The Buffalo Bills have elected not to exercise the fifth-year option on wide receiver Sammy Watkins, according to a report by NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport and another by ESPN insider Adam Schefter. With the decision, Watkins is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2017 season.
Despite Watkins being a well known player - mostly because of his stellar college career - today’s news was expected, with a report from Vic Carucci of The Buffalo News suggesting that it was coming. When healthy, Watkins has looked like the number one receiver the Bills have long desired, but healthy is the operative keyword - and the option was guaranteed for injury. So if Watkins, who missed time the past two seasons including most of 2016, were to get injured again and be unable to pass a physical, then the Bills would be on the hook for the roughly $13 million of the option in 2018.
Again, Buffalo’s decision shouldn’t come as a surprise to even Watkins himself. Carucci’s report emerged on Day 2 of the NFL draft, just moments after the Bills drafted fellow wideout Zay Jones. On top of that, the Bills recently canned general manager Doug Whaley, the man who spearheaded the decision to trade up in the first round of the 2014 draft to get Watkins.
Declining the option, however does not mean that Watkins and the Bills will necessarily split at the end of the upcoming season. There’s precedent for players around the league re-upping with the clubs that drafted them even though their fifth-year options were declined. Since the new CBA was signed, five players have ultimately gone on to re-up with the team that originally drafted them:
- Mo Claiborne - signed 1-year deal
- Whitney Mercilus - signed extension
- Nick Perry - signed 1-year deal, signed extension with Packers
- Doug Martin - signed extension
- Mark Ingram - signed extension
In other words, we’re still far from knowing how this situation will ultimately play out.