Sammy Watkins

Rams Leaning Toward Tagging Joyner?

The Rams made a deal to add a snazzy new piece to their secondary on Friday by agreeing to trade for Marcus Peters, and while this figures to relocate Trumaine Johnson, the other key UFA in Los Angeles’ defensive backfield might not be going anywhere.

If it’s between Lamarcus Joyner or Sammy Watkins as to which player the Rams will use their franchise tag on, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com reports the team is leaning toward Joyner as of Friday.

The goal remains to reach a long-term agreement with one of the two UFAs in order to keep the other player via the tag, Garafolo notes. The looming Aaron Donald contract could complicate that strategy, but the Rams appear to be interested in retaining both Joyner and Watkins for 2018.

A tag for Joyner would be the cheaper course of action, with a safety tag expected to cost $11.08MM. A Watkins tag would be pricey, locking him down for $16.23MM. The Rams, though, invested more in Watkins by trading a second-round pick and E.J. Gaines. But the former Bills first-round pick struggled to assimilate in Los Angeles, although eight of his 39 catches ended in touchdowns.

Joyner was a 2014 second-rounder and hadn’t started more than eight games in a season until his contract year, when he started 12 and had a strong season. On a safety market flooded with talent, Joyner may be the top UFA if he reaches the market. With the Dolphins tagging Jarvis Landry and the Jaguars possibly set to tag Allen Robinson, Watkins would surely also fare well on the open market.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

2018 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates

Starting today, NFL teams will be able to place franchise and transition tags on potential free agents for the first time. While the window for franchise tags is open, most clubs won’t actually tag any players right away.

As our list of important dates for the 2018 offseason shows, the deadline for teams to assign those tags doesn’t come until Tuesday, March 6. Usually, when it comes to NFL contract discussions, deadlines spur action, so teams will wait until that deadline approaches to officially use franchise tags, once it becomes clear that they won’t be able to strike a longer-term deal yet with their respective free-agents-to-be.

Even though the action might not heat up for a couple more weeks, it’s worth taking a closer look at what to expect during 2018’s franchise tag period. The NFL hasn’t officially announced the salary cap figure for 2017, but OverTheCap.com recently projected the 2018 franchise tag salaries based on a presumed $178MM cap. Here are the expected non-exclusive franchise tag amounts:

  • Quarterback: $23.09MM
  • Running back: $11.72MM
  • Wide receiver: $16.23MM
  • Tight end: $10.36MM
  • Offensive line: $14.54MM
  • Defensive end: $17.52MM
  • Defensive tackle: $14.53MM
  • Linebacker: $15.47MM
  • Cornerback: $14.88MM
  • Safety: $11.08MM
  • Punter/kicker: $5.06MM

(For a refresher on the characteristics of the exclusive and non-exclusive franchise tags, as well as the transition tag, be sure to check out PFR’s glossary entry on the subject.)

Here’s our look at the most likely candidates to be tagged, along with several more outside possibilities:

Virtual Locks:

  • Le’Veon Bell, RB, Steelers: Last offseason, things got pretty weird between the Steelers and Bell. Just before the deadline to extend franchise tagged players, the Steelers believed that they had agreed on a five-year offer worth roughly $60MM. Ultimately, Bell backed out because he did not find the guarantees and cash flow to be to his liking. Soon after, friend and former teammate Ike Taylor said that Bell wanted a contract that reflects his performance as both a No. 1 back and a No. 2 receiver – something in the neighborhood of $15MM per year. Le'Veon Bell (vertical) This year, Bell topped his 75 catch total with 85 grabs, so one has to imagine that his position hasn’t changed. Despite some retirement threats in January, Bell has indicated that talks are going better this time around. Here’s where things get interesting – the Steelers say that today (Feb. 20) is the “deadline” for a long-term deal to get signed. If not, they’ll go ahead and franchise tag him for a second consecutive season, leaving Bell with a one-year, $14.5MM pact when factoring in the 20% increase. Will Bell buckle and sign a deal that isn’t quite to his satisfaction? In theory, the running back could abstain from offseason activities and even reboot retirement talk in an effort to get the Steelers to cave and abide by the real extension deadline on July 16.
  • Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Cowboys: It has already been reported that the Cowboys will go ahead and tag Lawrence to prevent him from reaching free agency. Once that happens, you can expect the cash-strapped Cowboys to get to work on an extension that will smooth out the $17.5MM cap hit for defensive ends. There won’t be much drama as to whether the Cowboys will or won’t tag Lawrence, but the subsequent multi-year negotiations will be interesting to watch. Lawrence had a rocky first three seasons in the NFL, but he stepped up big in his contract year with 14.5 sacks. The Cowboys must be willing to pay Lawrence like a top DE, but they may insist on protections like an easy escape hatch or heavy roster bonuses in the event that he is injured or suspended.

Strong Candidates:

  • Sammy Watkins, WR, Rams: As our own Micah Powell explained on Sunday, Watkins is a candidate for the tag with mutual interest on both sides in continuing their union. Committing major dollars to Watkins is dicey, however, given his injury history and his somewhat disappointing stat line in 2017. If the Rams let Watkins hit the open market, they’ll risk losing him to other teams with more wiggle room under the salary cap. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. And in a weak crop of free agent wide receivers, Watkins could clean up and leave the Rams without an obvious replacement.Sammy Watkins (vertical)
  • Allen Robinson, WR, Jaguars: Tagging Watkins will be a tough call for the Rams and the Jaguars have a similarly difficult decision to make when it comes to Robinson. Robinson played only three snaps in 2017 before going down with a torn ACL and he didn’t set the world on fire in 2016. However, his 2015 performance – 80 catches, 1,400 yards, and a league-leading 14 touchdowns – makes it hard for Jacksonville to let him walk. In theory, the Jaguars could re-sign fellow free agent Marqise Lee and let Robinson go, but Robinson is clearly the more talented of the two and one could argue that Lee’s late-season emergence was fueled by advantageous matchups. It’ll be pricey, but the Jaguars are suddenly in position to win and they can’t afford to let one of their best weapons bolt.

Toss Up:

  • Kyle Fuller, CB, Bears: Frankly, I’m conflicted on this one. I’m sure Bears GM Ryan Pace can relate. Fuller turned in a strong rookie campaign and an excellent contract year, but he was a victim of the sophomore jinx and an unfortunate knee injury which cost him his entire season as an NFL junior. Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com hears that Fuller will not be with the Bears this year. But, considering that Fuller graded out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 22 ranked cornerback and the position is already a major area of need for the team, the Bears have to at least think about tagging him for $14.88MM. Kyle Fuller (Vertical)
  • Ezekiel Ansah, DE, Lions: Ansah has performed pretty well over the last two seasons, despite playing through some serious pain. The Lions probably aren’t thrilled about extending a one-year, $17.5MM tender to Ansah, but pressure generating edge rushers like him are at a premium. Consider this: Ansah tallied 12 sacks last year despite knee, ankle, and back ailments. Only seven players topped that total: Chandler Jones, Calais Campbell, DeMarcus Lawrence, Everson Griffen, Cam Jordan, Ryan Kerrigan, and Joey Bosa.
  • Case Keenum, QB, Vikings: Is one year as an elite quarterback enough to justify the franchise tag? Maybe, but the Vikings have options at their disposal, including two other pending free agents already on the roster. If the Vikings can’t retain Keenum or Bradford or Bridgewater with a reasonable multi-year deal between now and free agency, they can use their mountain of cap space to get involved in the Cousins sweepstakes.
  • Sheldon Richardson, DT, Seahawks: The Jets had both Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson under contract, but they could only afford to pay one of the two defensive linemen. Clearly, they chose wrong. For all of the headaches that Richardson gave the team, the five-year, $86MM deal given to Wilkerson wound up being a monumental mistake and will continue to be an albatross for the Jets even after they cut him this offseason. The Seahawks gave up a second-round choice and wide receiver Jermaine Kearse to get Richardson – will they make the same mistake and let him get away? Perhaps not, but it would also be a major gamble to tag him at $14.5MM with limited cap space and other holes to address. The best course of action here may be to try and work out a fresh deal without the franchise tag as a floor for Richardson’s camp. If that fails and the two sides can’t come to terms, the Seahawks can at least collect a 2019 compensatory pick.

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Franchise Tag Candidate: Sammy Watkins

The Rams pulled off a blockbuster move leading up to the 2017 season, trading defensive back E.J. Gaines and a second-round pick in 2018 to the Bills in exchange for former first-round receiver Sammy Watkins and a sixth-round selection in 2018. "<strong

The move was a mixed bag for Los Angeles. On the one hand, Watkins led the team with eight receiving touchdowns, averaged 15.2 yards per reception and helped the Rams post the No. 1 scoring offense in the league. On the other hand, however, the fourth-year wideout made only 39 receptions on the season and ranked fourth on the team with 593 yards. The thought is that the receiver will benefit of a full offseason with the high-powered offense.

“I just think he got on a roll with the guys that [Jared Goff] had during OTAs, and once a guy is used to throwing it to someone else, he throws to his guys,” Watkins said. “It’s just part of the game where you need more time, or maybe another year.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Watkins would like the remain with the Rams and that they would like to have him back. His proficiency on vertical routes opens up the middle of the field for chain movers like Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, and frees up space in the flats for Todd Gurley. What could hold the team back from tagging the explosive wideout is twofold. First, the cost to franchise tag a receiver is projected to be $16.2 MM, according to overthecap.com. That’s a hefty price to pay for a receiver who has missed 12 games in the last three seasons and didn’t show much in 2018. The second reason is that the Rams are also debating placing the franchise tag on safety Lamarcus Joyner. That would only cost Los Angeles a projected $11 MM.

In 2018, Pro Football Focus rated Watkins the No. 33 receiver in the NFL with a grade of 76.2, tying him with Ted Ginn. The site also published a piece on the receiver, detailing how his touchdown rate — 11.43 — is almost impossible to replicate. From the in-depth article:

So, from 2007 to 2016, 60 players had a 10-percent touchdown rate on 50-plus targets. Of those 60, two (2012-13 Danario Alexander and 2013-14 Marvin Jones) did not play at all the next season. So 58, then. Those 58 players averaged 10.8 touchdowns on 87.12 targets (12.7 percent). A year later, that same group averaged 5.5 touchdowns on 83.8 targets (6.8 percent). Essentially, guys who score touchdowns at a 10-percent rate one year see that rate cut in half the next.

There is no doubting the talent Watkins possesses. If he can recapture and build on his success from his Buffalo days, there is no doubt the Clemson product has the potential to be an 80-catch, 1,200-yard, 10-touchdown receiver in one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL.

As detailed earlier on Pro Football Rumors, receiver is not one of the Rams’ most pressing needs entering the 2018 offseason. With Woods, Cupp and the emerging Josh Reynolds, Los Angeles appears set with plenty of talent at the position. With a projected $51 MM in cap space, however, the team could afford to bring back Watkins for another year to see if Watkins can live up to his projected playmaker status coming out of college.

The choice is a boom-or-bust one for the Rams. Do they think he is likely to emerge as a No. 1 pass catcher in a potent attack with a full season working with Goff in the books? Or do they think that 2018 is the beginning of a trend rather than an outlier?

 

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Rams Notes: Donald, Watkins, Johnson

The Rams’ offseason plans hinge greatly on getting an extension done with All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald. However, team general manager Les Snead will not specify if he is the “first or last domino to fall,” ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez writes.

“What I do know is he is an important domino,” Snead said. It is likely Donald will become the highest-paid defender at some point this offseason, and the signing will dictate much of what the Rams can do with the rest of their salary cap.

Gonzalez also notes that a deal might have to wait until after Oakland resigns Khalil Mack for talks to begin to get serious. One of the frontrunners for 2017 Defensive Player of the Year, Donald is set to make $6.89MM in 2018, which is half of what Mack, who was taken eight spots higher than him in the 2014 NFL Draft, is expected to make.

Whenever Donald does ink a deal, there is no doubt he will be worth the pay raise. In his four seasons, the Pitt product has earned four Pro Bowl selections and has been named First Team All-Pro in each of the last three seasons. In 2017, Donald tied his career high with 11 sacks and furthered his reputation as the game’s top interior pass rusher.

Here is more from the Rams:

  • Gonzalez writes that using a franchise or transition tag on Sammy Watkins makes sense. Acquired by the Rams prior to the start of the 2017 campaign, Watkins provided a decent season eight touchdown grabs but only saw 67 targets. Another year in the high-powered offense will allow the fourth-year wideout to reach his potential after developing a better rapport with quarterback Jared Goff. The Rams traded a 2018 second-round pick and E.J. Gaines to the Bills for Watkins, and it would make sense they would want to see their investment for a full year in their system.
  • Snead can definitely see a scenario in which Trumaine Johnson returns to the team in 2018, Gonzalez reports. With Kayvon Webster out with an Achilles injury, it would make sense for the Rams to explore all options with the sixth-year cornerback. Gonzalez notes they would have to pay him like a top cornerback.
  • If Donald gets an extension, Watkins and Lamarcus Joyner are tagged, and Johnson is resigned, Gonzales thinks the team would look at parting with Robert Quinn or Mark Barron to make ends meet.

AFC Notes: Bills, Dolphins, Bengals

Bills head coach Sean McDermott admitted it’s a “fair question” as to whether Buffalo would have traded Sammy Watkins had they known fellow wide receiver Anquan Boldin would soon retire, according to Mike Rodak of ESPN.com (multiple links). Although McDermott referred to the two transactions as “separate entities,” Boldin announced his retirement just four days after the Bills shipped Watkins to the Rams for cornerback E.J. Gaines and a second-round selection. Of course, Buffalo also acquired pass-catcher Jordan Matthews on the same day it traded Watkins, and the Bills are “always” examining upgrades at wide receiver, per McDermott.

More from Buffalo and two other AFC cities:

  • The season-ending injury to cornerback Tony Lippett will have consequences for the Dolphins not only for the upcoming season, but for the 2018 campaign, argues Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald. Lippett, a collegiate wide receiver, had taken a massive leap as a defensive back in 2016, playing nearly three-quarters of Miami’s defensive snaps. While Lippett’s development may have allowed the Dolphins to release Byron Maxwell next spring (clearing his $10MM cap charge), the club may not have that option given the uncertainty surrounding Lippett’s health.
  • Reporters peppered Bills linebacker Reggie Ragland with questions on Tuesday about whether he’s a trade candidate, according to Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News. As one would expect, Ragland suggested that he’s not worried about rumors and noted that he’s “got to keep getting better,” though it’s nonetheless an open question as to whether he’s a fit in the Bills’ defense. The Bills chose Ragland in the second round of the 2016 draft after a costly trade up, but he missed his rookie season with a torn ACL and is now under the thumb of a new administration in Buffalo. The Doug WhaleyRex Ryan duo responsible for the Ragland pick is gone, as is the Bills’ previous 3-4 scheme. Ragland has languished in a third-team role in Buffalo’s 4-3 alignment this preseason under Ryan’s replacement, McDermott, leading Pro Football Rumors’ Dallas Robinson to observe last week that the ex-Alabama star could be in another uniform soon.
  • Bengals cornerback Adam Jonesone-game suspension is now official, ESPN’s Field Yates tweets. The 33-year-old’s ban, which the league handed down in July, came after he was charged with three misdemeanors and a felony stemming from a January arrest. Jones was able to avoid jail time and a lengthy suspension after pleading guilty to a lesser offense. He’ll miss the Bengals’ season opener against AFC North rival Baltimore.

Dallas Robinson and Connor Byrne contributed to this post.

NFC West Notes: Rams, Watkins, Seahawks

Here’s a look at the NFC West:

  • The Rams started discussing a Sammy Watkins trade with the Bills in the spring when they declined to exercise his fifth-year option in the spring, L.A. GM Les Snead told SiriusXM (Twitter link). The Watkins deal came completely out of left field, so it’s impressive that the two sides were able to keep rumblings of the deal out of the media for four months. The Rams acquired Watkins and a 2018 sixth-round selection in exchange for for cornerback E.J. Gaines and a 2018 second-round pick. Los Angeles has already expressed interest in inking him to an extension.
  • Tramaine Brock‘s one-year deal with the Seahawks is for the minimum salary, Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times tweets. In the days leading up to his deal with Seattle, we heard that Brock had interest from as many as a dozen teams. Since Brock will only be making the minimum, it sounds either like the level of interest league-wide was overstated or Brock took less money from a quality team like the Seahawks in order to give himself a better platform for free agency next year.
  • 49ers GM John Lynch says he has spoken with Broncos GM John Elway about which players might be available in trades (Twitter link via Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area). Lynch offered no specifics, so we don’t know which players were discussed or how close the two sides were/are to a deal.

NFC Rumors: Watkins, Elliott, Eagles

Sammy Watkins addressed his contract situation for the first time as a Rams employee on Saturday. Rams GM Les Snead said Friday he hopes to sign the recent trade acquisition to an extension and avoid a one-and-done scenario for the former first-round pick. But it doesn’t sound like Watkins is especially anxious to discuss a new deal just yet. The former Bills No. 1 target may be willing to take his chances he can enhance his stock this season.

I gotta handle my business and control what I can control. If I go out there and have a year that I’m expecting to have, then we can talk contract,” Watkins said, via Alden Gonzalez of ESPN.com. “But I still gotta go out there and do my job and let those guys handle the paperwork, contracts, numbers.”

Watkins is a free agent after this season. Plenty of dominoes could fall to rearrange the marketplace between now and free agency, though. Joining Watkins as walk-year receivers are DeAndre Hopkins, Jarvis Landry, Alshon Jeffery, Terrelle Pryor, Jordan Matthews, Allen Robinson and Davante Adams. Extensions for players in this group will affect the others. But Watkins is also coming off an injury-plagued season, so the 24-year-old pass-catcher staying healthy is probably his top obstacle in the path of a possible eight-figure-per-year deal. On that front, Watkins said (per Gonzalez, on Twitter) his foot is “100 percent healthy.”

Here’s the latest from the NFC:

  • The advisors who played a key role in the Ezekiel Elliott investigation did not recommend a specific suspension to Roger Goodell, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe reports. The commissioner handed out the six-game ban to the Cowboys running back in accordance with the December 2014 adjustment to the personal conduct policy that mandated a minimum six-game suspension for domestic violence. While Josh Brown managed to receive only a one-game ban for his alleged domestic-abuse incidents, the NFL followed its revised protocols in the Elliott case.
  • One off-field allegation appears to be in Elliott’s past, however. The accusation from a man who said Elliott broke his nose at a bar in July is closed, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said (via David Moore of the Dallas Morning News, on Twitter). McCarthy added the caveat of new evidence potentially prompting the league to revisit the matter, but for now, it’s closed. Local authorities closed this investigation shortly after the alleged incident occurred, with Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk pointing out the victim could not be located.
  • Carson Wentz did not appear to be pleased by the Eagles trading Matthews to the Bills. The second-year quarterback met with Howie Roseman just before news of the trade broke. “I spoke with Howie shortly before it was news. He told me is was already done,” Wentz said, per Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com. “He obviously knew how I felt with Jordan being one of my best friends. On the personal side it’s tough. He knew that, he was prepared for that and I told him that.” Matthews has been Philadelphia’s most reliable receiver over the past two seasons, leading Philly wideouts in receiving yards by comfortable margins in each. Shorr-Parks adds in a separate piece the Eagles will regret this trade. Of the players the Eagles are projected to start now, only Nelson Agholor is controlled past 2017. Shorr-Parks notes Jeffery’s injury history, Torrey Smith‘s rough 2016 season and the uncertainty surrounding Agholor don’t provide much certainty for this corps.
  • The draft choice the Eagles will receive in the Matthews/Ronald Darby swap is not a conditional third-rounder, as it was initially reported on the NFL transaction wire. The Eagles will send the Bills their third-round pick in 2018, Jeff McLane of Philly.com tweets.

Rams Eyeing Sammy Watkins Extension

The Rams received the highest-ceiling talent in Friday’s seminal trades, and Les Snead wants Sammy Watkins to stick around in Los Angeles long-term.

The sixth-year GM said he “definitely” wants to sign Watkins to an extension, telling Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, “he’s 24, so you don’t just do (this trade) for the now.”

Snead said the Rams were eyeing Watkins from the time the Bills decided not to pick up his fifth-year option in the spring. With Los Angeles now armed with multiple slot options in Tavon Austin and Cooper Kupp, and featuring newly acquired No. 2 wideout in Robert Woods, Sean McVay coveted a field-stretching presence for his first Rams offense, La Canfora writes.

It probably started a little bit in the spring as you’re talking to people and trying to improve your roster,” Snead said. “We started flirting with Buffalo and Sammy probably around the time when they didn’t put the fifth-year option on him and we didn’t put the fifth-year option on Greg (Robinson).

“And over time I had a conversation with Buffalo and then when Brandon Beane got the GM job we rekindled that a little bit during the summer and it came to fruition this week.”

The Rams traded a second-round pick and E.J. Gaines for Watkins, so the former No. 4 overall pick bolting after one season would not net the team a particularly good return on its investment.

Snead acknowledged Watkins’ medical history was a key discussion point before pulling the trigger on the trade with the Bills. But the Rams eventually signed off on it. Watkins missed eight games with a severe foot injury last season.

We definitely discussed it,” Snead said, “and I think it’s probably one of the reasons they didn’t put the fifth-year option on him. But when we dove into it we felt comfort taking the risk and making this move and going forward.”

With a quality season, Watkins will be a coveted commodity come 2018 if he makes it to free agency. The former Clemson star has two 975-plus-yard receiving campaigns to his credit but is coming off his worst season. It’s possible Watkins will want to wait to sign a deal in hopes of re-establishing top-market value or near that level with a good season, but the Rams could preempt that with a quality offer beforehand.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Reactions From Bills’ Two-Trade Day

The Bills reshaped their team and 2018 draft with two trades on Friday afternoon. Buffalo unloaded Sammy Watkins to the Rams for E.J. Gaines and a second-round pick. The Bills then shipped Ronald Darby to the Eagles for Jordan Matthews and a third-rounder. Here’s the latest fallout from these deals.

  • Eagles GM Howie Roseman said the team didn’t shop Matthews but acknowledged the fourth-year wideout being in trade rumors since March accelerated the actual trade. Roseman, per Zach Berman of Philly.com (on Twitter) said when trade rumors are out there, “people call.” Roseman added Darby — a 2015 second-round pick — having two years left on his rookie contract cemented the deal for the Eagles. “The big factor for us was we weren’t getting a free agent back, too,” Roseman said (via Berman, on Twitter). “We wouldn’t have done the trade if a player had one year left.”
  • A perpetual injury risk, Watkins seeing another team take a chance on him in a contract year indicates belief he can stay healthy, ESPN.com’s Stephania Bell tweets. Bell adds a member of the Bills medical staff is now with the Rams. Watkins missed eight games last season and three in 2015. He played in all 16 games as a rookie.
  • ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano picked up a vibe while visiting Eagles camp the team was worried about their cornerbacks, and he notes the team is high on 2015 first-round wideout Nelson Agholor as a late-blooming talent. Although, he added the caveat of Agholor’s camp emergence could partially be due to Philly’s substandard corner situation. Graziano adds the Bills were worried about being too young at corner as well. Buffalo has overhauled its cornerback corps this offseason, cutting Nickell Robey-Coleman, letting Stephon Gilmore defect to New England and now trading Darby. The Bills added Shareece Wright, Tre’Davious White, Leonard Johnson and now Gaines. Darby is the latest Bills corner to join the Eagles, following Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks. Graziano notes Darby is a higher-ceiling talent than anyone the Eagles previously had.
  • Graziano added Jordan Matthews not receiving a contract extension so many of his teammates did recently was a bad sign for his future in Philly. Berman points out (via Twitter) Alshon Jeffery is the receiver the Eagles will try to keep long-term. Jeffery signed a one-year deal with Philadelphia in March. A Matthews re-up may have gotten in the way of that for an Eagles team that’s seen the aforementioned extensions tie up its 2018 cap for the time being. The Eagles as of now are projected to have just $1MM in 2018 space.
  • The Rams were the only team to not receive a cornerback in these trades, but Wade Phillips is confident in his group. Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com notes (via Twitter) that means Kayvon Webster as well. The 2013 third-round pick’s a bit of an enigma in being buried behind Denver’s dominant trio for three seasons, but he’s in line to start in Los Angeles now. Robey-Coleman and Webster are now the top two candidates to play opposite Trumaine Johnson.
  • LeSean McCoy weighed in on the deal and praised his outgoing teammate while tabbing Matthews — his teammate in Philly for a year — as an inferior receiver to Watkins. “If you compare the two, it’s obvious you can agree who is better,” the Bills running back said, via Mike Rodak of ESPN.com. McCoy added (via Rodak) he can relate to Watkins being traded for a player who he’s “probably better than” from the Eagles-Bills 2015 swap of McCoy and Kiko Alonso.
  • Watkins was due a $2.4MM bonus last week, according to OverTheCap’s Jason Fitzgerald (on Twitter). He notes unless there was an unreported adjustment in the contract, the bonus was the Bills’, and not the Rams’, responsibility.

Bills Trade Sammy Watkins To Rams

In a blockbuster trade, the Bills have sent wide receiver Sammy Watkins and a 2018 sixth-round pick to the Rams in exchange for for cornerback E.J. Gaines and a 2018 second-round pick, Buffalo announced.Sammy Watkins (vertical)

[RELATED: Bills Acquire WR Jordan Matthews]

Los Angeles headed into the 2017 offseason with the goal of adding offensive weapons around second-year quarterback Jared Goff, and — when healthy — Watkins is a top-flight NFL wideout. After averaging 62 receptions for more than 1,000 and six touchdowns during his first two pro seasons, Watkins dealt with nagging injuries in 2016, and only managed 28 catches in eight appearances.

That lack of availability led Buffalo to decline its 2018 fifth-year option for Watkins, which would have paid him north of $13MM. As such, the Rams are acquiring Watkins as he enters his contract season, though they’ll certainly have options through which to retain him. The franchise tag will be on the table, and would allow Los Angeles to keep Watkins through at least 2018. Alternatively, the Rams could work out an extension with Watkins, something that’s presumably an ideal solution given the draft capital the club just sacrificed.

Watkins will now reunite with his former Bills teammate Robert Woods, who agreed to a free agent contract with the Rams this spring. Los Angeles also used several draft choices to upgrade a passing offense that ranked dead last in DVOA a season ago, selecting wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds while also adding tight end Gerald Everett in the second round.

Acquiring Watkins came at a price, however, as the Rams are not only giving up a 2018 second-round pick (a choice that, given the Rams’ current roster talent, could be a top-40 selection) but a young cornerback in Gaines. Gaines, 25, was a solid defender during his rookie campaign in 2014, missed the entirety of 2015 with an injury, and then struggled in 2016, grading as a bottom-four NFL corner, according to Pro Football Focus. Like Watkins, Gaines is entering the final year of his contract, during which he’ll earn $1.797MM.

For the Bills, this trade meshes with another deal struck by the club today in which Buffalo acquired wide receiver Jordan Matthews and sent cornerback Ronald Darby to the Eagles. Matthews, presumably, will be asked to replicate some form of Watkins’ production, while Gaines will be counted to start in place of Darby.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.