INDIANAPOLIS — Last summer, the Rams acquired wide receiver Sammy Watkins from the Bills in exchange for their second-round pick in the 2018 draft and cornerback E.J. Gaines.
Los Angeles made the deal knowing that Watkins was about to begin the final season of his rookie contract, since the Buffalo had already declined the fifth-year option for the former first-round pick. When the trade was executed in August, general manager Les Snead said that while L.A. hadn't discussed a possible contract extension with Watkins' representation, bringing Watkins in was not necessarily a short-term decision.
But now the 2017 season has come and gone, which means Watkins will become a free agent at the start of the new league year on March 14. And when it comes to Watkins possibly sticking with the Rams, on Tuesday head coach Sean McVay called Watkins a player "that you really target."
"You do have an appreciation and respect for [the] other teams that are going to see their value, too," McVay said at the 2018 NFL Combine. "If we can make it work, that's definitely something we want to do. And I think especially offensively, [there's] continuity that you want to try to keep."
For his part, Watkins said at the end of the season that he would like to stay with Los Angeles.
"I think everything is right here as far as coaches — they are building something here," Watkins said in January.
While Watkins' numbers may not have been high as some expected — he finished 2017 with 39 receptions for 593 yards and eight touchdowns — McVay said some of the wideout's impact on Los Angeles' offense may have gone unnoticed.
"I think that's sometimes is something that can get overlooked because he does dictate and determine coverages where a lot of times, sometimes teams will travel with him," McVay said. "But you look at the red zone production he had — not many guys had eight touchdowns. And the way that he was making those plays, where it's versus zero blitzes, aggressive hands, attacking the football — I think sometimes that can get a little bit overlooked."
But if Watkins is back for 2018, the expectation is that the wideout's rapport with quarterback Jared Goff should significantly improve. But McVay put much of the onus on himself for increasing Watkins' overall production.
"[Y]ou look at yourself as a play caller — I can put him in some better spots," McVay said. "And I think him continuing to get more comfortable, and us figuring out what's the best way to use him — there's really not any limitations.
"But I also do feel like another year in the system, us as a coaching staff — me specifically — finding ways to use his skillset a little bit better — I think you'll see the production increase," McVay added. "But I also think it's important when you look at the way he, and Robert [Woods], and Cooper [Kupp], and our tight ends, and Todd [Gurley] — those pieces all come together to fit your offense. And that's why it's so important to get him back."