This is the sixth in a 10-part series previewing some of the biggest questions the Buffalo Bills will have to answer when training camp begins July 27 at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford.
Sammy Watkins has kept a low profile this offseason.
The Buffalo Bills' No. 1 receiver elected not to speak with reporters at all during the spring as he recovered from a second surgery on his left foot. If Watkins is tired of talking about his health, the team's fans can certainly relate. They're tired of hearing about it, too.
After initially having surgery in April, Watkins' foot never really healed the way he hoped it would. He played in the first two games of the 2016 season before the team placed him on injured reserve. He returned to play the final six games, but never looked like himself in finishing the year with 28 catches for 430 yards and two touchdowns.
After the season finale in New York, he said he hoped to avoid surgery, but days later elected to have the procedure done. His rehab appears to be on schedule, as he was able to participate in a few team drills before the Bills wrapped up their spring practices. With six weeks between mandatory minicamp and start of training camp, Watkins should be close to 100 percent when camp starts Thursday.
“Credit to Sammy, credit to our training staff and the way he’s attacked the rehab with them," coach Sean McDermott said at that time, according to the Bills' official website. "That has to continue, though. This is one step in that process of getting Sammy back to where he needs to be and where we need him to be."
It's fair to say the Bills still need convincing that will happen. That was evidenced by the decision not to pick up Watkins' fifth-year contract option.
"Sammy and I have had good conversations about this decision," McDermott said in a statement. "There is no question that Sammy is a very good football player and has worked very hard during his rehab this offseason. We look forward to seeing a healthy Sammy Watkins on the field in 2017."
Detecting a theme yet? With Watkins, it's all about his ability to stay on the field.
When he has, he's shown dynamic ability. He caught 60 or more passes in each of his first two seasons, and finished with 1,047 yards and nine touchdowns in 2015. He also played in only 13 games that season because of, you guessed it, injuries.
The Bills have taken steps this offseason to prepare for what might happen if Watkins isn't healthy. The team drafted Zay Jones in the second round, and is expected to host veteran Anquan Boldin on a free-agent visit Monday. Of course, neither of those players would be expected to put up the kind of numbers Watkins is capable of when healthy.
For that reason, the expectation is that the Bills will be deliberate in getting Watkins ready for the regular season. That could mean reduced practice time and limited appearances in preseason games. There is plenty at stake – for both sides –on Watkins staying healthy.
Earlier this offseason, after the wave of mega contracts handed out in the NBA, Watkins made headlines when he tweeted about the need for NFL players to get paid more. The only way that will happen in his case is to have the type of year the former Bills' front office thought he was capable of when they traded two first-round draft picks to move up five spots in the 2014 NFL Draft to acquire him. If that doesn't happen, and the Bills move on from Watkins after 2017, he'll go down as one of the bigger busts in team history when considering the amount they paid to acquire him.
Watkins hasn't come close to living up to those expectations, which is made all the more clear whenever stats for Odell Beckham Jr. flash across the screen. Of course, there is still time for Watkins to show he's the same caliber of receiver, but the sand is quickly draining from the hourglass.