A lot can change in one year.
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins entered 2017 training camp thinking he’d be with the Bills long term. Instead, he’s finishing his first season with the Rams and contemplating whether or not he will be back with Los Angeles in 2018.
“I just know it’s a business. Since I got traded from the Bills, it’s like anything can happen. I didn’t see that coming,” Watkins said. “So, for me I just can’t wait to see what my future holds here or anywhere else.”
This season was Watkins’ last in his rookie contract. With the Bills declining the receiver’s fifth-year option for 2018, he will now hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent, joining 12 other players from the Rams’ 2017 roster. L.A. will now have the option to sign Watkins to a long-term extension, place him under the franchise tag, or let him go.
And while Watkins pointed out the NFL is indeed a business, he’s hopeful he’ll remain with the franchise that
brought him in this season.
“Most definitely. Like I said, I think everything is right here as far as coaches — they are building something here,” Watkins said. “I do also know there’s a lot of free agent guys and a lot of things going on, but that’s not my focus. Everything will play out the way it should.”
Watkins finished 2017 leading the Rams with eight receiving touchdowns, having caught 39 passes for 593 yards. But because he was in Buffalo for the offseason program and got to L.A. during the middle of training camp, it admittedly took the wideout a while to begin feeling comfortable in the offense.
“Maybe four to five weeks into the season,” he said of the time frame. “You just have to learn how to play into what the coach wants from you. I think it took me probably four to five weeks just to get on the same page, know the offense and just play hard and block.”
Despite the time it took to get acclimated, head coach Sean McVay said he “could not have been more pleased with the way [Watkins] progressed.” And while his numbers may not have shown it, Watkins’ presence was felt on the field throughout the year.
“It sounds cliché, but when you have a player like him, he does often dictate and determine coverage,” McVay said. “He was productive for our offense and that isn’t exclusive to just looking at his catches, his touchdowns, and his yardage. That’s what he did without the ball, how he affects the defense, and then what that does to open up some people around him.”
“But I think as you get into being around players for another year, absolutely we feel like we can figure out a way [where] I think we can use him better,” McVay continued. “I have to do a better job of utilizing his skill set.”
And looking past how he may have affected things on the field, Watkins said the best part about this season has been how he has grown off the field — becoming more team-oriented than he has ever been.
“I just played through the those guys. We call it playing through others dreams and that’s what it’s about,” he said. “I’ve been the guy that’s been thrown the ball 15 times a game, but they actually helped me play without the ball and be a teammate. That’s the best thing I think I learned this year.”
But now the business of football does kick in, and both the Rams and Watkins have a decision to make. Wide receiver Robert Woods — who was Watkins’ teammate in Buffalo — would love to see him back. Woods said the two have always worked well together on field, feeding off of one another and pushing each other to be better competitors.
“We’d all love to have him back [with] the way he plays for this team. We need players like that,” Woods said. “I know he definitely wants to be here. He loves the organization. But it’s also a business, it has to be correct and it has to work in his favor.”
Watkins said one thing is for sure — he is ready to return to the Rams if given the opportunity.
“You see this team building something with the coaching staff, with the players. [So] it would be a pleasure to come back” he said. “It was a special season. We just have to continue to get better as a team and I think we’re going to do that.”