Where Might Deshaun Watson End Up?
Updated: Feb 21
The Houston Texans are in disarray.
They have haemorrhaged their biggest names over the last twelve months, first trading wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals last March, before head coach and general manager Bill O'Brien also left part-way through the most recent season.
The latest internet search for 'Houston removal services' has come from star defensive end JJ Watt, who, in the last hour as I write this, has been granted a release from the team. From a 10-6 season and a run to the AFC Divisional Round in 2019, the Texans have hit the skids quite catastrophically, falling to 4-12 in 2020.
The absolute last thing Houston need now is the loss of yet another star, but unfortunately for them, that could be precisely what they're about to get. Moreover, just to make matters worse, the next potential figure out of the exit door is their most valuable asset of all.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson requested a trade at the end of January, and given his stellar individual 2020, during which he led the league in passing after throwing for 4,823 yards, any move involving the former Clemson man would generate huge interest.
The Texans have insisted Watson will not be traded, but that doesn't stop the rumour mill flying into overdrive, and I wanted in on that action. Naturally, the biggest question that's bouncing around right now is where. Just where might he go?
Well, never let it be said I shy away from the big questions, so this week's post explores five possible outcomes for Watson.
Spearheaded by rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the Dolphins massively outperformed expectations in 2020, finishing the regular season with a 10-6 record and just missing out on the playoffs. As well as enjoying that relatively successful season, the Dolphins are in a healthy state off the field too, with four picks in the opening two rounds of the 2021 draft, and are in the top ten sides in the league for salary cap space.
Joe Kerrigan, a journalist who is the American sports editor for the Sports Gazette and The Touchdown websites, as well as the host of The Overtime Show podcast, thinks Watson sees the attractiveness of Miami: "I’d say he likes the look of a team like the Dolphins, a team that looks to be in solid rebuild mode. They have the ability and capital to draft some decent talent for Watson, with potential to trade off Tua and some picks."
It feels harsh to be advocating for the Dolphins to move on from Tua after just one season, especially after enjoying a good first campaign. However, Miami wouldn't lose out on the youth factor they have with Tua; Watson is only two and a half years older, and represents a huge step up right now, however good the Dolphins' current man may turn out to be in the future.
Offering up Tua on his own wouldn't cut it, though, so what else could the Dolphins put in front of Houston? Joe believes that offering a "2021 first, second, and fourth-round pick, plus a 2022 first and fourth" would work for both sides, as "that way [the Dolphins] keep some picks but give away some capital too."
I hadn't considered the Dolphins when I was running through possible destinations, but Joe has made a compelling case. My dad is a Dolphins fan, so I have a soft spot for them, and this is certainly something I would be very excited to see.
New England Patriots
Imagine this. You've just been dumped by your significant other after a long and happy relationship. You open social media, and the first thing you see, front and centre, is your ex, with a new partner and as happy as they ever were with you. What do you do?
I think you've worked out the reference. In their first season this century without Tom Brady, the Patriots struggled. Despite the addition of former league MVP Cam Newton, New England subsided to a 7-9 record, and missed out on the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Meanwhile, in his very first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Brady continued to underline why he should be considered the greatest to ever play the game, as he won the Super Bowl for a record seventh time.
So, to go back to the original question, what do the Patriots do? They trade for Deshaun Watson, of course. Joe says "the Patriots are probably my second pick," and if one of the driving factors behind Watson's desire to leave Houston is that he wants to be surrounded by better coaching, he could do a lot worse than to link up with Bill Belichick, who has even more Super Bowl rings than his former protégé Brady, with eight.
The question, then, is not whether the Patriots can afford Watson financially; being second in the league for cap space, they absolutely can, but whether they have enough to offer the Texans to bring him onboard in the first place. Newton is currently a free agent, so it's feasible to imagine them resigning him for one year before promptly trading him, but the Patriots would then need to offer up significant draft capital in addition, which they don't really have.
If the Texans have - privately - acquiesced to trading Watson, Newton would be one of the better options as a replacement due to his experience. The likes of Tua, Daniel Jones, and Drew Lock (more on that latter pair in a moment) need more nurturing time, but in Newton you have a ready-made, quality quarterback. It hinges on what picks the Patriots will offer, but if Belichick is prepared to go all-in on Watson and overlook building for the future for now, he might very well end up in New England.
Is it a particularly hot take to say that the Broncos are just a quality quarterback away from being quite a good side? Running backs Melvin Gordon and Philip Lindsay (provided the team resign the latter) partner wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton to make a decent-enough offense, while linebacker Von Miller leads on the defensive side. Their starter under centre for much of last season, Drew Lock, simply threw too many interceptions.
Watson would change all that. Any team with him in it wouId instantly improve by a factor of ten, but I get the feeling the Broncos could make it work better than most with him in their side. The only problem is - what can they possibly offer Houston in order to get him? They're in the weakest position of the teams we've gone through, as they certainly don't have the quarterback to offer the Texans, but nor do they have the draft capital to bring their offer up to scratch.
However, Broncos insider Mike Klis of 9NEWS reports that Watson's camp views Denver as an "attractive landing spot". That should excite anyone connected to the Mile High City, as Watson holds not inconsiderable leverage in this deal. Could it really happen? The Broncos would have to risk their long-term future in favour of going all-out here and now by offering up as much draft capital as they dare. If the reports that Watson has Empower Field on his shortlist are accurate, and GM George Paton plays this one right, we might just see this.
When he lifted the Lombardi Trophy last February, Patrick Mahomes might have expected to seize a stranglehold on the AFC West title for the foreseeable future. Since then, we've seen the emergence of Justin Herbert in Los Angeles, and now this. If you're a neutral when it comes to the AFC West, stand by. Should Watson land in Denver, those four teams could throw up the most exciting battle for a division title we'll have seen in a long time.
New York Giants
Just one day after the news of Watson's trade request broke, ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky threw up the possibility of a trade that would make Odell Beckham Jr's switch from the Giants to the Cleveland Browns two years ago pale into insignificance.
"If I was Dave Gettleman of the New York Giants, I would take Daniel Jones, I would take Saquon Barkley, and I would take three first-round picks, and I would call Houston," said Orlovsky. At this time of year, NFL punditry does tend to take a turn for the fanciful, but this one is off-the-scale. Still, Big Blue fans need something to dream about after recent seasons, so we'll afford them this one.
Those recent campaigns certainly have put Giants fans through the wringer. The team haven't had a winning season since 2016, and in this most recent year, they went 6-10 despite being in the lowest-quality division in the entire NFL. Times are tough in New York, which is perhaps why pundits like Orlovsky are proposing increasingly far-fetched solutions.
Returning to that proposal, the problem for me lies not with losing quarterback Jones, but with losing running back Barkley. Undoubtedly, Watson would get the best out of a mediocre corps of wide receivers in the Big Apple, but he would need a good running back to occasionally take some of the pressure off.
Losing Barkley would mean he is robbed of that option, and with the Giants quite tight on cap space, it's unlikely they'd be able to look to free agency for a replacement. Having given Houston all their first-round picks in this trade, they aren't able to look to the draft either.
I'm not outright dismissing it, but I think this one's pretty unlikely.
The final option is very simple, and it's that he might not leave at all. At this point, the trade request is merely just that, a request, and the Texans hierarchy would be well within their rights to reject it, as they have so far intimated that they're going to do.
Watson is under contract until 2026, with only one other quarterback in the entire NFL - Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs - tied to a longer deal. If Texans GM Nick Caserio really is planning to dismiss all offers, Watson's only choices would be to return, or take the unthinkable step of retiring from the league altogether.
But would they want to risk it? Would they really want to further antagonise Watson and possibly allow the atmosphere in the locker room to go sour beyond repair?
Joe doesn't believe so: "With the way things are going in Houston, I’d say there is very little chance he stays. The higher-ups in the club are making awful decisions and showing Watson no respect.
"I think he’d rather take less money for a better team than stay in Houston for more money."
And so concludes my whistle-stop tour, so I'd like to turn the question over to you. Where do you think Watson will end up? Will he stay in Houston? Go to one of the above? Or perhaps you see him moving somewhere completely different?
I'm always open to comments, suggestions, queries, and feedback, so please do get in touch with your thoughts through my social channels. You can like my Facebook here, and you can also follow me on Twitter here. Connecting with me through social media brings the benefit of being among the first to know when I post something new!
I'd also like to extend my thanks to Joe for his willingness to assist in this post. I freely admit that although I consider myself reasonably knowledgeable on the NFL, there are those little intricacies - such as a player's trade value - that I'm still not completely au fait on, so I'm grateful to Joe for the help he offered. For that, I'll even forgive him for being a Green Bay Packers fan!
The cover image for this post was sourced from Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Deshaun_Watson_2018.jpg), and is attributed to the author, Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA. It was retrieved by me on the 12th February 2021.