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Evaluating the Los Angeles Rams trade for WR Sammy Watkins: Was it worth it?

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Now that the season has come to a conclusion, it’s time to look back to the Rams’ trade with the Bills and decide if the payment matched the outcome.

Los Angeles Rams v Tennessee Titan Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

As the Los Angeles Rams’ 2017 season fades away, the time to look back and reflect grows even more near. As we begin to evaluate everything that took place, we can look not only at the game action itself but the specific personnel decisions that preceded it.

Prior to the eve of the season, the Rams made a blockbuster move to acquire talented but oft-injured WR Sammy Watkins from the Buffalo Bills. Earlier this season, I wrote a tape study taking a deeper dive into the impact that Watkins had on the offense. Now comes arguably the biggest question of the Rams offseason:

What should the Rams do with Sammy Watkins?

I believe it breaks down to multiple categories:

  • Re-sign him on a long-term deal
  • Apply a Franchise tag or transition tag to him for 2018 and come back to this in a year
  • Let him walk

What is the ideal scenario? What are the pros and cons of each?

Re-sign to a long-term deal

Some may see this as the best option. I don’t necessarily disagree.

Watkins was a top-five pick just a few years ago in the the 2014 NFL Draft. He’s still just 24-years old, and he finally put in a fully healthy season. Watkins is extremely talente; there shouldn’t be any question about that. The lack of production in the Rams’ system this year under first-year Head Coach Sean McVay raises the question of what he’s worth to the Rams specifically and not just in general.

Watkins had 39 receptions, 593 yards, and 8 touchdowns. It was clear the Rams did not use him to his full capabilities. That introduces more questions. Does the Rams offense need a real #1 WR talent-wise? Does the Rams offense need a top-flight WR to operate at optimum levels? We won’t really know the answers to those questions, but we can take a look at a potential price tag.

Green Bay Packers WR Davante Adams and Philadelphia Eagles WR Alshon Jeffery both signed long-term extensions with their respective teams in 2017:

Adams: 4 years, $58m, $30m guaranteed, $14.5m average per year
Jeffery: 4 years $52m, $26.75m guaranteed, $13m average per year

I think these baselines are quite a good representation of what Watkins will demand on a long-term deal, and what he can expect. Now, is Watkins worth $13-15 million dollars per year to the Rams? Can the Rams offense operate with a cheaper option? We don’t know, but we do know the general ballpark price that it will cost to retain Watkins’ services for many years.

A one-year tag

In 2017, the franchise tag price for a WR was $15.1m. Quite a chunk for one year of service! Personally, I think this is the best option for the Rams.

It allows Watkins an entire year of offseason work and time to grow a real chemistry with QB Jared Goff, and to get to know the ins and outs of McVay’s playbook. Not only that, but it gives them an entire year to re-evaluate his impact, health, and ability to produce. The tag is expected to rise a little bit, but $15.1 million isn’t much more than the average salaries of the other wide receivers (Adams and Jeffery), so it’s totally worth using in my opinion.

The transition tag is another option, though it isn’t used very often. The purpose of the transition tag is to allow other teams to offer your free agent a contract which then triggers a short amount of time allowing you to either match the contract meaning they’d return or not matching it and allowing them to leave. The point of the transition tag is to basically allow the market to tell you what the player is worth, which can be both great and bad. It can be bad because teams can offer a “poison pill contract”, meaning the matching team is stuck with a really bad contract.

Let him walk

Well, this would just suck.... wouldn’t it? I’m not sure how realistic of an option this one is, because the Rams surrendered a king’s ransom in NFL capital: a 2018 NFL Draft second-round pick, and what turned out to be a starting CB in E.J. Gaines for Watkins and a sixth-round pick this year. Picks are as good as gold in the NFL. With the Rams moving a Day 2 pick for Watkins, they had to have had a long-term vision of extending his stay in LA, and not just using him as a one-year rental.

Right?

What’s ideal?

Well for me, in order, it goes: franchise tag, transition tag, long-term deal, let him walk.

I ran a poll on twitter the other day (Shameless plug: follow me at @SosaKre), and here were the results:

Now that all the options have been laid out, what do you guys think is the ideal situation headed into the offseason?