Tonight, multiple sources have informed Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune that Sammy Watkins is the Bears’ top target in their quest to find a No. 1 wide receiver for 2018.
Obviously, Watkins has his warts – he caught only 39 passes for 593 yards for the Los Angeles Rams last season – but he did score eight touchdowns, and developed a solid rapport with young QB Jared Goff. And, as far as free agent receivers with upside go, he’s right up there among the very best. As compared to top free agent wide receiver Allen Robinson, Watkins isn’t coming off an ACL tear. So there’s also that, I suppose.
There’s always the chance that Watkins can re-create the magic in 2018 with Mitch Trubisky, who happens to be Goff’s roommate this offseason.
Goff produced a 116.0 passer rating and 8-to-1 TD-INT ratio when throwing to Watkins in 2017. If nothing else, Watkins was as steady as they could come in Los Angeles, and was one of just two receivers who was targeted at least 50 times last season and didn’t have a drop.
Moreover, Watkins’ mere presence can impact the success of those around him.
Watkins, still just 24(!), has speed to burn, and has proved to be a playmaker when healthy. His ability to take the top off a defense could open up underneath routes for receivers, the middle of the field for pass-catching tight ends, and keep safeties from jamming the box against a running game. These are all things that would help Chicago’s offense escape the basement. Robinson might be a slight preference, all things considered, but Watkins brings a lot to the table.
The Bears are expected to have some stiff competition if they want to lock in Watkins this offseason, including from their arch rivals in Green Bay, and they’re going to have to come ready with the checkbook to make it happen. The top receivers in the game are in the $13 to $16 million annual range right now (with a guarantee exceeding $20 million), and even if Watkins’ performance doesn’t place him among their ranks, that is sometimes the cost of doing business in free agency.
Outside of the cost, I know there’s some concern about Watkins among many Bears fans. Despite the obvious upside, he’s failed to post a 1,000 yard season since 2015 (that was actually his only 1,000+ yard season) and has dealt with injuries over the past two years. Given the frustrating start to Kevin White’s career, we’re all especially sensitive to those problems.
Even still, Watkins has the sort of ceiling no one else on the Bears boasts, and could be a great *start* to a broader offseason plan (which could still include drafting a receiver like Calvin Ridley/Courtland Sutton/Christian Kirk, and/or signing someone like Albert Wilson).
And, of course, Watkins isn’t the only receiver the Bears have eyes for right now. Biggs adds the team is also believed to have shown interest in Allen Robinson, who also fits the bill as a top pass-catching option. With the Bears having as many needs as they do at receiver, an aggressive search leaving no stone un-turned would be the best way to go about finding that top receiver Matt Nagy’s offense desperately needs.