Moments after the Buffalo Bills made Zay Jones the 37th pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, Vic Carucci of The Buffalo News dropped a major nugget about another receiver the Bills traded up in the draft to pick by reporting that the team is “unlikely” to pick up the fifth-year option on Sammy Watkins.
The Bills have until May 2 to make the decision official. If they decided to pass, Watkins will be entering the final season of the rookie contract he signed after the Bills made him the fourth pick of the 2014 draft, the first receiver selected among a boatload of current and future Pro Bowlers.
It’s important to note exactly why the Bills are so reluctant to given Watkins that extra year: the final season is guaranteed for injury. Watkins has been dealing with a myriad of lower body injuries over the last two seasons, most notably a foot injury that landed him on injured reserve for half of last season. The fifth-year option for Watkins would come at a cost of $13 million, which is a lot of money to pay someone to recover from an injury.
Aside from Watkins, the receiving corps has been a black hole for the last few seasons. Presumably, the next three receivers on the depth chart (in some order) are Jones, Andre Holmes, and Philly Brown. Neither of them has so much as practiced with Tyrod Taylor yet. The team does have two first round picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, but it’s entirely possible that the Bills could be using one (or both) of them on Taylor’s replacement while leaving the receiving corps bare.
Even if the option is not picked up, it doesn’t necessarily mean Watkins is guaranteed to hit free agency. In fact, if the team were to pick the option up, it’s entirely possible (likely, even) that they might have worked out an extension prior to next season to lower the cap hit. Declining the option would create a sense of urgency, but it doesn’t guarantee Watkins’ departure.
We should be hearing something more definitive soon.