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Jerry Sullivan: Everyone has to earn it, including Sammy Watkins

Column as I see 'em:

During the press conference after Doug Whaley's firing, Terry Pegula downplayed the concept of a football "czar." He suggested that the term was a media creation and said he'd stick with the term "general manager".

There's no way Pegula is bringing in a czar type now, a veteran football man to oversee the show. The Pegulas have empowered Sean McDermott to the point where the new head coach is essentially the czar, the man whose vision drives the operation.

A few days after presiding over the NFL draft, McDermott exercised his powers again Tuesday when the Bills announced that they weren't going to pick up the fifth-year option on Sammy Watkins's rookie contract.

The move was no surprise. Vic Carucci reported that the Bills weren't expected to pick up the option last Friday, around the time that McDermott made wideout Zay Jones the 37th overall pick of the draft.

Basically, the Bills didn't believe it was worth locking in Watkins for a fifth year, which would cost them $13.258 million and be guaranteed for injury. They can always slap a franchise tag on Watkins – keeping him in Buffalo for about $3 million more – if he has a big year.

It's a risk worth taking. Watkins has suffered 10 different injuries since the Bills spent two first-round picks to take him in the 2014 draft. Last year, he was hobbled by a broken foot for the entire season. He is recovering from a second foot surgery.

McDermott said repeatedly during the draft that every player (and coach) had to earn his position. This move tells Watkins – and the team –that he's no different. He needs to be healthy and productive to get paid. Watkins and his agent might not like it, but it's understandable that the Bills would be wary.

Bills won't pick up option on Sammy Watkins' contract

When he's back on the field, presumably at 100 percent, Watkins will be motivated to prove the Bills wrong and justify a massive contract extension. It's good to have hungry players. The guy throwing him the football, Tyrod Taylor, will be trying to justify a big deal, too.

McDermott is the most secure figure in the organization, given free rein to run the show and create a more intense level of competition within the team. Unlike recently departed GM Doug Whaley, McDermott doesn't carry the burden of investing so much of his reputation in Watkins.

It's a new day. Watkins is no longer the cornerstore of the franchise, but a guy trying to justify his place on the team. If he stays healthy and plays like a superstar, his big pay day will come.

* * *

McDermott's true field of expertise is defense. He'll have his hands full next season, especially with an NFC South crossover that features some of the most talented and improving offenses in the NFL.

The Falcons and quarterback Matt Ryan, who rode the eighth-highest scoring offense in NFL history to the Super Bowl last season, will be geared up for Buffalo in their new stadium on Oct. 1.

The Panthers, who slipped after making the Bowl two years ago, drafted two versatile weapons in running back Christian McCaffery and wideout Curtis Samuel. Cam Newton and Co., who led the NFL with 500 points scored in 2015, will be a formidable test when the Bills visit Charlotte on Sept.17.

The Saints, who led the league in offense last season, visit New Era on Nov. 12. Drew Brees is 38, but he showed no signs of slowing down last season when he passed for 5,208 yards. Oh, they signed running back Adrian Peterson. If he has a lot left in the tank at 32, look out.

Finally, the Buccaneers might be the most improved team in the NFL. They signed Desean Jackson, perhaps the best deep receiver in the game, to team with Pro Bowler Mike Evans. They got the best tight end in the draft, O.J. Howard, who slipped to 19.

Doug Martin, who was second in the league in rushing in 2015, is healthy and will be back from a PED suspension when Tampa comes to town on Oct. 22.

Mark Gaughan: Three things the Pegulas can learn from Doug Whaley's ouster

* * *

The Celtics-Bulls series reminded us not to overreact when a team loses the opener at home. But from what I saw Monday night, the Spurs are in deep trouble in their second-round series against the Houston Rockets.

Houston won, 126-99, and could have won by 40. They led by 30 at halftime, the largest halftime playoff deficit in San Antonio's history. The Rockets sank 22 of 50 three-pointers (yes, 50!) and most were wide-open looks.

The Spurs Gregg Popovich is a great coach, but this game reminded me how good Mike D'Antoni can be when he has the guys for his system. His lineups created mismatches all over the floor against the slower, older Spurs.

LaMarcus Aldridge, who makes $21 million a year, looks lost out there. Aldridge had four points, shooting 2-for-7, and didn't get to the line. At 6-11, 260 pounds, he's one of the softest playoff big men I've seen.

* * *

It's hard to say what was worse: Noah Syndergaard refusing to take an MRI after having a start pushed back from Thursday due to biceps tendinitis, or the Mets sending him out to pitch against the Nationals on Sunday, anyway.

Syndergaard lasted until the second inning, when he partially tore a lat muscle. He's out indefinitely. It's unclear whether the injuries were related. Still, considering the delicate way the Mets have handled young pitchers – Matt Harvey, anyone? – it's amazing that they let Thor pitch.

Manager Terry Collins said guys have always played hurt. But he should have sat Syndergaard until he was 100 percent. Of course, deferring to a star pitcher is nothing new for Collins. Remember him leaving Harvey in too long in the final World Series game two years ago?

* * *

My initial reaction to seeing Sidney Crosby lying on the ice in pain Monday night was regret for Crosby and the NHL, which was in the midst of what promised to be an epic second-round series between two great rivals.

After watching it on tape, I felt it was an unfortunate hit, but not a pre-meditated attack, as the homers in Pittsburgh suggest. Crosby was going down after a hit from Alex Ovechkin when Matt Niskanen drilled him. Crosby raised the emotional stakes, but I agree with Barry Trotz.

It was a hockey play.

* * *

Going back to last year's Eastern Conference finals, the Cavaliers have won four straight home playoff games against the Raptors, outscoring them by an average of 25 points a game and shooting over 50 percent. The closest was Cleveland's 116-105 win in the opener of the conference semifinals Monday night.

The Cavs are deeper this year, with Deron Williams and Kyle Korver coming  off the bench. LeBron James hasn't lost a conference playoff series since 2010, and that's not changing if Toronto can't get stops.

* * *

One day after telling me how upset he was to be in the minor leagues, Chris Coghlan got called up from Buffalo to Toronto. Now, with Josh Donaldson out, he's platooning at third base. Coghlan hit his first homer Monday night in a win over the Yanks and was 5 for his last 11.

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