For the first time in his career, Sammy Watkins has motivation.
Not motivation to win or put up numbers or dominate a game.
Motivation to keep his job and earn a contract.
Watkins will certainly have a job and a contract sometime after 2017. After the Bills declined his fifth year option Tuesday, it only put “with who” and “for how much” in question.
From the moment Watkins joined the Bills, he’s seemingly been a protected commodity.
His first training camp under Doug Marrone, Watkins was held out for the slightest injury. The implication was Watkins didn’t need practice. Even as a rookie, he was already that good.
It’s understandable considering the price the Bills paid for him. Spend two first round picks and a fourth on one player and he should be encased in bubble wrap for all but 16 Sundays a year.
Watkins was handed the job as the top wide receiver. Considering his talent and his draft status and the Bills wideouts at the time, it wasn’t inappropriate.
Still, he never had to fight for it like he will now.
The man who paid the ransom to draft Sammy is gone. Sean McDermott will feel no responsibility to prove that trade correct.
Watkins will have to earn his next deal. He must prove he can be dominant like the last half of 2015. He must prove he can play enough games to make the mega-contract his talent deserves worthwhile.
The Bills still have plenty of time to reward Watkins if and when he comes through.
They can sign him to a long term deal anytime until next offseason. If that doesn’t work, the franchise tag is an option for 2018. That price tag was $15.6 million in 2017 and should be a bit above $16 mil for next year.
That’s about three million more than the fifth year option would have paid, but the Bills have the cap room to afford it. There’s also no other player worth of the franchise tag in 2018.
It’s all on Watkins now. The bubble wrap is gone. There’s no net.
Sammy Watkins is doing something he’s never done before. He’s playing for his job.
It could be a very scary thing.