Expert Analysis


5 min read

Who Could Land Deshaun Watson?

Who Could Land Deshaun Watson?

Last Tuesday, I released a story detailing the potential suitors for Deshaun Watson and the criteria that must be met for any team to pursue him. I indicated that the Eagles were the most likely team to acquire the Texans QB with the Panthers right behind them. 

To refresh your memory, here were the four criteria mentioned: 

  1. Whether there’s a real chance of him going to jail has to be off the table. 
  2. The team must feel confident that he didn’t do what he is accused of or they need reason to be positive it won’t happen again. 
  3. The team has to be able to deal with the financial implications.
  4. The team has to be able to deal with the PR implications of acquiring him. 

On Friday, a grand jury in Texas declined to indict Deshaun Watson with criminal charges following a police investigation and allegations of sexual misconduct. Though Watson still faces 22 civil lawsuits, the grand jury rejected the 9 criminal complaints presented by prosecutors. 

This decision will impact the looming trade and the above criteria in multiple ways. Let’s look at some of the key questions any team interested in acquiring Watson must be discussing at this juncture…

Why was Friday’s decision so significant?

Barring a change in the current circumstances, Watson will not face jail time. The first and most important criteria has therefore been satisfied. The fourth criteria regarding PR implications has also been mitigated but not eliminated. 

From a moral perspective, however, this does not make the accusations any less repugnant. Teams must do their research and recognize the influence they have on public perception. After that, clubs must evaluate their own level of comfort with the situation. 

As for the trade, the possibility of jail time being eliminated means that there will be multiple buyers for Watson on the trade market. Likewise, the base deal will be higher, but there is still a possibility that there could be some contingencies to get to the highest trade package. One of the contingencies though would have been based on Watson being free of criminal charges, and that’s been eliminated. 

Still, Watson will almost definitely be suspended, but it will probably be less severe than it otherwise could have been. Retired Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for six games in 2010 due to a sexual assault allegation. That should be the baseline for Watson.

What’s it going to take to get him?

In terms of compensation, this will be among the biggest and most impactful trades in NFL history, if it is not the biggest outright. Whether the package includes just picks or a combination of picks and players is still uncertain (although a combo is more likely). What we do know is that it will be a very valuable deal for Houston, given that the team acquiring Watson is getting a top 5-7 QB. Deshaun is also playing on a team-friendly contract and is only 26 years old. For comparison, LT Laremy Tunsil was traded for two first-round picks. Watson should garner at least three firsts in addition to players.

It’s important to note that there is a difference between having some mobility and being a difference-making runner as a QB. There are very few players who fall into the latter category and are also elite passers; this marks a shortage in the NFL. You have to be careful playing man-to-man against these players because they are capable of taking off and running for 30 yards on any given play. Watson, like Josh Allen, is in this category of quarterbacks who are impact runners and elite passers. This only adds to his value. Respect is due for other elite young QBs such as Herbert and Mahomes, though Joe Burrow lacks the mobility. 

What about the No Trade Clause? 

The NTC gives Watson the power to decide where he goes. But it appears as if Watson is using the no trade clause in this limited way. He has a group of teams that he’s willing to meet with and let Houston to talk to. In contrast, he could tell Houston that they have to trade him to a certain team, and if they don’t, he won’t waive the clause. In that case, they would either have to make a deal with that team, or they’d have to figure out how they’re not going to pay him the $35M he is due in 2022. 

Who are the real players?

As it stands right now, there are five realistic destinations for Watson: Carolina, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Seattle. 

Though Atlanta’s interest has been reported, I don’t view the Falcons as a real player. Everything they’ve said and done indicates that their immediate future in team-building will be around Matt Ryan. Although they have new management, they are not a team that has taken big risks like this in their history. 

There have been reports that Matt Ryan’s contract was restructured, but it’s not clear whether it was actually finalized. We shouldn’t be assuming it’s true just because the media reported it. But if the reports are accurate, that would provide a major roadblock for the Falcons in acquiring Watson. 

Has the prediction changed?

Although I still consider Philly a viable option and don’t buy reports that they’re out, I don’t think they’re the favorite at this time. The Saints and Panthers are currently the favorites, but the situation is evolving and could change again.