Three years ago, the Bills gave up the ninth overall pick in the draft, another first-round pick, and a fourth-round pick to get receiver Sammy Watkins — at a time when they could have stayed put and gotten Odell Beckham Jr. Now, the Bills have opted not to compound their mistake by potentially making another one, by refusing to pick up the fifth-year option on Watkins’ rookie deal.
It’s a smart move. Given Watkins’ injury history, any condition that would prevent him from passing a physical before the first day of the 2018 league year next March would put the Bills fully on the hook for $13.2 million in 2017. They’ll instead embrace the possibility that Watkins finally will play like they thought he’d play, forcing them to apply the franchise tag next year, at a likely amount in excess of $16 million.
He’s yet to have a season that would make using the franchise tag a no-brainer. In 2015, Watkins racked up 1,049 receiving yards in 13 games, but he followed that by missing half of the season and generated only 430 yards.
Through three seasons, Watkins has fewer than 2,500 receiving yards, 153 catches, and 17 touchdowns. In contrast, Beckham has 288 catches, 4,122 yards, and 35 scores. Likewise, Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry has 288 catches, for more than 3,000 yards.
So Watkins enters a contract year in Buffalo with every incentive to have the best year of his career. If he does, the Bills surely will revisit their position on him. For now, they’re essentially admitting to the world that they got this one wrong.