The question has become what do you do with a receiver who remains highly praised with production and availability that has not lived up to potential after four seasons.
If you listened to the last episode of Turf Show Radio, then you probably heard Joe (@3k_) and myself (@MightyOrMisone) debating what to do with Watkins. I recently asked Joe what he thought we should do with two questions. So I circled back with him to make sure we had a chance to go on the record with our full responses on whether we’d tag him or not and what his value is overall.
Should the Rams tag Watkins?
3k: I’m on board with using a non-exclusive franchise tag on WR Sammy Watkins. What it really comes down to for me is the need to find a replacement for his slot on the depth chart if he leaves and the timing of that effort.
Given that we’re without a second-round pick, we’re a bit short on capital in the 2018 NFL Draft. Were we in a position to take on the replacement search a year from now without as many competing efforts? Sure, I’d be fine to draft that replacement. That we’d likely have to do so this offseason while seeking a CB1 (and perhaps more cornerback depth in the same offseason) while looking for edge rushing talent, inside linebacking help, a backup QB, and offensive line depth to boot? It’s potentially asking too much. Nailing those other efforts on their own is difficult enough. To come in with, “Oh, and we need a top-of-the-depth-chart WR too. K thx bye” on top is almost rude to the front office to handle.
I’d tag Watkins. If the additional year of work in the offense sees greater production and the Rams are interesting in matching market offers? Pay the man. If not, we’ll have a full complement of draft picks and a free agency period that can focus on bringing in a WR1 without as many competing efforts for the front office to handle.
Misone: I say no to tagging Watkins.
For me it’s pretty simple. You don’t make the same mistakes over and over. Right now the Rams have a good thing going. The last thing they should want to do is repeat a mistake made with another player.
Los Angeles Rams CB Trumaine Johnson is a good player. A very good player to be exact. He is a surefire top 20 corner in this league, and I am even comfortable saying top 15. But, after that it gets murky. Tru is a top notch number two corner that can be used as a number one. However, this does not make him a number one.
The Rams made the mistake of franchise tagging him instead of re-signing him when they probably could have got him under contract for much cheaper than it would cost now.
To make matters worse, the front office followed that decision up with the exact same one by tagging him again. Again Tru is good, but he’s not franchise tag good. That’s a fully guaranteed salary of top market value. Tru was never worth $14 million a year. You can explain nine or ten, but never 14 and 16, respectively.
Now here we are with Watkins in a similar situation. He’s good, but he’s never been dominant. The WR tag this year is expected to be north of $16 million. For comparisons sake, Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antonio Brown (arguably the best receiver in the league) earns $17 million annually. Are we really expected to believe Watkins is only one million dollars shy of Browns production and reputation. He’s not worth the tag as he has never been a dominant receiver and currently is not even a top ten receiver.
Like Tru, top 20 yes, maybe top 15. The Rams currently have $45 million in cap space. Someone who is a questionable top 15 player at their position shouldn’t use up 35% of your available cap for that year. If you had a problem with WR Tavon Austin’s cap number, you should not be ok with this.
What’s his market value?
3k: It’s entirely dependent on the makeup of the team in terms of talent and contracts. Right now for the Rams, I’d use the franchise tag.
I think the entire reticence around signing him to a major deal when you have upcoming deals for DL Aaron Donald and RB Todd Gurley outstanding, the timing is off for Watkins. The other problem is that the Rams likely won’t value him the same as the market will. Spotrac currently holds him on a $6m market value. That’s ridiculous. If the Rams go to Watkins’ agent and offers a multi-year deal that averages $6m per year less than two years after the Rams handed out a six-year, $56m deal with $30m guaranteed to Tavon Austin, Watkins’ agent should tell them never to contact him again.
As for other situations, there’s a lot to like. He’s still just 24-years old. In another system that would have forced more action his way with less attractive passing targets around him, his production would have been much higher. And he’s coming off of a fully healthy 2017. Take a team like the Chicago Bears. They’ve got a new head coach and a franchise QB coming off of a very disappointing rookie season and need wideout talent badly (sound familiar?). I could see them offering a huge deal and one much, much bigger than a team like the Rams would be inclined to put forth. Or what about the Kansas City Chiefs? Now that they’re moving from QB Alex Smith to QB Pat Mahomes, they’re going to need a lot more than just diminutive WR Tyreek Hill on the outside.
So I wouldn’t rule out a top market evaluation of a four-year deal around $50m, but I’d rule it out for the Rams. That’s why the tag makes so much sense to me. We can keep him around for 2018 and then seek supplemental talent either to replace Watkins or to staff up the position in and of itself through free agency or the 2019 NFL Draft.
Misone: Much like what was mentioned with Tru earlier, I would look to give him something in the range of $9 million annually, but I could handle $11 million at the max.
Personally I would approach him with a two year deal you can get out of after year one if need be in the neighborhood of $20 million with $9 million guaranteed. Of course year one would be the fully guaranteed year. Possibly an in season salary of $5 million with another $4 being a signing bonus.
From there the contract would be an incentive laden deal. The base is a two year $20 million deal, but I would include escalators that can jack it up to about $25-27 million. All dependent on his year one success and availability. Which would activate guarantees of $5-7 million in year two.
This is a common approach when teams are torn between making a player prove it and locking him up long term. It provides financial security in year one with the possibility of much more depending on what the player does, as well as gives you a window to re-sign the player to a larger contract if it is earned. But also gives you the freedom to move on after a year if it doesn’t work out.
Watkins’ production and availability to this point in his career warrants the $6 million annual salary spotrac says he’s worth, maybe even eight. However, he has flashed enough to know if he ever puts it all together consistently and is regularly available, he could be worth $12-15 million annually.
At this point the ball is in his court. Show up or roll out...
As you can all see Joe and I are torn. Pretty much as split as you can be. One thing is for sure though, we both agree, re-signing Watkins might be the best option. The question what is he worth?
Tune in to the next episode of Turf Show Radio when we’ll discuss this and whole lot more.