It’s unclear whether the Kansas City Chiefs were ever interested in trading Sammy Watkins at all, but the market was going to make things difficult, if so.
The smoke has finally cleared.
The uncertain fog surrounding the future of Sammy Watkins—the same cloud that made Watkins say he just needed time away from it all—has lifted and revealed a newly restructured one-year contract in place of the three-year contract signed in 2017. The new deal is cheaper for the Chiefs, yet much proportional to Watkins’ impact and production. It’s also incentive filled to keep Watkins quite rich among his peers if he performs as hoped.
Until the early morning deal was reached, no one was quite what the Chiefs would do with Watkins—including the player himself. Any public-facing officials from the team’s side said all the right things about wanting Watkins back. The player himself even insinuated he might be willing to take a pay cut earlier this offseason.
When both sides posture themselves in such ways, an agreement is typically able to be worked out.
Yet through it all, it seemed realistic to believe that all options were on the table. The Chiefs had three basic choices in front of them:
- Restructure Watkins, as they did.
- Release Watkins, resulting in a $7 million hit in dead space but also a gain of $14M against the current cap.
- Trade Watkins.
The argument for release was really quite simple and straightforward. Every Super Bowl team (and every team, really) faces a painful reality of watching talented players leave as the entire roster becomes more expensive. It’s parity and par for the NFL’s course. The Chiefs have been flirting with the cap ceiling for quite some time—even at a hilarious $177 in cap space recently—so releasing a big name is what teams must do at times.
On the flip side, the possibility of a trade was always floated in hopes that some team with cap space would be willing to take on Watkins’ massive contract—or even work with him to extend it and create a more realistic longer-term structure. In return, the hope was that the Chiefs would get at least some other draft asset in a loaded class in which they only have five total selections to date.
Unfortunately, that was never going to work out for a number of reasons:
First, some teams who were in major need of a top-tier wide receive import took care of their needs early with trades. The Buffalo Bills paid just short of a king’s ransom in draft assets for Stefon Diggs, while the Arizona Cardinals were somehow able to fleece the Houston Texans for DeAndre Hopkins. Not only were the Bills and Cards off the market to supply their young quarterbacks with a new target, but it also created a weird market in terms of expected returns (given how little Zona paid for Nuk).
Second, Watkins himself wasn’t in the same ballpark as Hopkins or Diggs. If Watkins had put up 1,000 yards last season with Tyreek Hill missing several games, the story might have been different. Instead, Watkins definitely proved his worth with another incredible postseason run, but teams like Arizona and Buffalo were searching for an unmistakable WR1.
Third, even with Hopkins and Diggs officially moved, the market was still fairly loaded with options. The Philadelphia Eagles have been openly searching for a taker for Alshon Jeffery for a while. The latest rumors also place Brandin Cooks squarely on the trade block with the Los Angeles Rams. When similarly talented receivers are also being freely offered, it doesn’t exactly help with potential returns for Watkins.
Finally, in less than a month, all 32 teams will be able to select freely from an incredibly gifted draft class loaded at one position in particular: wide receiver. It’s possible that multiple Pro Bowlers emerge from this single class and that dozens of solid contributors are found, even into Day 3 of the draft. At the very least, a trade involving Watkins (and likely Cooks and/or Jeffery) wasn’t going to happen until teams knew where they stood post-draft.
The Chiefs did very well to restructure Watkins deal in the end. Releasing him would create a void at WR2 that could be filled in the regular season but would be missing when it matters most. At the same time, trading him was likely never going to happen. Instead, the Chiefs have returned the majority of starters who delivered the first Super Bowl win in 50 years. Perhaps they’ll do it again several months from now.