. But sometimes money isn’t everything. We’ve heard from several Chiefs players that they want to win multiple Super Bowls. Other franchises (which will remain nameless) have had great success with players taking less money because they want to win. If Sammy were to take a pay cut to stay with the team, that would greatly improve the Chiefs’ chances of fulfilling the goal of multiple championships.
As to the above-mentioned injury issues, Watkins has been plagued by foot problems since entering the league. Rick Burkholder and the Chiefs athletic trainers spent many hours this offseason diagnosing the cause of Watkins’ foot issues and developed specific exercises designed to eliminate the returning injury. While Sammy did miss two games last year, they were not due to foot problems. Perhaps a few more years of offseason work with Burkholder and Watkins may be able to correct multiple injury issues.
And then there is the pressure of being the main playmaker at WR if Sammy goes elsewhere. I believe he has the talent to be the main guy on the outside and he delivered when he played for Buffalo early in his career. But in four games this season when Tyreek Hill was out, Watkins did not do much with the opportunity. Yes, he absolutely demolished the Jaguars in Week 1 but his numbers the next three games without Hill were no different than his numbers when Hill was on the field.
Perhaps I feel the way I do because I really want to see him stay, but I honestly feel it would be best for Sammy to take a cheaper extension and stay in Kansas City. Sure, he might have to play for a little less money than he could get elsewhere. But he wouldn’t have the pressure of being the main playmaker on offense. He would get plenty of opportunities to make plays as opposing defenses focus on stopping Hill and Kelce. He would get to compete in the playoffs every year, something he excels at as we’ve recently discovered. Which also means he would get the opportunity to compete for multiple championships. But perhaps the most important factor, in my opinion, is the progress he has made working with the Chiefs athletic trainers to reduce injuries. His continued work with that staff could very well prolong his career, which would ultimately result in Sammy making more money in the long run.