Bills decline Watkins' fifth-year option

Posted at 3:40 PM, May 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-03 11:46:19-04

With the Buffalo Bills' decision today, wide receiver Sammy Watkins will be entering a contract year in 2017.

Officially, the Bills have declined to exercise the fifth-year option on Watkins' contract, which will now expire next March. The only way the Bills can retain Watkins after this year is to agree on a contract extension, or, to issue him the franchise or transition tag just before the start of the next league year in March of 2018.

Bills head coach Sean McDermott issued the following statement in regards to the decision: 

"Sammy and I have had good conversations about this decision. 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."

A difficult decision, mainly tied to all the injury problems that Watkins has had over the course of his three years in Buffalo. For the second straight offseason, the wide receiver has had to have a foot procedure done to correct an injury. Over three years, Watkins has missed 11 out of a possible 48 games for the Bills due to injury.

When healthy, Watkins is one of the most talented wide receivers in the National Football League, though, staying on the field has been his biggest hurdle. In 37 total games, Watkins has a total of 153 receptions for 2,459 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Watkins will turn 24 this summer. 

Joe B's Take:

Of all the moves that head coach Sean McDermott has made in the offseason -- which include everything that went down in the 2017 NFL Draft -- this is the only one that I definitively disagree with.

I can see the logic behind the decision. Watkins hasn't stayed healthy, and with how little he was able to contribute in 2016 certainly cast a large shadow of doubt on if he could shake this foot injury. The risk is giving him the option, he gets injured, and the Bills would be on the hook for the option money guaranteed in 2018.

From a team-building perspective, though, the one thing I can't get on board with is allowing one of the most naturally talented players on the team -- if not the most naturally talented -- to potentially get to free agency one year before it's necessary.

Now, in a perfect world, Watkins would come back healthy, be really happy in Buffalo, and then sign a long-term extension so that none of this actually matters. However, you can't operate as though everything will just naturally fall into place. You have to give yourself options, and have contingency plans in the event that the optimal outcome does not come to fruition.

By not exercising this fifth-year option, the Bills are not only restricting themselves for having Watkins' rights for only two years rather than three. They're also putting themselves at risk to paying him that much more by having to -- in a worst-case scenario -- give him the franchise tag after a successful 2017 season.

Let's also not forget that the Bills would not have been beholden to that fifth-year option until the start of the new league year next March. That means if they weren't happy with Watkins production, they could simply walk away from the fifth year without any cap ramifications.

Is it somewhat of a risk to give him the fifth-year option in the event that he suffers another long-term injury and the money is guaranteed? Sure it is. Is it an even bigger risk to have one of the best players on your team come back, play lights out, and then not be able to retain him for one more year than you could have?

I'd argue yes, and by quite a bit. I think it's an even bigger risk to potentially let one of their most naturally talented players be able to potentially hit the free agent market one year earlier than you could have held for -- and in the height of his prime.

For Watkins, this is actually pretty great news if he comes back fully healthy. That gives him one more year of his career that he could be paid with free agent value, and maybe even with the franchise tag value (approximately $16 to $17 million)

Of all McDermott's moves this offseason, this is really the only one that I have disagreed with. While it's a complex situation and there is a fear of the unknown factor, it boils down to a simple line of thinking for me: when you have the chance to hang on to an extremely talented player for a possible below market value, you do it.

The one thing we do know... Watkins just found that much more motivation to come back from this injury better than he's ever been before.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia