Chiefs offer nothing but superlatives for former Rams receiver Sammy Watkins
A year after watching the Rams play in the Super Bowl, receiver Sammy Watkins finally gets his chance to do the same.
Watkins left the Rams after the 2017 season to sign a massive free-agent contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. His performance last season helped the Chiefs reach the AFC title game, but the New England Patriots advanced to the Super Bowl to play — and defeat — the Rams.
On Sunday, Watkins will be on the field at Hard Rock Stadium as the Chiefs play the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV.
“It’s a dream come true,” Watkins said of playing on the sport’s biggest stage. “I left the Rams and they went there — that kind of hurt me. ... The biggest thing is to get to the show, and we’re actually here now.”
Watkins, 26, is an instrumental piece of a high-flying Chiefs offense that features star quarterback Patrick Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce and speedy wideout Tyreek Hill.
Watkins caught 52 passes for 673 yards and three touchdowns this season. In a 35-24 AFC championship game victory over the Tennessee Titans, he had seven receptions for 114 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown.
But Watkins’ importance to the offense goes beyond his catch total.
“The way he’s able to just attract defenders, get some of the best cornerbacks to cover him, so other guys can get open,” Mahomes said. “He’s able to recognize coverages on the fly and get himself open. He’s a guy that’s very vital to our offense and helped us get to where we’re at.”
Super Bowl LIV is also Embree Bowl I. Father Jon and son Taylor coach for the 49ers. Son/brother Connor coaches for the Chiefs.
Watkins, the No. 4 pick in the 2014 NFL draft, was sidelined and hampered by injuries through much of his three seasons with the Buffalo Bills. But he showed he could remain healthy and productive in his lone season with the Rams.
General manager Les Snead traded for the 6-foot-1, 211-pound Watkins during 2017 training camp, giving then first-year coach Sean McVay a potential deep threat to go along with Robert Woods, who had been signed as a free agent, and rookie Cooper Kupp.
Watkins caught 39 passes, a team-best eight for touchdowns, and excelled on slant routes inside the 20-yard line.
In an early-season game against the 49ers, Watkins made a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch and finished with six receptions for 106 yards and two touchdowns. Watkins, who was in the final year of his contract, described it as his ‘‘Welcome to the Rams” performance.
But it wasn’t a completely smooth ride for Watkins during the season. The week after his big game, he caught only one pass. He had no catches in the next game. Former Rams receiver Torry Holt tweeted about the situation and Watkins responded, leading to a sit-down with McVay.
“There was just a time when I had to check my ego,” Watkins said, “and realize we’re winning.”
After the Rams finished 11-5 and advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 2004, Watkins had said he hoped to remain with a team that featured McVay and quarterback Jared Goff.
The Rams could have put the franchise tag on Watkins for about $16.2 million, but they opted to use it on safety Lamarcus Joyner, at a cost of $11 million. Watkins, they thought, might still be available once the receiver market was set.
But as free agency began, the Chiefs blew open the market, signing Watkins to a three-year, $48 million deal that included $30 million in guarantees. The Rams later traded a No. 1 draft pick to acquire receiver Brandin Cooks, and then gave him a five-year, $81-million contract that included about $50 million in guarantees.
Watkins said this week that during his season with the Rams he learned how to take care of his body and how to be a good teammate.
“A real one,” he said, “not someone that’s faking.”
He holds McVay — “I love him,” Watkins said — and receivers coach Eric Yarber in high regard, and said that he was happy for Woods, running back Todd Gurley and other former teammates as they made a run to the Super Bowl.
“Part of me felt like that was my world,” he said.
Now it’s Watkins’ turn.
Joe Montana played for the 49ers and Chiefs, foes in Super Bowl LIV. He won four titles with San Francisco but also has an affinity for Kansas City.
Kelce leads the Chiefs in receptions and Hill leads in touchdown catches, but Watkins is just as important to the offense.
“He’s a big part of what we do,” coach Andy Reid said.
Much of that does not show up in in a box score, offensive lineman Mitchell Schwartz said.
“People look at the contract and the stats and they say that it doesn’t match up — I just don’t buy into that,” Schwartz said. “What he does for the offense really opens everything up.
“He’s the biggest guy we’ve got, he’s able to handle the press coverages, able to kind of set the point and tempo for things.”
Richard Sherman, the 49ers’ star cornerback, is well aware of Watkins’ strengths.
“He’s a powerful route runner, he’s faster than a lot of people give him credit for, he has a great first step, great set of hands and he attacks the football,” Sherman said.
Safety Jimmie Ward said he was looking forward to another matchup against the physical and savvy Watkins.
“I like playing against him,” Ward said. “Every time I hit him, he comes with it, drops his shoulder, drops the helmet.
“Like, I remember playing against him [with] the Rams and me and him colliding. I was like, ‘OK I felt ya.’ It was cool. So it’s going to be good to feel him again because we’re definitely going to collide Sunday.”
Watkins has a year remaining on his contract but his future with the Chiefs is not certain. He is due to carry a salary-cap number of $21 million next season.
The Chiefs signed Hill to a huge extension in September, and a record-breaking deal for Mahomes is no doubt on the horizon. So the Chiefs could decide to part ways with Watkins.
Dustin Colquitt’s father and brother have Super Bowl rings. In fact, his father has two. The Chiefs punter is hoping he can earn one.
For now, Watkins is focused on winning the game. Kelce and Hill were Mahomes’ primary targets during the season. If that is the case against the 49ers, Watkins will be happy to do his part.
“I think the world knows when I get the ball in my hands something special is going to happen,” he said. “So I always check my ego. … If I have [only] 40 yards in a game, that doesn’t define my greatness, I know I’m a great player.
“It’s just a situation I’m in and I think it’s the best situation I’m in. To be in the Super Bowl, that the best feeling ever.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
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