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Revisiting the Chiefs’ decision to sign Sammy Watkins

This isn’t the first time and will be far from the last time, writes Pete Sweeney.

Kansas City Chiefs v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Throughout preseason and training camp, I have been somewhat critical of the move by the Kansas City Chiefs to sign wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

It’s been less about bringing Watkins aboard but rather the cap room that it took to do so when it felt like there were other deficiencies on this team. The Chiefs are paying Watkins $30 million guaranteed over the next three seasons.

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid was asked about the decision to bring Watkins in on Wednesday.

“I am kind of speaking for Brett (Veach) on this, but he felt if we were going to spend money on a free agent, try to get the best one—it didn’t matter what side of the ball,” Reid explained. “These guys are free agents, you are paying them a lot of money, so we felt Sammy (Watkins) was a talented player out there and had an opportunity to go get him. I don’t think he was thinking the other way necessarily, putting him with Patrick or short-changing the defense or anything. You go after free agents, let’s try to get the best guy you possibly can if you are going to pay him the money. That’s how he went about it. Brett (Veach) tried to help the defense out with (Anthony) Hitchens, who has done a tremendous job.”

And this is fair. It can be said that the run defense has looked much better in 2018 than 2017 with Hitchens, the Chiefs’ current tackle leader.

The problem has been the secondary—the 860 passing yards and the six touchdowns allowed. Perhaps the mistake Veach and the Chiefs made was more so thinking they had something worthwhile in cornerback David Amerson—an admitted failed plan.

Regardless of the offseason thinking, what we do know is that Veach loved Watkins, and he was unwilling to let him go anywhere else once he became available.

“The thing about Sammy Watkins is he is a good fit for anybody,” Veach said back on March 14. “And don’t let the production fool you.”

Watkins had 25 touchdowns in his four-year career with the Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Rams, but the last time he had broken 600 receiving yards was 2015.

Veach asked fans and analysts to look past the numbers.

“If you watch the tape, the guy is open all the time. Literally, open on the time,” Veach said. “You are talking about 6-0 and change, 4.38 (40-yard dash), tremendous hands, ball skills, really a refined player. There really isn’t anything you can’t do. Now, he had some injuries and bounced around a couple different places and sometimes it takes some time to develop a cohesive deal with the quarterback and the offense and the rhythm and the timing. You talk about a full offseason with this guy, it is going to be exciting.

“From a skill standpoint, he was the best player on our board in free agency. We felt when the free agency period, and it is still going on, but when we left that first down, leaving with all the information we had, we feel like we are leaving with the best player that was on the board overall.”

And that could still prove to be true—I realize we are only two weeks into this thing. For what it’s worth, I do think the move may look like an outstanding one in 2019, when the Chiefs’ books open up.

But right here, right now, it’s still 2018, and with the offense looking this good, I worry about the prospect of the Chiefs being so close and the defense just not being good enough.

We all know how small the margin of error can be in the NFL. The cliché when it comes to the playoffs featuring (usually) the best 12 football teams in the world isn’t offense wins championships.

Of course, my concern with the Watkins deal only heightened when he showed little sign of in-game production through the preseason and Week 1. But last week, Watkins finally broke through for six receptions and 100 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“It was just a matter of time,” Reid said Monday. “That’s going to happen. We have a lot of guys out there so the quarterback is spreading it around. Somewhere, he’s going to be the one that’s open and not have as many people on him. That was the case, he took advantage of it.”

It was the 12th time Watkins reached at least 100 receiving yards in a game in his career.

“I knew eventually I was going to open up and settle down and get used to—just making plays,” Watkins said on Wednesday. “I think that was just good for this offense and myself—just to know I can go out there and make plays and we can go out there and all contribute to the game no matter what, how many targets or yards. I feel like the offense definitely put on a show.”

Watkins also appreciated the support of his head coach.

“We look at many games and it’s [people saying], ‘Oh he’s not getting these yards. Well this guy got 200 and two TDs, and we got a win,’” he said. “I’ve been dropped out in Buffalo. I’m not a statistics guy. I’m really about winning, and that’s all that’s left.”

It’s a simple thought—being all about winning, but I think that could be the key to this whole thing.

At this stage, year six of the Reid era, if the Chiefs win enough with Watkins in 2018 to make the playoffs and an AFC title game, I think so much transpires during the course of 16 football games where you could say, ‘OK. The Watkins deal was a success. Let’s really see what can happen with an improved defense in 2019.’

But let’s say, with a top-five, or worse, a top-three (or even a top-one) offense, the Chiefs miss the playoffs or lose another divisional round game—this time by a score of 45-38.

I believe this is the deal we’ll revisit.

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