Fantasy Football: What Sammy Watkins’ restructured contract means for Mecole Hardman

We’ve been covering everything you need to know about free agency, but sometimes the impact of smaller moves can go overlooked. After an impressive playoff run to cap what was otherwise a fairly disappointing campaign, Sammy Watkins restructured his contract with the Chiefs this week, in a move that has significant Fantasy ramifications. 

Under the terms of his contract, Watkins was set to have a cap number of $21 million, which was frankly more than the Chiefs could really justify. That made him a potential cut candidate, but after the restructure the Chiefs saved $6.125 million against the cap while Watkins picked up some more certainty and some incentives. 

The Chiefs also brought back Demarcus Robinson after the veteran’s market never formed to his liking, so Kansas City will head into 2020 with essentially the same receiver group as 2019. That’s a bit of a problem for Mecole Hardman, particularly.

Hardman is a speedster who the Chiefs traded up to draft amid uncertainty about Tyreek Hill’s future, and he had a very unique rookie season. Hardman saw just 41 targets for the year, but he posted an otherworldly 13.1 yards per target mark that — while unsustainable — suggests very positive things about his Fantasy future catching passes from Patrick Mahomes if his role were to increase.  

But for most rookies, a lack of volume can be explained by being brought along slowly, as playing time tends to increase throughout the year. Hardman’s season was the inverse of that — when Hill went down in Week 1, Hardman was thrust into a 78% snap share, which would be his season high. Through the first seven weeks of the season, much of which Hill missed, Hardman played at least 48% of the snaps in every game, and he racked up 30 of his 41 targets for the year. Hill left another game early — a matchup with the Chargers in Mexico City — and Hardman played a 76% snap share and saw four targets in that one, as well. 

Unfortunately, in Hardman’s eight other games down the stretch, he never broke a 40% snap share and totaled just seven targets. Now that role wasn’t entirely without value — a whopping five of those targets resulted in completions of 25 yards or more, including three long scores — because Hardman was used as a situational deep threat. He also saw just six targets in three playoff games, topping out at a 40% snap share.  

So Hardman’s playing time was closely linked to Hill’s health, and one way Hardman could have seen the field more in 2020 would have been if Watkins was gone, and the Chiefs found more creative ways to get Hill and Hardman on the field together. It’s not like an excess of speed would be considered a bad thing, after all. 

But with the restructuring of Watkins’ deal and the re-signing of Robinson, it’s a lot more difficult to envision a scenario where Hardman is unleashed in 2020. And because of that, the efficiency regression becomes more of an issue — Hardman in a part-time role can still be productive, but we have to recognize he probably won’t be as wildly productive per-target as he was in 2019. 

That makes Hardman something of an odd pick for redraft leagues, almost a wide receiver handcuff who might need players ahead of him to miss time to be viable. The long-term upside is there, and there is plenty of reason to like Hardman in Dynasty, but the returns of both Watkins and Robinson has taken Hardman from one of my favorite late-round receivers in 2020 to someone I’m far less optimistic about chasing.  

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