Much of the Kansas City Chiefs offense in 2020 has once again flowed through TE Travis Kelce and WR Tyreek Hill, currently ranked second and fifth respectively in the NFL in receiving yards heading into Week 16.
For as deep and talented as the receiving corps is, the unit has battled its fair share of injuries throughout the season. While this hasn’t much impacted NFL passing leader Patrick Mahomes’ chemistry or production to this point, injuries have had a major impact on one of his primary targets — Sammy Watkins — both on and off the field.
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Sammy Watkins’ Gamble Doesn’t Pay Off
In an effort to relieve some stress on the Chiefs’ books this past offseason, Watkins, 27, and the team came to an agreement on a revised, cap-friendly one-year contract for $9 million. While the deal seemingly offered a drastic pay cut from his original $21 million salary cap hit for the 2020 season, it came laden with $7 million in incentives that could escalate its total value to $16 million.
Coming off of his second and most productive season with Kansas City in 2019, a year that saw him haul in 52-of-90 targets for 673 yards and three touchdowns, the former No. 4 overall pick bet big on himself to repeat or even surpass that level of production in 2020.
In a recent CBS Sports rundown of some of the league’s expected bonus payouts this year, NFL salary cap expert and former agent Joel Corry explained why and how Watkins’ gamble is going to come up completely empty.
Chiefs WR Sammy Watkins
Maximum: $7 million
Expected bonus: None
Watkins was scheduled to make $14 million in 2020 before agreeing to cut his salary to $9 million with the ability to make a total of $16 million because of incentives. Watkins makes $500,000 with 71 percent or more offensive playtime or six touchdowns scored. Hitting 75 percent playtime or seven touchdowns is worth an additional $500,000. Kansas City getting to the playoffs with Watkins catching a minimum of 65 passes earns him $750,000. Reaching 800 receiving yards and scoring at least eight touchdowns are also worth $750,000 each. It’s $1.25 million for each of those same three thresholds if the Chiefs get back to the Super Bowl and Watkins takes at least 50 percent of the offensive snaps in the AFC Championship Game. Calf and hamstring injuries have cost Watkins five games this season and any chance at any of his incentive money.
Watkins Set to Hit Free Agent Market in 2021
Unfortunately, injuries are nothing new to the former Clemson star, who has played just one full season — his rookie year in 2014 — since entering the league and only more than 10 games in half of his other six seasons. This year it was a hamstring pull, suffered in the Chiefs’ only loss back in Week 5 against the Las Vegas Raiders, that derailed his otherwise productive campaign.
Through the first quarter of the tumultuous season, Watkins played at least 80% of the offensive snaps in three of four games and was on pace for 76 receptions, 792 yards and four touchdowns, good enough to satisfy at least some of his contract escalators.
With two games left to play, Watkins’ stands at only 407 yards and two scores on 35 catches after missing six weeks before his Week 12 return in Tampa Bay.
The seventh-year wideout is now scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent upon season’s end, which Watkins and company hope includes a second Super Bowl ring in as many years.
Spotrac.com lists his current market value at $9.7 million or the equivalent of a two-year, $19.5 million deal. Though the defending AFC West champs may be hesitant to dish out that type of cash with Kelce, Hill and Mecole Hardman under team control through at least 2023 and cheaper, younger alternatives in the form of Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle also up for a new contract this offseason.
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Chris Licata is an NFL contributor covering the Kansas City Chiefs from enemy territory in Denver, Colorado. Follow him on Twitter @Chris__Licata or join the Heavy on Chiefs Facebook community for the latest out of Chiefs Kingdom!