With approximately $13.6 million in salary cap space heading into free agency, the Kansas City Chiefs will need to manage a number of moving parts that could impact both their short and long-term future. One major domino to set the process into motion is DT Chris Jones, who will reportedly be given the franchise tag to return to Kansas City in 2020 or be traded elsewhere this offseason.
One of the Chiefs’ next highest priorities involves sixth-year WR Sammy Watkins who will enter the final year of his three-year, $48 million deal at the start of the new league year in March. Despite not being a free agent, Watkins’ salary could make him a cap casualty or force the Chiefs to explore alternative solutions for some cap relief.
According to NFL Network reporter Mike Garafolo on Thursday, Kansas City will likely be active in the trade market as they try to sort through their two dozen impending free agents, including Watkins.
“The word around Indy though is that instead of just letting some guys go, the Chiefs are going to try to get some draft picks back,” said Garafolo from the NFL Scouting Combine. “Once you sign that quarterback to that big deal, you’re going to need some young guys to play for you in the coming years. Well, how do you do that? You start to compile draft picks. It wouldn’t shock me if the Chiefs were active and maybe they can get themselves a buyer on Watkins.”
Fellow NFL Network reporter Tom Peliserro joined Garafolo on the desk and confirmed that while Kansas City would love to have one of their most productive receivers back in the fold in 2020, making the financials work will take precedent.
“Sammy Watkins is still a young guy,” said Pelissero. “If he does another three-year deal, he can get back to the market again before age 30. He knows if he were to become available he would be able to cash in again. The question becomes: what are their options here? He’s not going to sit there and take a pay cut. So can you trade him, can you bring him back?”
While veteran salary dumps typically wouldn’t fetch much in return in terms of trade compensation, Watkins’ situation could be different considering the current opportunities available for other NFL teams to acquire an established playmaker.
“Really good receiver draft, not the strongest free agent class,” explained Pelissero. “So if you want a veteran, this is one possible route.”
A team looking ahead that might not want to pay a versatile wideout such as Watkins a full-priced market deal in 2021 may be willing to play ball with Kansas City in the coming weeks.
Chiefs GM Seeks to “Bridge the Gap” on Watkins Situation
Speaking to the media from the NFL Combine on Tuesday, Chiefs General Manager Brett Veach expressed interest in keeping Watkins in Kansas City next season. However, the team’s top football executive understands the challenges on the horizon with maintaining a competitive roster while gearing up to sign MVP QB Patrick Mahomes to a potentially record-breaking contract extension.
“Sammy’s a guy that — like Chris Jones — we’re going to have dialogue this week,” said Veach. “There are certainly different options and different scenarios that could play out with him. He’s a guy that we do want back. Again… these are good problems to have. When you’ve won a Super Bowl, you obviously have a lot of good players — and they make a lot of money. But Sammy’s a guy that — as you mentioned — he’s been critical to our playoff success.”
Veach made it clear that team representatives will discuss options with Tory Dandy, the agent of the former No. 4 overall pick.
”We’ll sit down, talk about the landscape of where we are, what would make sense to us and how we could make this work. We’ll get feedback from them in regard to what they’re looking for. Hopefully we can bridge a gap and make something happen, [keeping] as many of these good players on our team as possible.”
Over the past two seasons in a Chiefs uniform, Watkins has posted 92 receptions, 1,192 yards and six touchdowns in 28 games (24 starts). For some perspective, WR Tyreek Hill posted equivalent receiving totals in 2017 (75-1,183-7) and 2018 (87-1,479-12) alone. Watkins certainly has value in any offense, but the Chiefs must weigh whether his $21 million cap hit next season could cannibalize their opportunities to improve elsewhere while gearing up for another Super Bowl run.
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