Sammy Watkins

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.

Bills Decline WR Sammy Watkins’ Option

The Bills are declining Sammy Watkins‘ fifth-year option, ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter tweets. The move was expected, but we did not have confirmation of it until today. Sammy Watkins (vertical)

[RELATED: PFR’s Fifth-Year Option Decision Tracker]

Watkins has been great when on the field, but injuries have limited him to just 37 of 48 possible regular season games since entering the league. In 2016, he only appeared in eight contests.

Watkins is currently recovering from foot surgery and that was reportedly a major factor in Buffalo’s decision. If they exercised Watkins’ option and he suffered an injury, they would be saddled with him at a $13.26MM salary for 2018. Conversely, if he’s healthy and productive in 2017, they can retain him for another season via the franchise tag, which would cost an estimated $16MM.

In his three seasons, Watkins has averaged 66 catches, 1,064 yards, and seven touchdowns per 16 games. Unfortunately for Watkins and the Bills, he hasn’t played a full 16-game slate since his rookie season in 2014.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Fallout From Bills’ Front Office Shakeup

The Bills deciding to trade out of their No. 10 slot, when the Chiefs surrendered their 2018 first-rounder to headline a package that netted them Patrick Mahomes, indicated Doug Whaley was not going to be around much longer, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports notes. Buffalo moving down 17 spots — a move the Bills were believed to be pushing for prior to the draft — signaled a long-term plan more than one designed to help an embattled GM’s team win now. (However, Chiefs GM John Dorsey told B.J. Kissel of KCChiefs.com — Twitter link — Whaley was involved in talks that originated early this week.)

Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com notes the Bills’ chaotic front office situation goes back to 2014, when Terry and Kim Pegula took over and were surprised when Doug Marrone exercised an opt-out option that garnered him $4MM and left the Bills without a coach despite having completed a rare over-.500 season in 2014. The current Jaguars HC’s 9-7 campaign, aided the Patriots resting starters in Week 17 of that season, represents the most the Bills wins since 2004.

La Canfora notes Whaley has not gotten along especially well with any of his coaches, describing less-than-ideal relationships with both Marrone and Rex Ryan, and the one with Sean McDermott did not take off. Bill Polian declined to join the Bills in January of 2015, and La Canfora notes that decision kept Whaley in charge and helped lead to Marrone bolting on his contract.

Now running the show in Buffalo, McDermott was not happy the Patriots plucked Stephon Gilmore in free agency, La Canfora writes. The RFA decisions on Chris Hogan and Mike Gillislee did not help, either. The CBS-based reporter notes some of Pegula’s confidants advised him to fire Whaley years ago. The Bills signed Whaley to an extension last year, however.

A source categorized the Bills’ draft room this weekend as “one of the weirdest three days,” per Breer, due to the fact a leadership component wasn’t entirely present. McDermott, though, was the one who was providing the final say, Breer reports. The first-year HC was given autonomy to remove prospects from the draft board as well. Pegula said today Whaley put together the draft and the organization decided to fire him after the three-day event, Mike Rodak of ESPN.com relays.

Scouts were upset with Ryan’s program last year, Breer notes, adding that Bills coaches felt some of Whaley’s draft decisions — be it the trade-up for Sammy Watkins or selection of injury-risk Shaq Lawson — didn’t fit the schemes they were using. As for Watkins, it’s possible the Bills made his injury situation worse. Breer reports that the wideout’s foot injury was too severe for him to complete walkthroughs, but no one put a stop to his comeback attempt, and the pain worsened as he pushed through it to lead to a two-month shutdown. Watkins returned for the final six games but only cleared 80 receiving yards twice, albeit on a run-centric team. Already rumored to be set to decline Watkins’ fifth-year option, the Bills are probably more likely to go in that direction now that Whaley is gone, Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap tweets.

Further complicating things with McDermott: Anthony Lynn was Whaley’s first HC choice, according to Breer, and ownership went with the former Panthers DC — with whom Whaley did not have much of a relationship — while letting Lynn proceed to the Chargers’ job. Tyrod Taylor‘s return on an adjusted deal also went against Whaley’s wishes and was more in line with new OC Rick Dennison‘s. The latter was the Broncos’ OC when the team pursued Taylor in 2015.

As far as the selection of the next GM, the Pegulas might not lean on team president Russ Brandon too much, with Terry Pegula saying today the owners would ask Brandon questions if they believed they need to (Twitter link via Breer). Former Eagles president and Browns CEO Joe Banner understandably expects the new GM to be someone with close ties to McDermott, the longtime exec told Sirius XM Radio (Twitter link). Panthers assistant GM Brandon Beane could well become a candidate.

Bills Unlikely To Exercise Sammy Watkins’ Fifth-Year Option

The Bills have a decision to make on wide receiver Sammy Watkins‘ fifth-year option by May 3, and odds are they won’t exercise it, reports Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News (Twitter link).

Sammy Watkins (Vertical)

Watkins has been a stellar performer since going fourth overall in the 2014 draft, but injuries have limited the ex-Clemson star to just 37 of 48 regular-season games, including only eight in 2016. Watkins is currently recovering from foot surgery, which is a key reason why the Bills probably won’t pick up his option, per Carucci. Fifth-year options are guaranteed for injury only, so the Bills don’t want to potentially tie themselves to Watkins for $13.26MM in 2018 if they’re unsure of his health. In the event he’s healthy next offseason, the Bills would have the option of placing the franchise tag on an unsigned Watkins for roughly $16MM.

For at least next season, Watkins will team with the club’s newly minted second-round pick, Zay Jones, to comprise the Bills’ top two receivers. Thus far in his career, the 23-year-old Watkins has averaged 66 catches, 1,064 yards and seven touchdowns per 16 games. Unfortunately for Watkins and the Bills, he hasn’t played a 16-game slate since his rookie season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Bills Debating Watkins’ Fifth-Year Option

The Bills only have several weeks to decide whether they’ll pick up Sammy Watkins fifth-year option, and Sal Capaccio of WGR550.com reports that the organization is still debating whether they’ll make the move. According to the writer, the team is especially wary of the fact that the option is guaranteed against injury.

Sammy Watkins (Vertical)The option would cost the Bills around $13MM against the cap for the 2018 season, although Capaccio notes that the team could pick up the option and subsequently negotiate a lower value via a long-term contract. Watkins has participated in rehab with the team over the past couple of weeks after undergoing foot surgery, and both the front office and head coach Sean McDermott are set to meet with the medical staff to get an update on the wideout’s progress.

Picking up the option seems likely, and the Bills would still have some flexibility. The option wouldn’t be guaranteed (except for injury) until the 2018 offseason, so if Watkins struggles next season, they team isn’t obligated to pay him that money. If the team decides to not pick up the fifth-year option, they could still retain the receiver via the franchise tag. Capaccio estimates that the franchise tag for wideouts will be around $16.5MM next offseason.

Watkins struggled through a foot injury in 2016, and the wideout ended up missing half the season. He finished the campaign with only 28 receptions for 430 yards and two touchdowns. The former first-rounder also missed three games during the 2015 season, but he still managed to haul in 60 receptions for 1,047 yards and nine scores.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.