Watkins is just 23-years-old but hasn't been able to stay on the field. He has had lingering foot issues in his three-year NFL career. The Bills playmaker has 17 touchdowns, but has only played in 27 of 48 possible contests. Watkins, who had foot surgery on January 20, had 430 yards and two touchdowns on 28 receptions through eight games last season.
The option would have set the Bills back $13.2 million in 2018. Watkins is making $3.1 million this season.
"Sammy and I have had good conversations about this decision," Bills coach Sean 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."
Watkins is now primed for a big payday next offseason, from the Bills or another franchise. The decision means he will either get the franchise tag, an extension from the Bills, or see a large offer from another team.
The former Clemson star was the No. 4 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Buffalo traded with the Cleveland Browns that year in order to move up and draft Watkins. The Giants landed three-time Pro Bowl selection Odell Beckham Jr. with the No. 12 pick in that draft. Buffalo surrendered the No. 9 pick in that draft and a first and fourth round pick in the swap.
The Carolina Panthers picked Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin with the No. 28 pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Allen Robinson and Jarvis Landry were picked up in the second round by the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins, respectively.
Another draft day trade resulted in the Bills landing ECU wide receiver Zay Jones Friday in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. The Bills also have Corey Brown, Walter Powell, Dezmin Lewis, Corey Washington, Andre Holmes, Brandon Tate, Kolby Listenbee, and Jeremy Butler on its depth chart at wide receiver.
McDermott told reporters recently that the Jones pick was not related to Watkins.
"It doesn't [factor into Watkins' option]," McDermott said in a Friday press conference. "It doesn't at all. Sammy's a good football player and these are two separate silos."
Before the draft, McDermott also commented on Watkins and his rehab from surgery.
"Sammy's a good football player and I know he's a good football player," McDermott told reporters. "The key right now, for Sammy, is that he's in a good spot. He's attacking the rehab. We obviously have to continue to evaluate that situation in respect to Sammy's situation. The hardest part about that is, with Sammy's situation, is there's not going to be much different physically because of the limitations with the injury for us to evaluate prior to the deadline. That said, we're still going through that similar, no different than Tyrod's situation. Very methodical, make sure we look at things the right way."
Tuesday was the deadline to decide on the option for Watkins' rookie deal. The franchise tag for a wide receiver in 2018 is expected to be about $18 million. According to its team website, the Bills see Jones as a candidate to start as its No. 2 wide receiver.
On Monday, Watkins posted a quote from Ronnie Lott on Twitter. The quote read: "If you believe it, the mind can achieve it."