After a disappointing season that culminated in the league’s third-worst record at 4-12, the Houston Texans have had a wild last few weeks. Despite nearly reaching the AFC Championship game just a season ago, bad personnel decisions and mistakes from the front office combined with a locker room mutiny have led the Texans to hit the reset button.
On January 28th, after weeks of speculation and suspect behavior, Deshaun Watson formally requested a trade from the Houston Texans, despite the team’s belief that a new head coach would change his mind.
Watson, a 3x Pro Bowler at just 25 years old who posted the highest passer rating in the AFC last season, has his pick of suitors. Of the 32 starting quarterbacks in the league, many consider only Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson as possessing more long-term potential as well as ability right now. And historically speaking, no quarterback under 29 with 3 Pro Bowl nods has ever requested a trade.
So yes, Watson is going to cost a lot.
But the astronomical asking price would be well worth it to become an immediate contender.
Here’s the five teams that appear most likely to make that move.
5. Denver Broncos
FanDuel oddsmakers recently updated the Broncos as the odds-on favorite to land Watson via trade. Currently sitting at +150 in the Watson sweepstakes, they are twice as likely as the Texans (+300) to have him under center in 2021.
While the oddsmakers don’t make NFL personnel decisions, it is interesting to consider the possibility of a Deshaun-to-Denver deal being done. The Broncos possess talent on both sides of the ball and could be a piece away from being a contender. A wide receiver corps of Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, and Tim Patrick would be a decisive upgrade over Watson’s current situation.
By factoring in rising star tight end; Noah Fant and the consistent running back trio of Melvin Gordon, Philip Lindsay, and Royce Freeman, it is clear Watson would be in a better position to succeed in Denver, who also has a very good albeit aging defense that is definitively in win-now mode.
The problem for Denver is capital. While they can offer this year’s ninth overall selection, it’s possible that wouldn’t be high enough to land one of the premier quarterback prospects. And while they could offset that by including a young wide receiver or another veteran player alongside the pick and incumbent QB Drew Lock, the overall value they can offer just might not be on the same level as some of the other teams.
4. Carolina Panthers
Like Denver, Carolina has a solid squad that’s looking to upgrade at the QB position. While Teddy Bridgewater had a solid debut season as the starter, recent events have pointed to a breakup sooner rather than later. They made a run for Matthew Stafford before he ultimately was traded to the Los Angeles Rams. Recently, a Papyrus writer has predicted in his latest mock draft that they will take QB Trey Lance at pick number 8 in the upcoming draft.
Landing Deshaun Watson would most assuredly put those concerns to rest.
Carolina, also like Denver, possesses a more talented offensive group than Houston currently offers. Running back Christian McCaffrey is a generational talent, and the trio of D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, and Curtis Samuel made plenty of plays at the receiver position.
However, just like Denver, the question comes to capital. They can similarly offer the number 8 overall pick this year, and a bevy of future selections. But short of offering McCaffrey, they just don’t have the assets to make the mega-offer likely needed.
3. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins are in an interesting situation. One year after drafting QB Tua Tagovailoa at no. 5, rumors are swirling that the team may package the 22-year-old, it’s no. 3 and no. 18 overall selections in this year’s draft and some combination of veterans and draft picks to acquire the Houston superstar.
While some, including yours truly, would consider it rash to give up on Tua after one up and down season, the decision to make the move has merit. Watson, who is reportedly seeking a team with a strong culture and also located in a state without an income tax, would be right at home in Miami.
Coach Brian Flores has built a robust team-first culture over his two seasons as head coach that translated into a 10-5 record and near a playoff appearance. Watson would also have a strong collection of weapons around him, including standouts Devante Parker and Mike Gesicki, plus a returning Preston Williams and likely some additions in free agency (Marvin Jones?).
The Miami defense might be the real draw here, as they singlehandedly won some games for the team this year, and are loaded on all three levels, from Xavien Howard and Byron Jones in the secondary and Kyle Van Noy, Jerome Baker, and Emmanuel Ogbah in the front seven.
The big question here is whether the Dolphins decide to take the leap or not. With Tua, they likely will be a very solid team in 2021 and depending on his growth, could be a title contender. But should they make the offer for Watson, they would instantly launch up the rankings as perhaps the biggest threat to Kansas City in the AFC.
2. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers, after blowing a 20-10 lead in the Super Bowl just two years ago, had a disappointing 2020 season by all measures. After losing standouts on both sides of the ball due to injury and COVID-19, the team battled to an impressive 6-10 record, especially when considering the adversity they battled through. Not much stock should be put in that sub-.500 record, although in a division that improved dramatically last season (and continues to), a change at QB might be the move to make.
While incumbent Jimmy Garoppolo has led the team to a 22-8 as the starter, most notably a 13-3 record and Super Bowl appearance, he has only one full season to date, missing 23 games due to injury since joining the team.
‘Jimmy G’ is a serviceable starter who provides steady play for a team built on a dominant defensive line and run game. The simple fact is that, despite general manager John Lynch’s recent comments, the team would be better with Watson.
Watson, who would be playing with one of the most talented offensive minds in the game in, Kyle Shanahan, would provide an immediate boost to the offense with his dual-threat ability. His passing threat would open up more boxes for running backs Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. while receiving numbers for Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, and All-Pro tight end George Kittle would explode.
Making the trade work is where things get tough.
Unless San Francisco is willing to part with stud pass rusher Nick Bosa or the dynamic Kittle, they may not have the player assets to make up for their lack of draft capital. Bosa would be most likely the best player offered to Houston in any deal across the league, as a true game-changing pass rusher still on his affordable rookie contract. Houston would be hard-pressed to decline a deal with him involved.
1. New York Jets
The Jets, despite being on top of this list, have two big factors working against them:
They don’t have much talent on either side of the ball.
They might have the only culture worse than Houston.
Outside of that, this trade makes a lot of sense. Watson has been reported to favoring a trade to New York, where new head coach Robert Saleh is certainly going to set a new tone in the locker room. New York could more than afford him, with a plethora of draft picks over the next few years, including this year’s no.2 selection.
Peter King of Pro Football Focus recently suggested a proposal, which would more than set up Houston for the future, while sending New York the best quarterback they have had in years.
“A 6-for-1 deal. Quarterback Sam Darnold, defensive lineman Quinnen Williams, first-round picks in 2021 (second overall) and 2022 (the higher of New York’s two first-round picks), plus second-round picks in 2021 (34th overall) and 2023 in exchange for Watson.“
This is most likely the top offer Houston may receive, especially because pick no. 2 will be the perfect position to land any quarterback not named Trevor Lawrence in the draft, which is not something many other teams on this list can offer.
But does New York make this deal? The team has plenty of holes and is likely a few years away from contending, and sending out a horde of draft picks for a QB like Watson would likely only waste a few more seasons of his career, while delaying the rebuilding process even more. As much as Watson would help the team, it’s fair to wonder if the Jets should stay at pick 2 and go forward with Zach Wilson or Sam Darnold at QB.
King agrees, saying:
“I’m just skeptical that [Jets general manager Joe] Douglas would make this move. Obviously, he’d be thrilled to get Watson. But he knows he has a crummy overall roster and denuding his looming drafts I believe is too much for him to accept.“
We’ll have to wait and see how it all plays out.