The Buffalo Bills would be wise to take a pass on picking up the fifth-year option on Sammy Watkins' rookie contract.
Saying that doesn't mean Watkins is anything less than the best wide receiver the Bills have. Nor does it mean he has zero chance of ever emerging into the consistent dominant force the Bills expected when they made him the fourth overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft.
It simply means that the Bills should proceed cautiously with a player whose first three seasons in the NFL have been primarily defined by his inability to stay healthy.
Watkins is recovering from his second foot surgery and his third operation overall since his rookie season. He has dealt with a variety of physical issues, which have kept him out of 11 games in the past two years, and there's ample reason for the team to have major questions about his durability.
If it were solely up General Manager Doug Whaley, there might very well not be any reason to wonder whether the Bills would pick up the option by the May 2 deadline. After all, it was Whaley who made the bold/foolish decision to trade up to the No. 4 spot three years ago to land Watkins. Everything the receiver did from that point carried Whaley's signature, and it would be fair to assume the GM would not want to do anything that would even remotely appear as if he were giving up on his major investment.
But it isn't solely or even mostly up to Whaley.
Sean McDermott is going to have the largest say, and he has zero attachment to Watkins. All he knows is that the incumbent No. 1 received missed half of last season due to a stress fracture in his foot and so far hasn't been able to do anything in offseason workouts except ride a stationary bike.
McDermott also knows that Watkins is under contract for the 2017 season, which provides another year of gauging whether he finally has fully recovered from the foot problem that dates to last offseason. It offers ample time to see whether he can, in fact, remain healthy for an entire season while also figuring out if their woeful passing game makes the sort of strides that would inspire greater investment at receiver or quarterback, for that matter.
After that, the Bills would be in far better position to determine if they should throw a big-money, long-term deal at Watkins.
Giving him a fifth contractual season would only compound the risk that the franchise took in the reckless manner in which it acquired him three years ago.