Saturday, August 12, 2017

Rams Acquire WR Sammy Watkins in Trade With Bills & Game Preview: Rams Take on Cowboys in Preseason Opener

The Los Angeles Rams have acquired wide receiver Sammy Watkins from the Buffalo Bills along with a 2018 sixth-round pick in exchange for E.J. Gaines and a 2018 second-round selection.

Watkins was the fourth overall selection by the Bills in the 2014 Draft after starring collegiately at Clemson. He had spent his first three NFL seasons with the Bills. In 2016, he totaled 28 catches for 430 yards and two touchdowns in eight games played while missing half of the season because of a foot injury.

For his career Watkins has totaled 153 catches, 2,459 receiving yards and 17 scores in 37 games. He had career highs of 1,047 receiving yards, nine TDs, 80.5 yards-per-game and 17.5 yards-per-catch in 2015 while appearing in 13 contests that year.

Watkins rejoins former teammate Robert Woods in the Rams’ wide receiver corps. Woods signed with the Rams as a free agent in the the offseason after playing his first four seasons with the Bills.

Gaines is entering his fourth NFL season after being drafted by the Rams in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft out of Missouri. Gaines, who appeared in 11 games in 2016, was slated to back up starting cornerback Kayvon Webster on the team’s unofficial depth chart this season.

Three Things to Know about Sammy Watkins
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins is the centerpiece of a deal that brings experience and explosive-play ability to the Rams’ offense. Here are three things to know about the newest target for quarterback Jared Goff.

1) No. 1 ability
There’s a reason why Watkins was selected with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft, and that’s his potential to be a true top-flight wide receiver.

At 6-foot-1 and 211 pounds, he has the size. Running a 4.43 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine showed he has the speed. And his performance with the Bills has provided examples of production.

Watkins played 29 games over his first two seasons, and in that time averaged 62 receptions for 1,014 yards with eight touchdowns in each year. While he missed three games due to injury in 2015, Watkins still had an outstanding year, making 60 receptions for 1,047 yards with nine touchdowns.

Displaying his big-play capability, Watkins finished No. 3 with seven receptions of at least 40 yards, and he had 18 receptions of at least 20 yards. He also ended the year No. 6 in yards per reception at 17.5.

Those are explosive numbers — the kind that would bring some much-needed juice to the Rams’ offense.

2) How’s his health?
Watkins missed eight games in 2016 due to a foot injury. While he initially had surgery on the foot in the spring of that year, he hadn’t quite fully recovered and went on injured reserve early in the season. The Bills designated him to return, and he came off the list for their last six games. But Watkins’ production was not at the level it had been for his first two seasons.

The wide receiver then elected to have another surgery during the offseason in order to correct the problem. And through a couple weeks of training camp and his first preseason game, Watkins is beginning to look like himself again.

In Thursday’s preseason matchup against the Vikings, Watkins caught four passes for 39 yards on five targets. The Bills targeted Watkins on their first three offensive plays, and the wide receiver caught all three passes.

“This was the best I've ever felt," Watkins said following Thursday’s game, via NYup.com. "Practice was grinding. Today, I was free. I was just out there running my routes, having fun, just looking to get the ball. I wasn't pressing or anything. I was just trying to score honestly."

3) Contract year
While Watkins is a former first-round pick in the 2014 draft, the Bills elected to decline his fifth-year option. This means the wideout is now in a contract year and is slated to be an unrestricted free agent in March, as he enters his first season in L.A.

In addition to cornerback E.J. Gaines, the Rams surrendered a 2018 second-round pick to acquire Watkins — significant draft capital. Still, it will be incumbent on the team and player to find a solution that works for both sides if there is to be a long-term deal.

If there’s one recent comparison for this situation with the Rams, it would be linebacker Mark Barron — though the situations are not exactly parallel. The club acquired the Buccaneers’ 2012 first-round pick through a midseason trade in 2014. The Rams declined his fifth-year option, but then reached an agreement on a five-year contract early in the free agency period last March.

Inside the Sammy Watkins Trade. When there’s a trade in any sport, there are questions. How did it come about? What were the teams trying to accomplish?

On Friday, the Rams were involved in their third high-profile trade of the last three years, acquiring wide receiver Sammy Watkins and a 2018 sixth-round pick from the Bills in exchange for cornerback E.J. Gaines and a 2018 second-round selection. The former No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft, Watkins immediately brings size, speed, and big-play ability to Los Angeles.

“With Sammy, I think clearly you’re getting a special receiver,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said. “Obviously, his career when he’s been available, he’s been outstanding in terms of being able to stretch the field vertically, but when the balls in his hands, good things happen. We feel like he’s going to be a good addition to our offense.”

With Watkins’ proven ability to be a downfield threat — he finished No. 3 with seven receptions of at least 40 yards in 2015 — McVay and general manager Les Snead both said the wideout compliments the Rams’ current personnel well.

“When you attack a team with your pass game, you’d like to use the width of the field and the length of the field. And that’s what speed can do to allow you to attack vertically as well as the width,” Snead said. “So it’s really just trying to open the field up. And it’s not just one person — it might be a tight end this week. It might be a slot receiver this down. It may be a running back out of the backfield or running the ball. So I think it really helps.”

“I feel like adding Sammy to the mix with guys like Robert Woods and Tavon Austin — you’re looking at the emergence of Cooper Kupp. Pharoh Cooper’s done a nice job, done some nice things, done a nice job filling in. And then the tight ends continue to do a nice job as far as developing in their roles. And obviously we know what a special back Todd Gurley is,” McVay said.

While the trade wasn’t done until Friday morning, Snead said the two teams have been discussing it for a while. The general manager said talks began in the spring, around the time Buffalo declined to exercise Watkins’ fifth-year option. And then when Brandon Beane was named the Bills’ general manager after the draft, the conversations started once again.

“We kept talking during the summer and it came to fruition this week,” Snead said.

“But, anytime you’re able to acquire a player of Sammy’s caliber,” McVay added, “that was certainly something that we wanted to be able to do and we feel fortunate that we got that done.”

While he averaged 62 receptions for 1,014 yards and eight touchdowns in his each of his first two seasons, Watkins’ production dipped in 2016 when he missed eight games due to a foot injury. The wideout underwent offseason surgery to correct the issue, and through the offseason program, training camp, and a preseason game, Watkins has been healthy.

In Buffalo’s matchup with Minnesota on Thursday, Watkins caught four passes for 39 yards on five targets. Snead said the Rams looked into the wide receiver’s health and were satisfied with what they discovered.

“We definitely discussed it,” Snead said. “I think it’s probably one of the reasons that maybe they didn’t put the fifth-year option on him. But when we dove into it, we felt comfortable taking the risk, making this move, and going forward.”

Because the Bills declined to exercise Watkins’ option, he is now in the final year of his rookie contract. Though Snead said the Rams and Watkins have not yet discussed a potential contract extension out of respect for the player, Snead added Los Angeles doesn’t see this trade as a short-term decision.

“I think he’s 24, so you don’t just do it for the now — although we do think he’ll help the now,” Snead said. “But because of the age, you’d like for it to be [for the] future as well — long term instead of just short term.”

So how will the Rams integrate Watkins into their offense? McVay said the first step will be to figure out where his best position is in the offensive scheme.

“I think that you can’t find enough spots for good football players and that’s what we’re getting in Sammy Watkins,” McVay said. “That’s our job as coaches, is to do a good job of putting these guys in good situations, finding a way to develop an offense that’s conducive for our players skillsets. When you add a player like that, those are the types of players that make coaches look good because he’s been so successful throughout the course of his career.”

Watkins is currently slated to arrive in L.A. on Saturday. While he won’t suit up for the Rams’ matchup with the Cowboys, McVay said the team will get Watkins up to speed as soon as possible.

“We’ll get him going right away, start getting him acclimated to our verbiage and our system and looking forward to being able to get to know him a little bit better and see how he’s able to absorb the material,” McVay said. “He’s certainly going to be a good addition for our offense and I think the guys are excited about it.”

Game Preview: Rams Take on Cowboys in Preseason Opener
Game Preview: Rams Take on Cowboys in Preseason Opener
The NFL preseason has officially arrived. The Rams will be back at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday to take on the Cowboys in their preseason opener for the second straight year. 
Following the first two weeks of training camp at the team’s summer home of UC Irvine, the Rams will begin a preseason slate of games that also includes two AFC West opponents in the Raiders and Chargers, as well as a matchup with the Packers at Lambeau Field. Saturday’s kickoff marks Sean McVay’s first preseason game as an NFL head coach. 

 “I’m excited, I’m excited to watch these guys compete,” McVay said. “I think it offers a great opportunity for us to play in front of our home fans for the first time this season [and] I know as a coaching staff and our players, we’re excited about it.”

 Though the exhibition matchups do not count towards the regular season wins and losses, it will be the first time since January that fans will get to see the Rams take on an opponent. These four preseason games will also provide McVay’s new coaching staff a necessary chance to get everything in order. 

 “That’s what I think the preseason offers, a great opportunity really for us as coaches,” McVay said, “so that by the time the Indianapolis Colts game rolls around, we feel good about our process and how we want to handle things throughout the course of the game.”

Quarterback Jared Goff is under a lot of pressure heading into both the preseason opener and regular season after a rocky rookie campaign. Throughout training camp, Goff has shown tremendous growth in his confidence as the starting quarterback and a lot of budding chemistry with his new receiving group, specifically wideouts Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. 

 And although after Monday’s practice McVay said many of the projected starters would play just six to 10 snaps during Saturday’s opener, Goff still expressed his excitement at getting back into the action. 

 “It feels like it’s been coming for a long time now, to kind of get a chance to get back out there in the Coliseum and see all the fans again,” Goff said. “ I’m ready to get out there and just run some plays — see a real defense, maybe get hit a couple times, just go through some things that you go through in a real game and get back into that feel.”

 Woods also voiced his anticipation to be back at the Coliseum where he played as a student-athlete at USC. Though he has since played in the stadium as a member of the Bills, Saturday will be Woods’ first time back as a member of the home team. 

 “I’m excited, excited to walk down and experience it once again, have the home crowd cheering,” Woods said of going back to his former college stadium. “I have not been back in the locker room since I’ve played there. I have been in the visitor’s small locker room, which I don’t want to be a part of again. It’s just a little taste of the season since it’s the preseason.”

 But Goff and Woods aren’t the only players to keep an eye on this Saturday. The preseason allows for the stacked 90-man roster to prove themselves worthy of a spot on the much lighter 53-man roster for the regular season. Projected starters Robert Quinn, Mark Barron and Kayvon Webster are all expected to sit out in tomorrow’s game, as is newly signed wide receiver Sammy Watkins, whom the Rams traded for earlier this morning. With these four off the field many other players will have plenty of opportunity to make an impact.  

 On defense, the Rams will face a former rookie standout in quarterback Dak Prescott, who saw his first NFL game action in last year’s opener at the Coliseum, as well as quarterbacks Kellen Moore and Cooper Rush who both had impressive showings in the Cowboys’ win over the Cardinals last week. And though Dallas’ offensive starters won’t play for too long on Saturday, they will provide a good measuring stick for where the Rams’ defense stands under coordinator Wade Phillips. 

 Expect a lot of rotation in the Rams’ secondary as the staff works in a slew of players including cornerbacks Nickell Robey-Coleman and Troy Hill, as well as safety John Johnson. The D-line’s depth will also be tested against the Cowboys’ running game as they attempt to stop the likes of running backs Alfred Morris and Rod Smith against a talented Cowboys’ offensive line. 

 Saturday will also provide the Rams’ offense with its first true test of the season, especially early on in the game when the unit matches up against the Cowboys’ starting defense. Look for first-round draft pick defensive end Taco Charlton on the pass rush and young additions to the Cowboys’ secondary, including Jourdan Lewis and Xavier Woods, to challenge Los Angeles’ backfield.

 “It’s a great test,” McVay said of taking on the Cowboys. “I think Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett does an excellent job with the team and it’s clear why they were NFC East champs last year, so I think it offers an excellent opportunity for our team to go against a quality opponent and see how our first-string guys handle those first couple plays, but it’s going to be a great challenge for us.”

 Kickoff is set for Saturday at 6 p.m.

How To Watch: Rams vs. Cowboys. 

Broadcast information for the Los Angeles Rams’ preseason opener against the Dallas Cowboys at L.A. Memorial Coliseum.
The game kicks off at 6pm PT on Saturday.
The Rams are set to take on the Cowboys in Week 1 of the preseason, with the live game being available throughout the Los Angeles area. The preseason opener will be broadcast locally CBS 2 as well as UniMás 46 Los Angeles. Fans living outside of the L.A. market are also able watch the game live on NFL Network or by signing up for a 7-day free trial of NFL Game Pass. Below is the full broadcast information for Saturday’s game, along with information on how to get NFL Game Pass.

BROADCAST INFO
  • TELEVISION: CBS 2 in Los Angeles, Orange County and San Bernardino County (Play-by-play provided by: Andrew Siciliano, Marshall Faulk, and Daniel Jeremiah. Sideline Reporting from: Jill Arrington and Dani Klupenger). The game will also be broadcast on UniMás 46 Los Angeles and nationally on NFL Network.

  • RADIO:  ESPN 710 AM, 100.3 The Sound FM (Play-by-play provided by:J.B. Long, Maurice Jones-Drew and D’Marco Farr). Tune into 1330 AM for ESPN Deportes' live Spanish broadcast of the game.


  • ONLINE: NFL Game Pass* gives you access to live out-of-market preseason games, replays of every game, the NFL Films Archive and so much more! Click here above to sign up for your FREE 7-day trial and start getting unprecedented access to every game, all year long.

*For domestic subscribers NFL Game Pass does not include live regular season, playoff, or Super Bowl game broadcasts, as well as some preseason games broadcasts. Access to these games is available within NFL Game Pass on an on-demand basis in the NFL Game Pass archives. International subscribers are able to watch both preseason and regular season games as they happen with certain restrictions. Audio feeds may be subject to availability. 2009-2011 games are temporarily unavailable. For a full description of features, requirement, limitations, and other information, visit our FAQ at NFL.com/help/GamePass.
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