Four reasons why the Kansas City Chiefs brought back Sammy Watkins

Sam Hays

The Kansas City Chiefs and wide receiver Sammy Watkins agreed to a contract restructuring early Friday morning, saving the Chiefs $5 million in cap space and giving Watkins a chance at a second consecutive championship.

Watkins is a unique player who receives some mixed emotions from many Chiefs fans, depending on who you ask. While the critiques of Watkins’ middling regular season stat sheets and injury history are fair, it isn’t quite as simple as that. Here are some reasons why the contract restructuring of the self-titled Reptilian Solar Being was the right move.

Reason #1: It opens the door for other moves

With the $5 million opened up by restructuring Watkins' contract, the Chiefs are now back in the running to bring back cornerback Bashaud Breeland and potentially retain some players still on the roster that could be cap casualties, such as guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, center Austin Reiter and safety Daniel Sorensen.

Additionally, Watkins’ restructuring increases the odds of extending Patrick Mahomes this offseason. 

If Mahomes and the Chiefs agree to their inevitable second contract this offseason, the normal one-fifth of the signing bonus would count towards 2020. The top signing bonus right now is Russell Wilson’s $65 million ($13 million per season) for his four-year, $140 million deal. It can be assumed that Mahomes’ signing bonus and overall deal will be larger than this, so expect $14-16 million of Mahomes’ new deal to be reserved for the 2020 season. 

Reason #2: The band is back together

With the returns of Watkins, Demarcus Robinson and Andrew Wylie, the only key member that the Chiefs have lost from their Super Bowl-winning offense is veteran guard Stefen Wisniewski. The Chiefs reportedly attempted to retain Wisniewski, but he decided that he wanted to return to his hometown of Pittsburgh on a two-year deal. The only other offensive players the Chiefs have lost that played 200 or more snaps in 2019 are tackle Cameron Erving, tight end Blake Bell and running back LeSean McCoy.

Currently, the Chiefs will bring back all of their top ten offensive players by snap count and ten of their top 11 defensive players by snap count in 2019, missing cornerback Bashaud Breeland, who remains a free agent.

Reason #3: The ultimate decoy

As long as the Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Andy Reid, the Chiefs’ offense should remain clicking, but when they are joined by Watkins, the offense goes to another level, even when he’s not getting targeted.

Watkins' talent shines through on the field, even against high-level corners, and this can create more advantageous situations for his teammates.

Even the analytics show this to be the case. Paul Sabin’s Points Above Replacement (PAR) model, which is based on team Expected Points Added (EPA) when a player is on the field vs. when a player is off the field, had Watkins second in the NFL among non-QB offensive players on a per-game basis in 2019. Watkins’ 3.23 PAR per game trailed only Derrick Henry of the Titans. When Watkins was on the field, the Chiefs offense was markedly better than they were without him, even when the ball wasn’t in his hands.

Perk #4: Production when it matters most

In his two years with the Chiefs, one thing has been undeniable with Watkins: he shows up in the postseason. Since 2018, Watkins has 24 receptions (third among wide receivers), 467 receiving yards (first), 158 yards after the catch (first among non-running backs) and a touchdown.

Of those 467 receiving yards, 394 of them came on “big plays,” quantified as first-down conversions on third down, touchdowns, 15+ yard receptions and first-down conversions/touchdowns late in the fourth quarter.

Watkins had one big play against the Colts, four against the Patriots, two against the Texans, three against the Titans and four against the 49ers for a total of 14 big plays in the five most important games of his career with 11 coming in the three most important games. When the Chiefs have needed him most, Watkins has lived up to the highest possible expectations.

Sammy Watkins is a unique player. He may frustrate you as a fantasy football owner or as a Chiefs fan who still trusts the box score or the broadcast footage for analysis, but it isn’t that simple. Let the deeper numbers, All-22 footage and postseason production tell you the real story of Watkins and the value he brings to Kansas City. The Chiefs offense would remain great without Watkins, but when Watkins is on the field, they reach their peak form. All hail the Lizard King!

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