Less than four months after signing a $156 million extension with the Houston Texans, star quarterback Deshaun Watson is the subject of trade rumors amid Houston’s regime change. While it’s hard to envision the Texans actually dealing their three-time Pro Bowler, who’s still just 25 and coming off a career year, ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio reported Thursday that Watson himself has «quietly broached with teammates the possibility of requesting a trade.»
«If that’s happening,» Florio wrote, «it may just be a strategic effort to ensure his views are respected by ownership. Regardless, it raises the stakes and crosses a bridge and potentially sets the foundation for Watson eventually to decide that he’d like to continue his career elsewhere.»
Again, is a trade likely? There’s no indication of that. But this is the NFL, where things can change in a hurry. The fact that a potential acquiring team would only be on the hook for about $56 million over the next two years, with Watson’s cap hit relatively low until 2022, suggests trade offers would certainly come rolling in if Houston were willing to listen.
With that in mind, here’s a look at 12 of the most logical potential suitors, not including AFC South rivals that would presumably be off the table as possibilities:
Neither coach Kyle Shanahan nor GM John Lynch have gone out of their way to declare Jimmy Garoppolo the unquestioned QB moving forward, and it’s readily apparent they’ll explore an upgrade if they can. The problem is, they’re not too terribly suited to trade a massive amount of picks, having already spent valuable draft capital and financial resources to their current core.
A mega-deal for a star QB would seem a little out of character for Pittsburgh, but that’s only because they’ve been riding with Ben Roethlisberger for so long. In the event Big Ben hangs it up after 2020, there’s no reason the Steelers shouldn’t be making this call. They’ve got enough young talent on both sides of the ball, particularly defense, that they could afford to surrender a sizable number of picks if it meant making Watson the long-term successor to Roethlisberger.
Motor City needs new blood across the board, and with Matthew Stafford likely set to enter the trade market himself, the Lions could immediately revitalize interest in their franchise by adding a QB of Watson’s caliber. They’ve got enough cap space to make it work. They’ve got high draft picks to put on the table. And their QBs coach, Sean Ryan, held the same position alongside Watson in Houston from 2017-2018, the QB’s first two seasons in the NFL.
Financially speaking, this would be tough — especially with Matt Ryan still on the books with a big deal. But let’s say you can send Ryan elsewhere (to his old pal Kyle Shanahan, perhaps). What better way to kick off the new regime than with a new, young superstar at QB? Watson famously grew up as a Falcons ball boy, and his Georgia hometown is only a few hours away. Even if the compensation would be costly, the fit makes a lot of sense.
They’re not exactly loaded with cap space, and acquiring Watson would also require dealing Kirk Cousins, although that’s not impossible (hello, San Francisco?). But GM Rick Spielman has proven bold and creative at QB before, whether in signing Cousins in the first place or trading for Sam Bradford, etc. Watson would also give them a longer-term, higher-upside captain for an offense already filled out with star talent (Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson). This would be the definition of a blockbuster with title aspirations.
John Elway’s shift out of everyday GM duties probably hurts the Broncos’ chances of spending big to land Watson, but there’s no doubt he’d still be involved in the negotiations, if they were to take place. And he loves himself the idea of a proven QB, especially considering his impatience over the last half-decade finally prompted him to find a new GM. Denver has already added some promising young talent (see: Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton), so giving up a ton of picks may not be an impossible sell.
Look, Derek Carr is good, but don’t you dare try to tell us that Jon Gruden — the same guy who once compared Watson to *checks notes* Michael Jordan — wouldn’t at least try to sell this to Mike Mayock. Gruden avoids spending high picks on QBs more than any of us acknowledge, so acquiring Watson would not only enable him to continue doing so, but also put quite a bit more dynamism into his offense. Watson handing off to Josh Jacobs and throwing to Henry Ruggs and Darren Waller? Playoffs on deck.
Alex Smith is not the answer, and Dwayne Haskins’ departure might leave the club just a little gun shy when it comes to spending a top asset on an unproven arm. Watson is the prototypical character for Ron Rivera’s culture — a stand-up leader on and off the field. As long as Dan Snyder owns the team, Washington is also perpetually in the trade market for veteran QBs. Watson himself may not jump at the chance to play for WFT, but then again, the NFC East could present simpler paths to the playoffs.
GM Joe Douglas has the rare opportunity to draft a top-two QB prospect in April, and you could argue he’s been working toward this moment since joining the team in summer 2019. But Watson represents an even rarer opportunity: the addition of a proven top-tier youngster. The Jets are overflowing with cap space, they’ve got incredibly high picks to offer in a trade, and Watson’s presence alone would instantly inject life into one of the NFL’s top markets.
They’re in an almost impossible cap situation entering 2021, but they consistently manipulate dire financial straits. More than that, the Saints are about to enter uncharted territory post-Drew Brees, and Sean Payton’s not fooling anyone if he says he’s 100% ready to turn the keys to either Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston. Watson would surely tweak his own deal if it meant relocating to New Orleans, and the Saints would be able to seamlessly turn the page to a new generation of contention, even if it meant surrendering all kinds of future draft picks and/or parting ways with another big name down the road.
Their coach, Matt Nagy, is about as obsessed with his own franchise’s failures as anyone. The guy infamously turned kicker tryouts into a team-wide spectacle and then went haywire in adding tight ends upon Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen’s short-lived runs at the position. Now he might have a chance to correct GM Ryan Pace’s biggest error, which they’ve both heard about for years: the decision to pass on Watson for Mitchell Trubisky. Imagine the goodwill they’d instantly foster in Chicago by finally making the right call and giving the Bears a bona fide franchise signal-caller.
The match of all matches. Wouldn’t it be straight-up Bill Belichickian of this team to turn around from its first bad year in two decades and find a way to land one of the game’s top young QBs? New England has been a logical landing spot for months, still needing a true Tom Brady successor and flush with cap space, not to mention a penchant for draft-pick trades. Watson, for his part, would assuredly embrace the transition to a longtime contender. And then there’s the front-office connections: The Texans just made Patriots lifer Nick Caserio their new GM, granting New England a clean path to trade talks.