With the Kansas City Chiefs fans going wild inside Arrowhead Stadium, Sammy Watkins cradled a deep ball from Patrick Mahomes into his arms and waltzed in to the endzone. The 60-yard touchdown put the final nail in the Tennessee Titans coffin and sent Kansas City to their first Super Bowl since 1970. Two weeks later, Super Bowl LIV may be the last time he suits up for the Chiefs, with a chance that Sammy Watkins isn’t playing at all in 2020.
After facing questions about renegotiating his current $48 million deal with the Chiefs, Watkins provided a Super Bowl week shock when he told ESPN:
“I don’t know what I’m going to do. If we win it. I might chill out. I might sit out a year. You just never know. Not retiring, but I might just want to rest up and chill. I might want to go somewhere else and create another Super Bowl team. I’ve got to sit down with my family, my parents, and grandparents, and everybody and just see what I want to do.”
Before thinking about creating a Super Bowl team somewhere else, or even not playing at all in 2020, Sammy Watkins could hold the key to the Kansas City Chiefs defeating the San Francisco 49ers and winning Super Bowl LIV.
Despite the focus of the Kansas City Chiefs offense being firmly on Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins has been at his best when the Chiefs have needed him the most.
Take Week 1’s win over the Jacksonville Jaguars for example. He had 198 yards and three touchdowns as the Chiefs opened the 2019 season in style.
Watkins received a 49.05 grade using Pro Football Network’s Offensive Share Metric (OSM), the second highest grade awarded to a Chiefs player all season.
He was the focal point of the offense, accounting for 53% of all targeted air yards. He caught 81.82% of all passes thrown his way, and made yards after the catch, with a 9.1 yards variation between his actual and expected average yards after the catch as per NFL Next Gen Stats.
This was particularly noticeable on a 68-yard touchdown reception that placed Watkins in the Top 20 fastest plays of the 2019 regular season. Catching the ball on the 40-yard line, Watkins made multiple players miss tackles and out-sprinted them to the end zone showcasing his speed and big play ability.
On the third play from scrimmage, Patrick Mahomes finds Sammy Watkins for a 68-yard touchdown. pic.twitter.com/MZ9mZoxElr
— NFLonCBS (@NFLonCBS) September 8, 2019
You have to fast-forward all the way to the AFC Championship game before he contributed another 100+ yard game or touchdown to the Chiefs season. However, in the biggest game of the year, Watkins put on another performance.
His OSM grade of 37.53 was the second best of his season. He accounted for 42.38% of the team’s air yards, and once again contributed above expectation in making yards after the catch.
As I alluded to at the beginning of the piece, his touchdown midway through the fourth quarter put the game beyond the Tennessee Titans and booked their date with the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV.
Even if they don’t win Super Bowl LIV, there’s no guarantee that Sammy Watkins returns to playing in Kansas City in 2020. The wide receiver will count $21 million against the Chiefs cap in 2020 and cutting ties would save the franchise $14 million as they re-tool for another Super Bowl run. The other option would be for Watkins to take a pay cut to stay, something he was non-committal on:
“I don’t want to say I will be [open to a pay cut]. I don’t want to say I won’t. I just think that I’m a special player. I deserve all the things I deserve.”
He was certainly special coming out of Clemson, with two 1000+ yard receiving seasons, and two double digit touchdown seasons as a Tiger.
His 1376 kick-off return yards and one kick-off return touchdown in his college career was special.
Putting up over 2000 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns in your first two seasons in the NFL was special.
However, Watkins hasn’t completed a full season since 2015, with a history of injuries that goes all the way back to his college career. During his six years in the league he only has two seasons with a catch completion percentage above 60%. Of all the Chiefs 2019 receiving targets, including tight end Travis Kelce, Watkins ranks last in completion percentage and touchdowns per game. Only Kelce has less yards per catch with 12.7 YPC versus Watson’s 12.9 YPC. By contrast, Tyreek Hill has 14.8 YPC and rookie Mecole Hardman has 20.7 YPC.
Hardman would lead all Chiefs receivers in overall OSM with a grade of 38.11, if he’d met the qualifying criteria for the full season. Hill would be second with a grade of 35.44. Watkins only just shades DeMarcus Robinson with a grade of 31.86 versus Robinson’s 31.68.
You could argue that is far from special.
Despite this, Watkins has had recent success against the 49ers, winning games in back to back years with the Los Angeles Rams in 2017 and with the Chiefs in 2018. Over the two games, he has 161 yards, with three touchdowns and an average 74.1% catch completion percentage, far above his career average.
Another performance like that would help end the Super Bowl drought in Kansas City. It would also go a long way to determining where Sammy Watkins will be playing in 2020.
If at all.