LOS ANGELES -- In the end, given how the market played out, it's clear that the Los Angeles Rams were not going to be able to keep them both. They had one franchise tag and two players, defensive back Lamarcus Joyner and wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who were eventually going to command salaries at the top of their markets. Franchise one, and the other would probably price his way off a Rams team that needs to make room in its salary cap to extend Aaron Donald -- and then potentially Todd Gurley, and then possibly Jared Goff.
The Rams chose Joyner, then lost Watkins.
In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, Watkins agreed to join the Chiefs with a three-year contract worth $16 million per season, as first reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter. The Rams remained among Watkins' most interested suitors, but feared from the onset that his market would slip away from them. Those fears were realized less than 24 hours before the start of the new league year.
Now the Rams are likely to fill the Watkins void internally. Josh Reynolds, who impressed as a rookie, can serve as a vertical threat in their offense, joining Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp in three-receiver sets to form a similar dynamic. So can Michael Thomas, who impressed Sean McVay and his coaching staff before being handed a four-game suspension after violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.
The Rams are expected to have somewhere in the neighborhood of $35 million in salary-cap space once they cut ties with Tavon Austin, the expensive gadget receiver who has perpetually struggled to find a fit. But they have needs at center, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, slot corner and potentially along their defensive line. The wide receiver position doesn't stand out as a major need.
Rather, employing Watkins served as a luxury -- one the Rams still wanted, but perhaps also one they can live without.
The risk of losing Watkins too soon began last offseason, even before they traded for him. They weren't able to come to an agreement on a long-term deal with Joyner, then his price soared after he transitioned so well from a part-time corner to a full-time safety. Joyner's side was going to have a hard time settling for an extension before testing the open market, which prompted the tag's use.
The Rams gave up their 2018 second-round pick to pluck Watkins away from the Buffalo Bills last summer. It hurts now. But they'll probably get a third-round compensatory pick next year. They paid him $690,000 against their cap and benefited from a full, healthy season of him opening up the rest of the field for the likes of Woods, Kupp and Gurley.
Watkins only caught for 593 yards, but his presence was a major reason why the Rams ultimately became the first team in the Super Bowl era to go from last to first in points from one season to the next.
Now it's off to other business.