Best Five Trade Destinations For Deshaun Watson
Updated: Apr 29
Yesterday, we looked at three superstars who could find new homes during the 2021 NFL offseason. Today, we explore the best five trade destinations for one of those players: Deshaun Watson.
By Nick Deal
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It is a very rare occurrence that one of the game’s top QB talents at the peak of his powers finds himself the subject of trade talk but as we are all too acutely aware, these are far from normal times. The subject of Deshaun Watson’s future in Houston has been front and centre of NFL media circles for a couple of weeks now, leading to speculation that he could well be heading towards the exit door in what would surely be one of the biggest blockbuster trades in NFL history.
Watson’s unhappiness can be traced back to when he signed his four year, $160m contract back in September 2020. He signed on the dotted line after being given promises that he would be consulted in any future head coach appointments, something which the Texans hierarchy subsequently failed to do at the first opportunity. Watson’s preferred candidate is reportedly Kansas City Chiefs’ Offensive Coordinator Eric Bieniemy and the Texans have now requested an interview with him in what appears, from the outside at least, to be a frantic and last-ditched attempt to placate their star quarterback.
As I’m sitting down to write this Kansas City are just about to kick off their AFC Championship defense against the Buffalo Bills, so depending on how tonight goes, the Bieniemy situation may resolve itself sooner rather than later. If the Texans pass on Bieniemy like the rest of the NFL has this off season, they might find themselves in a situation that leaves them with only one option - trade Deshaun Watson.
So, who should be picking up the phone and calling Houston? Well, the short answer is about 95% of the NFL. As I said, it’s extremely rare that a player of his calibre and age appears on the market and Watson would improve any team that he landed on. A trickier question to answer is what teams find themselves in a position to do so.
A multitude of factors go into this: draft capital, cap space, state of the current roster to name just a few. Another level of intrigue is added when you consider another Super Bowl calibre quarterback in the shape of Matthew Stafford found himself on the trade block this weekend. Stafford is older of course, but for those teams with good rosters but less than ideal quarterback play (looking at you Steelers, Broncos, Panthers, Raiders etc) he offers the opportunity to improve at the most important position in football whilst presumably giving up less compensation in the process.
Taking everything into account, these are what I consider to be the best five landing spots for Deshaun Watson should he move on from Houston:
5. Indianapolis Colts
There’s no way the Texans would trade Watson to a divisional rival, right? I have the Colts sitting in last spot on this list for that exact reason - the chances of it happening SHOULD be zero but who thought we’d be talking about Watson moving on at all a year ago?
On paper, Colts would appear to be a perfect destination for Watson. With Rivers retiring, Indianapolis are in desperate need of a new quarterback. Conveniently for them, they are also predicted to have the second most cap space in the entire league for the 2021 season at $65m and they could therefore pick up Watson’s contract with ease. Despite having one or two positions that need addressing, their roster is also in great shape on the whole and they are a team that is ready to win now.
They’re not a team blessed with a great deal of draft capital though, and parting with the rumoured asking price of three first round picks plus change would hamstring them for the foreseeable future. With Watson at the helm, Indianapolis becomes a sure-fire Super Bowl contender year in and year out. When all is said and done though, even the Texans aren’t stupid enough to trade Watson to a direct rival so whilst this is probably my favourite fit (hence why it’s made the list), you can consider this one pretty much open and shut. I would expect the Colts to be very much in the Stafford stakes though so keep an eye out for that. Or maybe Frank Reich is eyeing up a reunion with Carson Wentz. We’ll have to wait and see.
4. San Francisco 49ers
It might be too simplistic to say this, but there’s a good chance that the 49ers would have entered this season as defending Super Bowl champions if Jimmy Garoppolo wasn’t their starting quarterback. The moment when the ball sailed over Emmanuel Sanders’ head deep into the fourth quarter during Super Bowl LIV was probably the moment that determined that there was no return for Jimmy G in San Francisco.
It’s no secret that Kyle Shanahan is ready to move on from the most handsome man in football, but what would that look like? The 49ers can cut or trade Garoppolo and save themselves the best part of $24m in cap space, whilst only eating a dead cap hit of just over $2m. Garoppolo out and Watson in is easy to do from a number perspective, in fact it would leave them in a better cap position next season with Watson as their starter.
Things might get a bit tighter down the line from a money perspective, but that’s for smarter people than me to figure out. The Texans would also be smart (chance would be a fine thing) to get Watson out of the AFC and San Francisco offers them a perfect opportunity to do just that. The NFC West is an extremely competitive division and will continue to be so for some time. Watson would give the 49ers a distinct edge in that race to top the division.
From a talent perspective, they have the most complete roster on this list as well and Watson would be licking his lips at the prospect of teaming up with a dominant receiver like George Kittle.
Unfortunately for those dreaming of seeing Watson strutting his stuff at Levi’s Stadium, the introduction of Matthew Stafford to the market probably pushes the chances of 49ers GM John Lynch splashing out the necessary compensation for Watson more unlikely. Stafford seems like a great fit for Shanahan’s offense and will probably be the guy that they’ll chase hard from here on out.
Stafford is definitely on the move from Detroit, but someone is going to be left disappointed in their pursuit of him. If that disappointed team is the 49ers, don’t be surprised if they decide Watson is the man to take them to where they want to be.
3. Chicago Bears
The Trubisky experiment has run its course in Chicago and what better way to rid yourself of those demons by giving up three first round picks to get the guy you could have had in the first place?
It’s a galling prospect for Chicago’s front office and fans alike, but it’s the kind of move that Chicago will have to make if they want to compete on a regular basis. Thanks to them somehow managing to scrape eight wins together this season despite trotting out the most unwatchable offense in the league, Chicago finds themselves out of the running for the top draft prospects.
To even get a seat at the negotiating table to move up the board they’d be having to give up multiple picks so why not bite the bullet, give up a little bit more and go and get your franchise guy? Chicago desperately needs new blood at the position, and it should come as a surprise to nobody that Nick Foles is not the guy. Matthew Stafford isn’t going to be that guy either due to the NFC North rivalry.
Keeping things in the North, if Aaron Rodgers is going to keep playing at an MVP level in the immediate future, you need to have a guy on the field who can compete with him. Whilst the defense is not at the level it was in 2018, it’s still good enough to take Chicago to the business end of the season if complemented by a competent unit on the other side of the ball.
Unfortunately for Chicago and Matt Nagy, since his arrival it has been anything but. The 2021 season is likely make or break for Chicago’s head coach and GM Ryan Pace and trading for Watson gives them the best chance of saving jobs. Who knows, a trade for Watson might even be enough to get the wantaway Allen Robinson to reconsider his position to aid that process (probably not though because the cap situation is more difficult here than anywhere else on the list, so something has to give).
It would also leave the top brass in Chicago in no doubt as to who the problem is if things were still falling apart offensively in 2021, whilst offering one of the hottest head coach openings this time next year.
2. New York Jets
The three previous teams on this list are all teams that would be in serious “win now” mode with the addition of Watson. The New York Jets offer a different kind of project entirely. Free from the shackles of Gase-ball, the Jets find themselves in unchartered territory of quiet optimism going into this season.
They managed to snag Robert Saleh as their new head coach, who was arguably the most sought after name in this coaching cycle. Saleh promises to bring with him an entire culture shift at the Met Life Stadium, something that is reportedly high on Watson’s list of priorities. Saleh seems like a people person. That 49ers defense would seemingly run through brick walls for their coordinator before he upped sticks and moved East so Watson wouldn’t have to worry about any locker room problems or head coach high jinks like he has experienced in Houston to date.
Via the Jamal Adams trade, the Jets also have a plethora of picks to send to Houston, in addition to whatever they can get from sending Sam Darnold onto new pastures. They have two first round picks in 2021 and 2022 available to them should they want to pull the trigger on what would be a bumper trade. Coupled with the fact that the Jets have an estimated $63m in cap space available to them next year, New York becomes a much more logical scenario for all involved the more you think about it.
Jets get their franchise guy, Houston get their choice of anyone not called Trevor Lawrence as a replacement. Do the Jets have a lot of other problems with their roster? Of course they do. Would they be better off investing their draft capital into young, exciting and cheap talent? Probably.
This is also a franchise that has been down in the doldrums for a while now. What better way to kickstart the new era by bringing in one of the best quarterbacks in the league to be the face of it.
Hell, they’ve got enough money to go out and get Watson and get him a WR1 like Allen Robinson in free agency if that’s what it takes to convince him that New York is the place to be. Again, at the time of writing this, the rumours circulating online is that New York has become Watson’s preferred destination, but we’ll have to wait and see whether Watson is happy to go from one team in dire need of a rebuild to another.
1. Miami Dolphins
This just makes far too much sense to me. A handful of starts off the back of a limited preseason which was hampered by injury seems like a very unfair amount of time given to Tua Tagovailoa to prove himself in Miami, but all the noise coming out of the sunshine state is that the Dolphins would not be opposed to moving on from the 5th overall pick from 2020.
Like the Jets, the Dolphins have two first round picks at their disposal this year. The added element of one of those being given to them initially by the Texans themselves just adds to the narrative here.
The Dolphins could easily part with three first rounders and could even offer Tagovailoa in as a sweetener. Unlike the Jets who would be giving up capital that could be vital to them for building their roster, the Dolphins’ roster is already good. They missed out on the playoffs this year thanks to a Week 17 capitulation, but their defense was great in the 2020 season.
Their losses were as a result of an uninspiring offensive unit. If Flores can continue to impress and cement his name as one of the hottest coaching properties in the league, adding Watson into the mix in Miami makes them legitimate contenders immediately.
Football is also not the only thing for Watson to consider. Watson pays no tax on his salary in Texas, and a move to Miami would offer him the same luxury. Also, let’s be honest when we say playing home games in the December sunshine in Miami would be a lot more appealing than in the subzero temperatures of New Jersey.
Whether Watson can be convinced to stay put in Houston or whether it is a case of too many bridges already being burned is yet to be seen, but if Watson does move on, Miami is the best all round fit for everyone involved, apart from the Texans of course who lose out in literally every scenario from here on out.