As the impact of the Davante Adams trade continues to linger and will for some time, savvy Packers fans will likely be non-plussed by the first “significant move” made after his departure. Those who pay attention to the NFL or even play fantasy football know the signing of Sammy Watkins will not move the needle much in terms of external anticipation.
Aaron Rodgers reportedly told his buddy Pat McAfee via text that he was “excited about the signing.” Well, he may be one of a few. It may take a few pass-catchers to effectively replace Adams; but, Watkins won’t be the leading guy to renew optimism about the pass-catching corps.
Why Did the Packers Sign Sammy Watkins?
A Growing Legacy Of Failed Expectations
Watkins has been a disappointment for most of his NFL career, except for the first two years and one heroic postseason in which he helped the Chiefs win a Super Bowl. He has been more promise than production and more of an untapped talent than a major contributor to his previous three teams. But the signing was not a pricey one and does make some sense in terms of some of the respect he can still command.
Last season, the Ravens took a similar chance on Watkins, signing him to a one-year deal worth $6 million. Baltimore was a team in need of a wide receiver, as they have been throughout the Lamar Jackson tenure so far. It was Watkins’ opportunity to show he could still be a prominent pass-catching threat, as no one could challenge him for premier wideout honors if he delivered as hoped. In Kansas City, he had to compete with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce for catches.
Watkins did not cash in on the opportunity, with career lows in receptions (27) and TD catches (one). He finished with 394 yards in 13 games played and started in nine. The Ravens wanted Watkins to become a frequent big-play threat for a QB who lacked one and cleared the way for him to be a possible No. 1 WR. Watkins was not a significant factor when healthy, and he also missed three games with a thigh injury. He was done after one season in Baltimore.
His failure to make much of a difference in Baltimore has only further confirmed skepticism that Watkins will never build on the potential he displayed in his first two seasons in Buffalo. But the Packers still see enough to have signed him to an even lesser deal than the Ravens did, at $4 million for one season.
Throughout his career, injuries have been a consistent issue for Watkins, as he has not played a full season since his rookie campaign. He also has not caught more than three TD passes in a season in the last four years. Two of those campaigns were in Kansas City. He has not reached 700 yards or caught more than 52 passes in the last six years.
Watkins’ shining moments came in the 2020 playoffs when he had 12 catches for 212 yards and a TD in the AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl. At 6-1, 211 pounds with downfield gears, Watkins is still capable of challenging defenses at any time with his pure abilities. He is not consistent or dependable, yet he is still considered a legitimate threat to opposing defenses.
Sammy Watkins Can Do More Than Make A Statistical Impact
Even for a third target, Watkins put up disappointing numbers with Patrick Mahomes and did not help Lamar Jackson much. However, opposing defenses and their coordinators still give Watkins a lot of respect. A Rodgers/Watkins combination will still be part of a defensive game plan. Even if they do not connect regularly, the duo is certainly capable of delivering a big play that could end up being decisive when facing the Packers.
It appears the likely plan to rebuild the Green Bay wide receiving corps is to target a prominent WR with their first pick in the NFL Draft. The Packers could also elect to take two pass-catchers in their first four picks, as they now have extra selections in the first two rounds because of the Adams trade. If the plan is to go young at WR, and possibly with more than one possible impact rookie, Watkins can help the newcomers by taking some defensive attention away from them. Despite the success of first-year WRs such as Ja’Marr Chase and Jaylen Waddle, it is a lot to ask for a rookie wideout to be the main focus of a secondary every week. The presence of Watkins as an established veteran can ensure that whoever the team drafts won’t be overwhelmed in coverage early in their careers.
Watkins can also serve as a mentor to the young wideouts as well. He dealt with high expectations as a rookie in 2014, as Buffalo traded up to take Watkins with the No. 4 overall pick. So there will certainly be value in what Watkins can bring to the Packers in terms of drawing coverage and helping the newcomers adjust to the pressure they may face as projected replacements for Adams.
It does remain possible that the Packers could add another veteran such as Julio Jones or Jarvis Landry. But youth appears to be the direction the team is heading in at wide receiver. In making the receivers of the future more comfortable early in their Green Bay tenure, it was a good move to sign Watkins. No one should expect him to emerge as a star with the Packers, but he should be important to the team, anyhow.