Getty Chiefs WR Sammy Watkins started just nine games in an injury-plagued contract year in 2020.
After signing three of their cornerstones to hefty contract extensions in 2020, the Kansas City Chiefs head into the postseason with approximately $4.46 million in salary cap space, ranked 20th in the NFL according to Spotrac. While that number is likely to change, the storyline that the defending Super Bowl champions will be up against the cap again this offseason will not.
Among the team’s most prominent unrestricted free agents this offseason will be veteran WR Sammy Watkins, RB Le’Veon Bell and CB Bashaud Breeland. All three players are very familiar with the process after signing one-year deals to return to Kansas City, or in the case of Bell, join the club after a midseason release from the New York Jets.
Earlier this week, Pro Football Focus released its list of top 100 free agents for 2021 based on its own player evaluations and positional value. In an interesting look-ahead exercise, the football data and analytics site predicted that the Chiefs would lose both Watkins and Bell to AFC contenders, but retain Breeland on a new multi-year contract.
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Sammy Watkins to Ravens?
In a free agent class headlined by Dallas Cowboys star QB Dak Prescott and a trio of stud wide receivers, Watkins (ranked No. 63), Bell (No. 86) and Breeland (No. 90) would hardly be dubbed “major” losses for Kansas City, though their potential landing spots could still be noteworthy for seasons to come.
Watkins’ gamble on himself, unfortunately, didn’t pay off this season, at least not monetarily. Lingering calf and hamstring injuries cost the former No. 4 overall pick six games, resulting in the loss of up to $7 million in contract bonuses that could’ve brought his incentive-laden one-year deal up to its $16 million ceiling.
Here is what PFF had to say about his limited on-field performance in 2020:
Once looking like a future star, Watkins has leveled off as a complementary receiver over the past few years. He’s never gotten back to his career-high 89.8 grade in 2015, though he posted solid grades between 69.0 and 74.0 from 2016 to 2019 across three different teams. Watkins’ 64.4 overall grade in 2020 is the lowest of his career, though he always seems good for a couple of dominant games per season, and last year it showed up at the right time during the Chiefs’ Super Bowl run.
At 28 years old entering next season, Watkins can still bring value to an NFL club when healthy, however, it’s unlikely the cap-strapped Chiefs will be that team again. Instead, PFF predicts the Baltimore Ravens will sign the wideout to a three-year, $30 million contract with $21 million in total guarantees.
Le’Veon Bell Headed to South Beach?
The situation surrounding Bell is similar but different from his offensive counterpart. Both players, while immensely talented in their primes, are surrounded by replacement level or better on the Chiefs depth chart, making them expendable in exchange for the cap relief they can provide. However, the case could be made that the soon-to-be 30-year-old Bell is the more valuable asset to the right team, despite his average stat sheet.
This season, Bell ended with a 73.9 overall PFF grade and averaged more than three yards per carry after contact in addition to dropping just one pass. He won’t break the bank anymore and could be a useful addition to a backfield lacking in talent.
Assuming 2020 first-rounder Clyde Edwards-Helaire recovers fully from his Week 15 hip and ankle injury, Andy Reid appears ready to hand the reins over to the rookie in 2021. Backups Darrel Williams and Darwin Thompson have also shown promise when called upon over the past two seasons, giving Kansas City another reason to side with their younger, underutilized talent going forward.
PFF sees Bell moving on after a playoff run (and potential Super Bowl ring) with the Chiefs, heading south to Miami on a two-year, $10 million deal with the up-and-coming Dolphins. This might have some legs as Miami was one of three finalists in the running to sign Bell after his breakup in the Big Apple in October.
Not all could be lost for Reid’s club though. PFF has Breeland re-upping with the Chiefs on a similar two-year deal worth $10 million ($5.5 million guaranteed). This would come on the heels of the 28-year-old corner signing a one-year, $3 million “prove it” deal this past offseason to return to Kansas City after the free agent cornerback market fizzled out. When asked by reporters in early December about his future plans, Breeland was quick to shut down any speculation, but rather is “just focused on the present.”
Chris Licata is an NFL contributor covering the Kansas City Chiefs from enemy territory in Denver, Colorado. Follow him on Twitter @Chris__Licata or join the Heavy on Chiefs Facebook community for the latest out of Chiefs Kingdom!