Should they? Of course. Could they? In theory. Will they? Much harder to say.
Let's talk about it: Deshaun Watson to the Patriots (so long as he's cleared of recent allegations). It's within the realm of possibility, sure. More so than it was a week ago. But it's still skirting the outer rim of said realm, for a variety of reasons.
Let's dig in ...
Deshaun Watson is among the best quarterbacks in football. Despite the Texans going 4-12 last season -- a tremendous argument against quarterback wins as a stat that's at all indicative of skill -- one could make the argument he was the second-best passer in football behind Aaron Rodgers.
Watson was second in completion percentage over expected, behind only Rodgers, per Ben Baldwin of The Athletic. He was fifth in success rate and seventh in EPA per play. He was first in the league in yards per attempt (8.9), he had an almost 5-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio (33-to-7), he was second in rating (112.4), and he did all that during a season in which the Texans made a coaching change and were reeling after dealing away their best receiver.
We don't know what the asking price will be for Watson, 25, in a trade. But if there was ever a quarterback worth multiple (three? four?) first-round picks, it'd be him. The Patriots would in all likelihood balk at that type of price. As much spending as they've done in free agency, they'll have to start hitting the draft in order to secure the long-term health of the franchise.
But the counter to that would be there's no better way to secure the long-term health of the franchise than adding a bonafide star quarterback in his prime.
Financially, yes. If and when Watson is traded, he'll count only about $10.5 million against the cap for his new club in 2021. That number could be reduced even further if his new team felt at all cash strapped in this unusual offseason. A restructure could knock his cap hit all the way to about $3 million.
The Patriots aren't in that position at the moment. They have about $25 million or so in cap space available to them, even after this week's spending spree. They may want to take about $5 million into the regular season for some in-season expenditures. They'll need a couple million to sign their rookie class. But that would leave them more than $15 million to play with to add more talent to the roster this offseason.
So from a bookkeeping perspective, no problem.
They also have their next few first-round picks, including No. 15 this year, to be able to send to Houston in a deal. Will that matter if the Jets come calling with the No. 2 overall pick and more, or if the Broncos come calling with the No. 9 overall selection and more? Probably not, from the Texans' perspective. Other teams can offer more. Much more.
That might not matter, though. Watson controls his own destiny -- to an extent. He has a no-trade clause, meaning he could orchestrate a deal to the landing spot of his choice. If he's locked in on San Francisco, he could theoretically refuse any other deal sent the Texans' way. But then he'd risk not being dealt, potentially sitting out all of 2021, and losing lots and lots of money in fines. So perhaps he'll have a list of teams he'd be willing to play for, and as long as the Texans meet him halfway with one of those, he'd be off.
Would the Patriots ever find their way onto that list? Major hurdle.
Will Watson want to go to a place that once employed Bill O'Brien, Jack Easterby and Nick Caserio? Will he be willing to come to a place that -- while significantly improved this week -- still does not have the same level of weaponry a place like San Francisco does? The Patriots do have the benefit of having historic brain power on their sidelines. If they wanted to bring aboard Watson, they'd have to hope the combination of Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry and a massive offensive line could entice him.
Put it all together -- the cost in draft capital, the likelihood Watson wants to be in New England, the ability of other teams to beat a Patriots offer -- and it seems unlikely.
There's another factor, too: Does Caserio want to begin his tenure in Houston being known as the guy who let JJ Watt and Deshaun Watson walk? The situation is out of his hands to a degree. It seems as though it was before he even showed up. But he's billed as the one making the football decisions. This, it goes without saying, is a biggy.
Not only would he become the general manager known for dealing away his team's prized asset, but if he sent Watson to New England, there would be inevitable discussions about him showing his old boss preferential treatment. All of Houston would wonder if there was another offer out there -- for a haul of draft picks with much more value than what the Patriots own -- for the taking.
It would be a public relations nightmare for a team that has already dealt with its fair share of those lately.
You can never say never with the Patriots. Especially after this week of unprecedented offseason spending. But the Caserio factor should be added to the list of reasons -- maybe put it right at the top -- why it feels more likely than not that a marriage between Watson and the Patriots will never get much closer than the very edge of the realm of possibility.