Sammy Watkins will head into the final year of his rookie contract in Buffalo with a cloud of uncertainty swirling overhead.
“Sammy and I have had good conversations about this decision,” coach Sean McDermott said in a statement. “There is no question that Sammy is a very good football player and has worked very hard during his rehab this offseason. We look forward to seeing a healthy Sammy Watkins on the field in 2017.”
The option would have cost roughly Buffalo $13.26 million for 2018. Watkins will make $3.138 million in 2017, the final year of his rookie deal.
The Bills traded up to the No. 4 slot in the 2014 draft to snag the playmaking receiver, giving up the No. 9 overall selection in that draft, along with first- and fourth-round picks in 2015. It stings worse for Bills fans knowing, in hindsight, they could have even landed Odell Beckham Jr. from the No. 9 spot.
Watkins’ struggle to stay healthy the past two seasons caused the Bills to waffle on the injury guaranteed fifth-year option. The 23-year-old has missed 11 games over the past two seasons. He is coming off another foot surgery this offseason.
Declining the option is a risk for the Bills, who have lacked playmaking receivers outside of Watkins. In his first two seasons, the 6-foot-1 wideout snagged 125 passes for 2,029 yards and 15 touchdowns. During last year’s injury-ravaged season, Watkins managed just 28 catches for 430 yards and two scores.
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.
With McDermott squarely in control in Buffalo, the decision to decline Watkins’ option will look foolish if he plays up to his ability in 2017. On the other hand, if the receiver gets injured again, the Bills avoided a $13 million problem.