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Sammy Watkins could fit bill as buy-low target for Seahawks

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Seattle Seahawks v Los Angeles Ram Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Last year, Alshon Jeffery hit the open market expecting to get paid on a long-term deal, but found out that the market saw him as a considerable risk. After missing 11 games in the previous two seasons with the Chicago Bears, and just six touchdowns in 21 games, Jeffery could “only” get a one-year deal worth up to $14 million with the Philadelphia Eagles.

He signed the contract extension he wanted midseason and is now headed to the Super Bowl; since “copycat” is the name of the offseason game, teams will be looking for their own Alshon Jeffery story in 2018 and Sammy Watkins is a good candidate to be that guy.

Just fear the potential “Terrelle Pryor” who is on the market as well.

Watkins was the fourth overall pick in 2014, going ahead of Mike Evans and Odell Beckham, Jr. In his first season with the Buffalo Bills, Watkins managed 65 catches for 982 yards while catching passes from Kyle Orton and E.J. Manuel, but that type of success seems so long ago. Or, like, it seems like it was 2014, which it was.

In NFL years though, 2014 certainly was a long time ago.

Since his injury-free rookie season, Watkins was inactive 11 times over the next two years with the Bills. He still managed 1,047 yards in 2015, but the team soured on him in 2016, as they did most of the coaches and notable players on the roster that year. Watkins was traded to the LA Rams where he was due for his breakout campaign in Sean McVay’s offense.

A breakout campaign that didn’t come for him in any other way besides touchdowns.

Watkins has the makeup to be an elite offensive weapon — 6’1, 211 lbs, 32” arms, 4.43 in the 40-yard dash, 10’6 broad jump — and at Clemson he dominated on the field well before they became a true national powerhouse: 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman, 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior. “That Watkins” has showed up at times in the last four years, but not nearly consistent enough to be considered anything more than a number-two receiver and even that could be pushing it in certain offenses.

Though Todd Gurley, Cooper Kupp, and Robert Woods took well to McVay’s offense, Watkins never did outside of his scoring.

Kupp led the team in targets (94) and caught 66% of those with 869 yards.

Woods had 85 targets, and caught 66% of those with 781 yards.

Gurley had 87 targets, and caught 73.6% of those with 788 yards.

But Watkins was targeted 70 times, caught just 55.7% of those, and managed just 593 yards. Despite playing in the NFL’s number one offense, Watkins compares more favorably to someone like Travis Benjamin on the stats sheet than he does with Evans or Beckham. After three years in Buffalo, all the chips were stacked in his favor, and Watkins didn’t manage to do much to make it seem like the Bills should have picked up his fifth-year option or that the Rams shouldn’t just let him walk without a fight.

Not that this isn’t then the perfect time to try and sign Watkins, but it won’t be a complete bargain.

No one is unaware of Watkins’ obvious talents. We constantly try to convince ourselves that we are the only ones onto a secret about sleepers, but that’s simply not true. Every team is aware of the very surface-level positives about Watkins’ physical gifts and previous highlights -- albeit highlights that are spread across many games and opportunities. For him to become who he was meant to become, Watkins needs to up his catch rate into the 60% range (a place he’s only been once, 62.5% in 2015) and a team needs to entrust him with at least 110 targets (something he only did as a rookie in 2014). The touchdowns are there already though (eight) and that’s something the Seahawks, a team almost certain to be losing Jimmy Graham, will take notice of for sure.

Here is what we know about Seattle:

  • They have Graham and Paul Richardson hitting free agency, meaning that there are significant needs in terms of Russell Wilson’s weapons. They are more likely to sign Richardson, but if he’s looking for roughly a three-year deal that pays him at least $5.5 million per year (as reported by John Clayton), then would they be willing to pay the difference on a one-year deal for Watkins? Say that Watkins wants to take a “prove it” deal at one year and $9 million, similar to what Pryor got, is that worth it for the Seahawks?
  • Pete Carroll loves loves loves raw talent. Watkins has traits you’re born with, not ones you can develop. Carroll may see that he can get the most out of Watkins, just like he did with another former Bills first rounder (Marshawn Lynch) and to a lesser degree, Mike Williams.
  • Carroll likes Watkins. From the 2014 combine: “It all goes back to the makeup of the player,” Carroll said Friday. “I was watching Sammy Watkins take the stage as he gets measured today and I think he was like 6-1 and 211 pounds or something like that. What separates that guy? What makes him such a great football player? It’s all the other elements. It’s not his height-weight-speed. It’s all the other stuff that’s part of his makeup, his gifts. Also the experiences he’s had, the coaching he’s had, the opportunity to play with great players. He had a great quarterback going through college. It’s all of those things that make the guys what they are. To think there are only certain packages, and only certain standards, you’re going to make mistakes that way. You got to take each of these guys as individuals and grade them out and see what they have and make an assessment off of that.”
  • Seattle only signed players to one-year deals in 2017. They almost always prefer to sign someone to a one-year deal then an extension than to just give a player a long-term contract without any proof that they’ll buy into what the Seahawks are doing. That’s what allows them to walk away from Eddie Lacy after only one season and why they keep regretting deals to J’Marcus Webb and Cary Williams. This proposes that Watkins is looking for a one-year deal and that’s just my opinion, not a fact; but Watkins is not in a great position to get a long-term deal right now and we’ve already seen with Jeffery that it can only take a half-season to improve your stock. Watkins needs to go play with a great quarterback (Wilson is one of those), and that should be his number one priority.
  • Brian Schottenheimer bought into star athlete receivers while with the Jets, such as Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes, and Braylon Edwards. There won’t be any shyness in going after such a receiver for Seattle.
  • The Seahawks don’t have a ton of cap space (estimated around $14 million before any cuts) but they will be making some changes and finding an extra $6-7 million in the budget (this isn’t his final salary but more of a difference between him and whatever receiver they would have to end up paying anyway) wouldn’t be hard, especially for someone like Watkins.
  • Mike Williams, Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, Jimmy Graham, Zach Miller. If Pete Carroll is going to make a splash in free agency or trade, it’s almost always going to be at a skill position, specifically in catching the ball. Right or wrong, this is what their history suggests. Same goes for second, third round picks like Paul Richardson, Golden Tate, Amara Darboh, and Tyler Lockett. I think Seattle probably prioritizes re-signing Richardson over bringing in Watkins, but I think Watkins profiles perfectly as a 1b option.

Sammy Watkins has been a disappointment but mostly because the expectations were so high; he was almost universally regarded as a better prospect than Evans and Beckham, two of the top 10 receivers in the game since 2014. What he is today is a 24-year-old (not 25 until June) receiver with 25 touchdowns in the last four years and plenty of evidence that he’s still a special football player. It’s just a matter of whether or not those special qualities will ever transform him into being a perennial Pro Bowl, 1,200-yard receiver, but that’s certainly worth an expensive one-year stab at it.

If the Seahawks are going to be the ones to take that stab, we don’t know, but I could see — and support — why they would be.

(I created a poll and rather give a ton of caveats (“If it’s at the right price!” (always assume it is at the right price because if it’s at the wrong price, of course your answer would be “No”)) I am making it very simple: Yes or No)

Poll

Should the Seahawks target Sammy Watkins?

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    Yes
    (1467 votes)
  • 39%
    No
    (950 votes)
2417 votes total Vote Now