Super Bowl-bound for the second consecutive year, the Kansas City Chiefs will once again get off to a later start than many teams this offseason. While that’s a good problem most others would prefer to have, it leaves only about a month to finish preparing for free agency.
For the Chiefs, this year’s list of impending free agents doesn’t include a star headliner such as DT Chris Jones last year, though established starters like Sammy Watkins, Bashaud Breeland and Damien Wilson should draw some interest from outside suitors.
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell recently honed in on what is expected to be an impressive free agent wide receiver class, which could feature Watkins, Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle from Kansas City. In a exercise in which he attempted to predict where the top 43 wideouts would land in 2021, Barnwell has Watkins departing to a noteworthy AFC rival.
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Barnwell Pegs Patriots as Viable Suitor for Watkins
Coming off of a disappointing, injury-plagued season in which Watkins only managed a career-low 421 yards and a pair of touchdowns in 10 games, Barnwell believes the New England Patriots could look to “buy low” on the former No. 4 overall pick.
Here was his reasoning:
The former Bills first-rounder struggled through another injury-hit season. Chiefs fans won’t soon forget his two huge plays in the playoffs last season, but it’s tough to imagine any team counting on him as a 16-game starter, given that he hasn’t hit that mark since 2014. Watkins hasn’t even been hyper-efficient during his time in Kansas City, averaging 8.1 yards per target in the league’s most devastating offense.
There are still going to be Watkins fans around the league, though, and his size and athleticism are still going to attract interest. Bill Belichick has bought low on receivers before, and Watkins would be an upgrade on the outside from the likes of N’Keal Harry if he’s healthy. Big if!
Projected: One year, $4.25 million from the Patriots
This scenario makes sense on paper for New England and its 30th ranked passing offense (180.6 YPG), which was led in receiving yards by undrafted free agent Jacobi Myers (729 yards) and receiving touchdowns by running back Rex Burkhead (three).
Still just 27 years old, Watkins has plenty left to offer on the field when healthy, and with New England expected to have close to $70 million in available spending money, he would be a serviceable upgrade as a No. 2 option — especially if the 34-year-old Julian Edelman is not retained for his 13th season coming off season-ending knee surgery.
However, a low-end, short-term contract to play for a Patriots squad that doesn’t appear to be in contention for much of anything at this point likely won’t match the draw of potentially competing for a third straight Super Bowl ring.
For the Chiefs, things are bit more complicated.
Watkins, GM Brett Veach Express Interest in 2021 Return
Watkins, who stated last offseason that “it’s not all about money,” gambled on himself with a new incentive-laden one-year deal, $9 million deal to return to Kansas City last April. While the move didn’t reach its financial potential, both sides find themselves in the same boat again this year on the cusp of another Lombardi Trophy and contract negotiation.
Earlier this week, both Watkins and general manager Brett Veach signaled their interest in a possible return in 2021. But the argument can be made that the money would be better used shoring up another area of the roster, such as the offensive line.
A decreased salary cap will also present some pressure for the front office again, which somehow navigated its way around just $177 in cap space at one point last offseason. If the latest media report suggesting the number will drop from $198.2 million to about $185 million ends up correct, the Chiefs would need to shed approximately $8.7 million from their books, per Spotrac.
Watkins is also made (at least partially) expendable by the presence of Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Mecole Hardman, all of whom remain under contract through the 2023 campaign. If another club opts to pay Watkins a deal Kansas City is uncomfortable matching, the reigning Super Bowl champions could always take the more cost-effective route and re-sign Robinson and/or Pringle.
Last month, Pro Football Focus also named the Baltimore Ravens as another viable landing spot for Watkins, predicting at the time a potential three-year, $30 million contract for the seventh-year veteran.
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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!