Joe B: Did the Bills mismanage Watkins injury?

Posted at 2:05 PM, Sep 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-30 17:47:11-04

For the second straight week, the Bills will be without top wide receiver Sammy Watkins. However, for the first time -- really since this injury started bothering Watkins after the regular season opener, the Bills shed some light on the condition of the foot.

Watkins was ruled officially out against New England, Rex Ryan was quick to dismiss any question of whether or not that he had a chance to play, and then unleashed the fact that the Bills have a "major concern" that the injury could be a long-term one.

The Bills actually confirming with the media that the condition of the foot, at the very least, has them thinking that way is a complete shift in how they've been handling it to this point. Then, the hammer dropped, and the team announced Watkins has been placed on Injured Reserve, out for at least the next eight weeks -- or possibly the rest of the season.

Even as of Thursday, the Bills seemed fairly hopeful that Watkins had a chance to play -- even saying that the wide receiver might even travel with the team to New England.

Now, that's all gone.

We haven't seen Watkins on the field in any capacity for the last six practices -- not even to work out along the side with members of the strength and conditioning staff, or even the athletic trainers. The wide receiver has had a full two-and-a-half weeks to rest his lingering foot pain, but it clearly hasn't helped.

That begs one, very important question:

Why did the Bills decide to play Watkins against the New York Jets in Week Two of the season, with only four-to-five days of rest in between that game and the team's Week One loss to Baltimore?
Remember, reports early in the week surfaced that Watkins complained of soreness in his foot following the Ravens game, and had an MRI done to make sure that there was no further damage. The MRI apparently came back fine, but even so, the wide receiver still felt what he felt after the game.
And after reading up from various sources how painful an injury like that one might be, it's hard to fault the player for this. Take a look for yourself, from former NFL team doctor David Chao, MD:
Watkins had offseason foot surgery for a 5th metatarsal fracture and is reportedly dealing with foot pain. If the pain is from the bone, that is a bad sign. Jones fractures have a high rate of second surgery as happened with Dez Bryant, Julian Edelman and others recently. X-rays were reportedly negative but if symptoms continue, a bone scan or CT scan will likely be next.
He even speculated that if the pain is from the bone, that Watkins could even wind up missing the entire season.
On the field against the Jets, Watkins was a shell of himself. He didn't challenge for 50-50 balls, he didn't put his all into run blocking, and he even played a lower percentage of snaps in that game than against the Ravens. It was clear: something was off with Sammy Watkins during Thursday Night Football.
The wide receiver insisted all week that the pain wasn't an issue, and that he was going to play.
Consider this, though: Isn't that what the large majority of players will say, even if playing that week isn't in their best interest? After all, these are some of the best athletes in the world and that has been their mentality for, in most cases, their entire life.
That's where it's the job of the team -- not the player -- to step in and say, 'Sammy, it's just not a good idea. We need you for more than just this week.' Would it have been a better idea on a full week of rest? Perhaps.
Some will even ask, 'didn't this all happen after someone stepped on his foot during a walkthrough last week?' My retort, while that fact is accurate, is pretty simple.
If a relatively harmless act -- considering the violent nature of the sport -- of getting his foot stepped on by another player is going to set the injury back on such a large scale, was it really ever good enough for Watkins to try and push through during Week Two against the Jets... and on four-to-five days of rest, no less?
As I wrote previously, Watkins wasn't the same guy against the Jets. Making matters worse, they didn't even bother having him on the field for the final two drives, when the Bills were trying to mount a comeback.
It's a perplexing issue, because the Bills probably looked at that second game of the season as a huge one -- especially considering they lost the previous week. They want their best players on the field.
However, at what cost?
He is one of the best players on the team, and perhaps the most naturally-talented man on the roster, too. It's telling that over the last six practices, Watkins has been in the locker room exactly zero times during the hours that the media was allowed in there.
If the "major concern" comes true, and they lose Watkins for the majority, if not the entirety of the 2016 season, that decision to let him push through and play him against the Jets is one that should and will be questioned.