The Deshaun Watson trade saga is never going to end. Signing a head coach he wants isn’t going to be enough. Firing Jack Easterby isn’t enough. He doesn’t want to play in Houston anymore. This is according to one report.
Another report says he needs time to cool down, that he wants Eric Bienemy, that he just wants the culture to change, that the bridge can be rebuilt. All anyone can do is live in the present and wait for this thing to be sorted out.
Patience doesn’t feed the content mill. Trading a franchise quarterback, let alone a top five quarterback who is entering his age-26 season, is high drama. ESPN’s NFL Experts have weighed in on teams who could join the Watson sweepstakes and what they could offer.
Acquiring Watson might require not only three first-rounders, but at least one very high pick, multiple evaluators say. That’s why those same evaluators consistently point to two teams: the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins.
Both teams have two things in this year’s draft that others don’t: a top-three pick, and multiple firsts. New York has the second overall pick and the 23rd pick, acquired in the Adams trade. Miami selects third and 18th overall.
“If Houston does a deal with one of them, I bet they go after both firsts in this cycle, because that immediately helps them get better in a year they have limited capital,” said an AFC personnel man, referring to Houston’s lack of picks in the first two rounds this year. “In future years, you don’t know what those picks are going to be.”
Both teams easily could absorb Watson’s contract. The Jets’ $69,385,570 in projected cap space is enough for Watson and some free-agent wide receivers to join him. The Dolphins have $24,876,158 in space — and no state income tax, which Watson has gotten used to playing in Texas.
The Texans could ask teams to throw in star or ascending players to sweeten the deal. The Jets’ best asset might be left tackle Mekhi Becton, but GM Joe Douglas probably won’t want to part with his first draft pick. Becton looks like a future All-Pro. The Dolphins have interceptions leader Xavien Howard and intriguing young pass-rushers, for starters.
The Carolina Panthers have been linked to Watson if he were to become available, and it’s true that they see Watson as a player worth serious draft capital. That doesn’t mean they would go all the way. But they are a team to watch. They don’t appear completely sold on Teddy Bridgewater and are poised to select a quarterback high in April’s draft. They have $14.3 million in cap space, the eighth overall pick and are in the process of getting younger. Watson, a Georgia native, would be getting back to the Southeast.
Bridgewater’s three-year, $63 million contract signed last year isn’t crippling for Carolina long term. His $17 million salary is guaranteed for this year, but the team could actually save $1 million in cap space by designating Bridgewater a post-June 1 release, according to ESPN’s Roster Management System. In 2022, they can walk away with $21 million in cap savings.
Don’t laugh, but another sleeper team that a few NFL people have mentioned as a potential fit is the Chicago Bears. There are people in that building who are very high on Watson and they could be looking for a reboot at the position as Mitchell Trubisky’s contract expires. GM Ryan Pace could essentially get a mulligan on the 2017 draft. Pace might not have favored Watson then, but he has more, uh, evidence now.
Their $10.2 million cap deficit is a stumbling block, but cutting or restructuring veteran contracts can help. Releasing tight end Jimmy Graham and guard Bobby Massie takes care of $13 million in space.
The Bears pick 20th in the draft and might have to throw in an extra Day 2 pick to compensate for the lack of high standing. Whatever it takes to get Chicago’s first 4,000-yard passer in franchise history.
And for as bad as the NFC East was this year, there’s an improving team with $35.4 million in cap space and tons of intriguing young players who could make a move: the Washington Football Team.
“I think they will be involved in the QB sweepstakes in a big way,” an NFC exec said. “They know they are close.”
None of these sound intriguing or like good deals for a team having to trade its start quarterback. Instead, they are life-changing possibilities for the teams adding Watson.
The lesson is simple. Don’t trade Deshaun Watson. It’s a terrible idea.