This time last year, wide receiver Sammy Watkins was pondering whether he would be playing in his final game for the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV against the San Francisco 49ers. Watkins had called joining the Chiefs the “best decision of his life,” but he was due for a cap hit of $21 million in the final year of his three-year contract.
Watkins caught five passes for 98 yards — including a key 38-yard catch over 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman — in the Super Bowl victory. The wide receiver entered the offseason with his first ring.
With plenty of contract work ahead, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach could not afford to keep Watkins at his cap rate. After some back and forth and some player posturing, the team and Watkins restructured the final year of his deal to provide additional cap room.
Watkins produced in 2020 when available, but hamstring and calf injuries limited him to only 10 regular-season games. Watkins finished fifth on the team in regular-season receiving, behind Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson.
The calf injury cost him both Chiefs postseason games, but things are looking up for this Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And the Chiefs could use him — their offense always clicks a tick better when he is on the field.
“He compliments everyone as far as our receiving group goes,” Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said back on November 27. “We got different body types, we got guys that present different issues, he’s a bigger body. The thing is, he’s smart, he’s intelligent, he plays hard, he’s a great guy, he’s a professional so he brings a lot to the table.”
Though that is true, this offseason is a bit different than last, as Watkins is due to become an unrestricted free agent. The Chiefs need to continue to be strategic with their cap, so there is little chance they could bring back Watkins at what would be his market rate. So for a long time, it has been assumed that this would (again) be his last game as a Chief.
But not so fast. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Watkins did not rule out a team-friendly deal to return to the Chiefs in 2021.
“You never know,” he said. “I would say, let’s win this Super Bowl and [then] see where my head be. I think I make better decisions when things are right. I think if we win the Super Bowl, it would definitely be something to think about and definitely be something to talk to my wife and kids and think about coming back, but you never know.”
Watkins knows an alternative could mean more production but less success.
Sammy Watkins on staying with the #Chiefs for less— Hayley Lewis (@HayleyLewisKSHB) February 2, 2021
"I could be on another team, getting a 1,000 yards and losing or I could be winning and not have the stats...I could say I have two rings...that's all the matters, being on a championship team"#SuperBowl #ChiefsKingdom
Watkins’ Tuesday words are music to the ears of the Chiefs’ coaching staff.
“It starts at the top with coach (Andy) Reid and works its way down through [Eric Bieniemy] and myself and then to the team,” said Chiefs wide receivers coach Greg Lewis. “Our guys — all we want to do is win. That’s the ultimate goal. Whatever it takes for us to win games and to win championships, that’s what we ultimately want to do. And that’s the message that gets sent across the team and into the receiving room as well as into the offense.
“To have guys like Sammy talking about being selfless and wanting to win, that’s what’s important. At the end of the day, you’re not going to get thee opportunities again. Let’s make the most of them, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Watkins has grown so fond of the idea of staying that he is already thinking about what the end of next season may be like if he chooses to stay in red and gold.
“Would I love a third ring? For sure,” he said. “I think it would definitely something to think about as far as my future and what I want to do as far as coming back. I would definitely not say no about it. Me and my wife have talked many times and my family and my parents [say], ‘Hey man, would you come back and win a third one?’ Yeah, I mean I don’t mind, but I definitely would have to sit there and think about it and go over with my kids and see what my future holds.”
There is another side to this, of course — and that is whether Veach and the Chiefs desire to bring him back. So far, it sounds like they do.
“Sammy is a big part of this offense,” said Veach on Tuesday, via ESPN. “When he’s healthy, we’re better. If there’s a way we can make it work again, we’ll certainly try to do that. I love having him around.’’
Watkins is 27 — and he will be 28 when the season begins next fall. Compensation will once again need to be agreed upon and the opportunity will need to be there.
Wide receivers Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle have shown signs they may be ready to be more regular contributors in 2021 — and this year’s NFL Draft is rich in wide receiver talent.