Officially, the Bills have declined to exercise the fifth-year option on Watkins' contract, which will now expire next March. Watkins had foot surgery last offseason, and complications relating to the injury resulted in the 23-year-old missing eight games in the 2016 campaign. He is capable of making big plays when healthy, and $8.5 million seems like a reasonable salary for a receiver of his caliber.
Sammy Watkins will head into the final year of his rookie contract in Buffalo with a cloud of uncertainty swirling overhead. If the Bills opt not to do those things, he will become a free agent. Instead, the Bills have chosen to wait and see how Watkins performs - and how healthy he stays - during the 2017 season before deciding on what to do long-term.
It means Watkins would become a free agent after the 2017 season, unless the Bills made a decision to give him a franchise tag (which would give him a guaranteed, one-year deal) or agree to an extension with him. It's a pretty startling move after the Bills gave up so much to trade up for Watkins in the 2014 draft. "There is no question Sammy is a very good football player and has worked very hard during his rehab this offseason". If Watkins' performance this season is worthy of keeping him around in 2018, but he misses time with injury or otherwise is not as effective as possible, the transition tag could be a possibility next February. He begins this season with 153 career receptions and 17 touchdowns to his name for the Bills.
"Sammy and I have had good conversations about this decision", McDermott said. On the other hand, if the receiver gets injured again, the Bills avoided a $13 million problem. "We look forward to having a healthy Sammy Watkins on the field in 2017". The tag would net the wideout more cash in one year than the fifth-year option.