The Buffalo Bills have a tough decision to make on what to do with Sammy Watkins after 2017.
In the 2014 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills went all-in on Sammy Watkins. The Buffalo Bills traded up five spots to select the wide receiver out of Clemson. They paid a hefty price, as they gave up their first- and fourth-round selections in the 2015 draft to move up and acquire this talented receiver.
The move was a head scratcher for many, as giving up first- and fourth-round picks for a rookie wide receiver is unprecedented. Yes, many teams will move up to select their hopeful quarterback of the future. But for a wide receiver? It was a gamble to say the least.
Watkins displayed some signs of being a legitimate No. 1 receiver in his rookie season. His numbers were strong, 65 catches for 982 yards and six scores. He followed up his rookie season with another solid year, as he broke the 1,000-yard mark in 2015. He finished with 60 catches for 1,048 yards and nine touchdowns. He missed three games early on in the season, but finished strong with 136 yards in Week 17.
Many thought that, after his strong finish to the 2015 season, that 2016 would finally be the year Bills fans would enjoy Watkins’ full value. Unfortunately, 2016 turned out to be a disaster for him. He played in half of the regular season games, and only eclipsed the 100-yard mark in a game once. He finished with 28 catches for a mere 430 yards, battling foot injuries the entire season, and never able to get into a rhythm for the Bills offense.
Wide receiver is traditionally a tough position for rookies to come in and have an immediate impact in the NFL. Many struggle to secure a full grasp of the playbook early, and it takes time for these rookies to produce. Nevertheless, that was not the case for the 2014 rookie receiver class. Three receivers in that class had more than 1,000 yards. Five had more than 66 catches, and five of them had more than seven touchdowns.
Unfortunately for Bills fans, none of those receivers were named Sammy Watkins. The first round of the 2014 draft was loaded with receiver talent. Five receivers were taken in the first round: Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr, Kelvin Benjamin and Brandin Cooks were all taken after Sammy Watkins. It is safe to say that, besides Kelvin Benjamin, all these receivers have gone on to be more productive than Watkins.
Beckham has become one of the most exciting players in this league, Evans has become unstoppable in the red zone, and Cooks has burned defenses in New Orleans — and will now be Tom Brady’s go-to target in New England.
So what should the Buffalo Bills do with Watkins? On May 2, the Bills announced they would not pick up the fifth-year option on Watkins’ contract. This means he will be an unrestricted free agent in 2018, if the Bills do not re-sign him. If Sammy Watkins can stay healthy and have an impact season for the Bills, the lack of contract faith may have been a mistake, according to Kevin Patra of NFL.com:
“If Watkins can stay healthy for a full season, the declined fifth-year option could become a boon for the receiver — and by contrast a boondoggle for Bills’ decision makers. With a big year, Watkins could force the Bills to use the franchise tag to keep him in Buffalo. The tag would net the wideout more cash in one year than the fifth-year option.”
Buffalo will be hoping for Watkins to stay healthy next season. If he can put his foot issues behind him, there is no doubt he can be a true go-to receiver for this franchise. Drafting wide receiver Zay Jones in the second round in 2017 will only help Watkins, as it will open up the field for him and have defenses focus on other areas of the field.
Watkins is crucial to the Bills next year. It’s essential to Tyrod Taylor’s game, that Watkins succeeds and takes some pressure off the quarterback and the run game. If Watkins struggles next season, there is a very good chance he could be playing for another team in 2018. If this happens, he will always be remembered in Buffalo as the bust who was taken over Mike Evans and Odell Beckham Jr.