As he readies for his third season with the Kansas City Chiefs, wide receiver Sammy Watkins continues to juggle dueling desires: To have fun and win but also fulfill the immense potential he showed in college, the talent that made him the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft by the Buffalo Bills.
Watkins is coming to grips with the idea he may only achieve one of those things with the Chiefs.
“I can go out there and do whatever lead receivers do, whatever the Julio Joneses, the Tyreek Hills, the Travis Kelces [do],” Watkins said. “Anybody you can name that’s great, I can do the same thing. But I think I help the team just by going out on the field with my presence and my energy and just how I play the game. That’s enough for me.
“I’m  years old. … Hopefully I can get back on the right road, catching a lot of balls and scoring a lot of touchdowns. But that doesn’t control my [thoughts] of how good I am. I don’t let that dictate my reality.”
Watkins was a consistent third option behind Hill and Kelce for quarterback Patrick Mahomes the past two seasons and there’s no reason to think that will change significantly this year. If anything, Mecole Hardman could emerge as a more consistent threat in his second NFL season. And the addition of Clyde Edwards-Helaire gives the Chiefs a run/catch threat at running back like they haven’t had since at least Kareem Hunt and perhaps even Jamaal Charles.
That doesn’t mean Watkins won’t be useful. He’s had big moments for the Chiefs over two seasons, particularly in the playoffs. He caught a long touchdown pass that served as the clinching score in last season’s AFC Championship Game. His 38-yard catch in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl set up the go-ahead touchdown.
Chiefs quarterbacks last season had a QBR of 79.8 when Watkins was on the field, 64.7 when he wasn’t. The Chiefs averaged 1.2 more yards per play and almost 2 more yards per rush when Watkins was in the lineup.
“In this offense it takes every single person and I think you saw that in the playoffs when his number got called, he made big plays happen,” Mahomes said. “It’s a guy that we love having back and [he’s] going to continue to help our offense progress and get better.”
The Chiefs said much of the same thing with their actions. They retained Watkins at a salary-cap cost of $21 million early in the offseason despite at one point dipping to $177 in available room. The sides eventually agreed to a restructure that lowered his cap number.
Watkins by his actions showed he wanted to stay just as much. He took a $5 million cut in base salary to $9 million, though he could make up the difference and then some by reaching certain incentives.
“I’m very blessed and fortunate that we’re bringing him back,” offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. “The only thing that he wants to do is he wants to be great.
“He just wants people to know that he wants to be the player that he was expected to be.”
Watkins over the past few months sent mixed signals about his intentions for this season. He said the week of the Super Bowl that he might sit out the 2020 season. He told Bleacher Report during the offseason that he might turn things into “World War III” if he didn’t get the ball more.
He recently downplayed that, saying he was fine with his role with the Chiefs.
“I’m a big Sammy Watkins fan,” coach Andy Reid said. “I think he’s a heck of a football player and really helps us make this thing go offensively. So I don’t worry about all that. I’d hope he’d want the ball more. That’s what great players want and so that doesn’t bother me that he said that. I’m glad he’s back here and he’ll have opportunities for sure.”
Watkins is the only member of the Chiefs’ group of main skill players who wasn’t drafted by the team, a group that includes Mahomes, Kelce, Hill, Hardman, Demarcus Robinson and now Edwards-Helaire. While he didn’t indicate that was a problem, Watkins did say it was difficult to stand out in any offense that includes “seven superstars” on offense.
“I’m old enough to realize there’s a lot of great players on this team, a lot of guys that have been here before me,” he said. “I can’t sit here and be selfish and say, ‘This is my team and I want 1,000 yards.’ This is Tyreek Hill’s team. This is Kelce’s team.
“Do I want the ball more? Of course. Any wide receiver in the league wants the ball more but I can’t get mad at anyone because I’m not getting the ball. I think it’s the coach’s job to put me in that position. I can’t really worry or focus on any of that. I still have to go out there and play for my teammates and do it in a positive way. That’s what mind space I’m in right now.”