A couple of days before the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, their wide receiver Sammy Watkins raised a few eyebrows with an interview he gave to NFL.com.
Watkins said that he wanted to stay with the team until head coach Andy Reid retires — which might not be any time soon. If that doesn’t happen, Watkins said, he might have to “take my dreams somewhere else.”
But Watkins also said he wouldn’t rule out the possibility that he’d consider a pay cut to stay with the team, which his other comments made clear he considers to be a good environment for him. And like the advanced reptilian solar being he is, Watkins even said he’d consider taking this season off if the Chiefs won the Super Bowl.
Speaking to the press at the NFL Scouting Combine, head coach Andy Reid was asked if he had talked to Watkins since that interview.
“I have,” replied Reid. “Sammy’s in a good place. I’m not exactly sure what he meant by that; I didn’t read it — or see it. But I have talked to him, and he’s in a great place.”
This matters because in the third and final year of his contract, Watkins will have a cap hit worthy of a Lizard King: $21 million. That includes a $14 million salary and $7 million in dead money already paid to Watkins with his signing bonus in 2018.
But that $14 million salary — much less the $7 million in dead money — is a lot for any team to absorb for a wideout who has gained 1,192 yards and scored six touchdowns over the last two seasons. It would be especially difficult for the cap-strapped Chiefs, who also want to find a way to secure a big contract with defensive tackle Chris Jones — and still have room to make what will likely be a history-making deal with quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
The Chiefs, however, are aware that Watkins has value beyond his regular-season stats — which general manager Brett Veach had noted after Watkins’ game-sealing touchdown reception against the Tennessee Titans in the AFC championship just over a month ago.
“When you make offseason moves and you are as aggressive as we are, you do it for games like this — not so much for the regular season,” said Veach. “When you get in these opportunities to play championship football, [you] have [to have] these guys come through.”
And during his time with the Chiefs, Watkins has done exactly that. In five postseason games, he’s gained 464 yards on 24 catches. That’s the equivalent to a 1,500-yard season.
Whether that disparity between his regular and postseason production is the result of teams playing more attention to the team’s primary receivers when the season is on the line — or perhaps some extra effort Watkins is able to give in the playoffs — is unknown. But when Veach took his turn at the podium on Tuesday, he made it clear the Chiefs would like to continue to be the beneficiary of it.
“Sammy’s a guy that — like Chris Jones — we’re going to have dialogue this week,” he said. “There are certainly different options and different scenarios that could play out with him. He’s a guy that we do want back. Again... these are good problems to have. When you’ve won a Super Bowl, you obviously have a lot of good players — and they make a lot of money. But Sammy’s a guy that — as you mentioned — he’s been critical to our playoff success.”
Veach said he has a good relationship with Watkins’ agent Tory Dandy.
”We’ll sit down, talk about the landscape of where we are, what would make sense to us and how we could make this work. We’ll get feedback from them in regard to what they’re looking for. Hopefully we can bridge a gap and make something happen, [keeping] as many of these good players on our team as possible.”
It’s not impossible to imagine a two-year contract extension that could clear a significant amount of cap space in 2020 while still keeping Watkins’ cap hit relatively low through the 2022 season, in which he will be 29.
But if the two sides can’t reach such a deal, the Chiefs would have the option to trade Watkins, too. Watkins would be a solid No. 2 receiver on any number of NFL teams — perhaps even a No. 1 on others — and while he wouldn’t be likely to bring a large return in draft capital, anything would be useful to a team with only five picks in this April’s draft.
It all comes down to how serious Watkins really is about staying on the team. Shortly after arriving in training camp in 2018, he said that coming to the Chiefs had taken a lot of pressure from him.
“I don’t have to come here and be somebody that I’m not,” he said. “I’ve got great guys that are going to make plays, and I can feed off of those guys. I don’t have to make every catch and every play.”
Watkins returned to that theme in his pre-Super Bowl interview.
“Numbers may mean a lot to the world, but I don’t think that proves what I do for this team,” he said. “Me bringing the great energy every day, me being the person that I am... if you can value me off that, I think my value would be very high. I don’t think my value is all off scoring touchdowns or getting 1,000 yards receiving. I don’t think I’m valued like that.”
“I love Sammy’s attitude and his work ethic. He’s all business,” said Reid during that 2018 training camp. “He’s a quiet guy, but he’s all business. I love the way he goes about it. True pro.”
“They all understand there’s one ball and they all get it,” added Reid. “Sammy went out and ran a couple beautiful routes [today] where he didn’t get the ball, but ran them like he was gonna get it. He didn’t pull off at all. That’s a great thing when you have that kind of talent.“