Teams would love to keep every player they believe is beneficial to their success, but it is just not possible to keep everyone.
The Los Angeles Rams decided to use their non-exclusive franchise tag on defensive back Lamarcus Joyner; meaning receiver Sammy Watkins will hit the free agent market. This move was based on strategy. Joyner’s franchise tag is valued about $11.29 million for safeties, while receivers like Watkins, it is listed at $15.98 million.
It would be much harder to replace a defensive back like Joyner who can play safety and cover slot receivers. He was tied for the most interceptions on the Rams with three in what was the 13th best passing defense in the league. Joyner and the Rams hope to get a long-term deal done before the June 16 deadline. For Watkins, he is essentially much easier to replace.
The Rams acquired Watkins from the Buffalo Bills during the 2017 training camp. They traded cornerback E.J. Gaines and a 2018 second-round pick for Watkins and a sixth-round pick. The trade for Watkins was assumed he would be quarterback Jared Goff’s number one receiver, but that was not the case.
Watkins did lead the Rams in touchdowns (8) and yards per reception (15.2), but only ranked fourth on the team in catches (39) behind running back Todd Gurley II (64) and receivers Cooper Kupp (62) and Robert Woods (56). Watkins role as a deep threat can essentially be replaced by 2017 fourth-round draft pick, Josh Reynolds. Reynolds showed small flashes during preseason and the regular season. He caught 11 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown last season.
The Rams still hope to bring Watkins back. But for a receiver who has battled foot injuries for the majority of his career and a team with players like Gurley II, Goff, defensive tackle Aaron Donald and newly acquired cornerback Marcus Peters still needing new contracts in a year or two, it is foreseeable they would let Watkins walk.
For top available receivers in free agency, Watkins ranks near the top of the list with Allen Robinson, who was not franchise tagged by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Watkins will see a market as teams are in need of receivers in what is a passing league. He does not know if he will be back with the Rams, but is excited for his future.
“I don’t know. I just know it’s a business,” said Watkins one day after the Rams season ended, on his future. “Since I got traded from the Bills, it’s like anything can happen. I didn’t see that coming. I think I played pretty hard this year, and I can’t wait to see what my future hold, here or anywhere else.”