The Green Bay Packers have been eager to get second-round rookie wide receiver Christian Watson more reps with quarterback Aaron Rodgers after the pair got just three practices together during mandatory minicamp in the spring.
Unfortunately, they will have to wait a bit longer before getting to see the two of them in action again at 2022 training camp.
According to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, Watson underwent a “minor knee surgery” after the Packers concluded their offseason program in June, which was the reason why he landed on the team’s physically unable to perform (PUP) list on June 22 when players started to report to the facility for this summer’s camp.
The move was a surprise to most everyone outside the organization, as there had been no prior reports that Watson had knee surgery. The Packers, however, were aware of the issue with Watson and ultimately decided it was in their mutual interest to address the injury now rather than try delaying it until after his 2022 rookie season.
“It was one of those things where we came out of OTAs and there was kind of a thought process: Do you want to try to push through the season and finish this after the 2022 season or should we just go ahead and do it now?” Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst told reporters prior to the team’s first training-camp practice on July 27. “And we just did it now. So he’ll miss a little bit of time in camp, but it’s nothing long term.”
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Packers Not Putting Timeline on Watson’s Return
Back in April, the Packers reached higher than they had in two decades for a receiver and traded both of their second-round picks (Nos. 53 and 59) to the Minnesota Vikings in order to move up for Watson at No. 34 overall. It was only natural that such a rare move for the franchise would set pretty lofty expectations for the former North Dakota State star in his first NFL season, especially with a four-time MVP throwing him the ball.
The Packers still seem to believe those expectations are appropriate, but they also recognize what their investment in Watson means for their future. They lost Davante Adams (traded to Las Vegas), Marquez Valdes-Scantling (signed with Kansas City) and Equanimeous St. Brown (signed with Chicago) during the offseason and have current veterans Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb and Sammy Watkins set to become free agents following the 2022 season. Without extensions or new signings, Green Bay would be left with Watson, Amari Rodgers, Romeo Doubs and Samori Toure as its only receivers.
All the more reason to preserve Watson in 2022 — as much as necessary, anyway.
“We’re not going to put any timelines on it,” Gutekunst said when asked if he expects Watson will miss any preseason games. “When we invest what we invested in Christian, we’re obviously looking out for the long term. We always do. He’s a young player who’s got a big career ahead of him, so we want to make sure we protect that. It’ll be how he responds through the rehab and stuff, and as soon as he’s ready, we’ll get him out there.”
Watkins’ Injury is ‘Very Short Term’
Watson wasn’t the only Packers wideout who began training camp on an injury list with veteran Sammy Watkins getting added to the non-football injury list on July 26. Unlike the second-round rookie, though, Gutekunst felt more confident projecting with Watkins might return to the field and called his injury a “very short-term thing.”
“Sammy is a very short-term thing,” Gutekunst said. “You know, you never want any guys to miss any time because it’s all valuable, but Sammy will be very short term. I think you’ll see him out here pretty soon.”
The Packers signed Watkins to a one-year contract in April that will only count for about $1.8 million against the team’s salary cap in 2022, but he is also the only veteran free agent they added to the position despite losing a number of last year’s contributors. As a former No. 4 overall pick, Watkins has struggled to live up to expectations since producing his one — and only — 1,000-yard season for Buffalo in 2015. The hope, however, is that he will be able to revitalize his career in a new environment that should give him plenty of opportunities to be a dynamic pass-catcher.
Watkins has the second-most career receiving production on the Packers’ roster with 348 receptions for 5,059 yards and 34 touchdowns over eight seasons. He has not exceeded more than 421 receiving yards in either of the past two years, though.