Embarrassment is a strong word in the language of sports. Broadly, it means expectations were high and the result was depressingly low. That about sums up the last 18 years of Buffalo Bills football.
But it both does and doesn't describe Sammy Watkins' career. The wide receiver's time with the Bills has been more complicated and nuanced than it seems, and Watkins is entering what could be his final year with a team that gave up significant draft capital to acquire him in 2014.
When the Bills declined to pick up Watkins' fifth-year option, they dared him to have a healthy and explosive 2017 season. If he does that, the Bills could be spared from embarrassment in the standings and then red-faced as the cost to retain Watkins escalates. Or worse, he could leave and further decimate an already weak wide receiver depth chart.
The decision to pass on adding a fifth year to Watkins' contract was based on his lengthy medical history. Watkins has battled chronic foot problems, and is recovering from his second surgery to alleviate lingering issues. He's missed 11 games over the past two seasons, and as Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News reported, the Bills weren't comfortable signing off on the fifth-year option with Watkins still injured.
Their hesitation is understandable, but only to a point. The fifth-year options available to first-round picks since 2011 are guaranteed for injury only. That makes agreeing to it now the weakest kind of commitment. The Bills are only locked into a contract they don't want and forced to pay Watkins $13.3 million if he fails a physical in March 2018.
There is risk tied to the fifth-year option, then, but it's mild. So mild that, generally speaking, a player who's declined his option needs to enter a depressing career spiral in only three years. He needs to be more than just injury prone, though that certainty doesn't help his cause.
He needs to be simply awful. His skill level and production need to sink low enough that any injury risk at all is difficult to justify. The Jacksonville Jaguars should have reached that point with quarterback Blake Bortles.
But the Bills should have been far from it with Watkins. Even if he saves the franchise from both its playoff and draft-decision embarrassments in 2017, those efforts will come at a cost. As ESPN's Adam Schefter noted, the ultimate cost would be losing Watkins entirely.
http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2707 ... nt-in-2017