It’s been a weird century and a weirder decade. After what was supposedly the “end of history” in the ‘90s, we are running out of things to be surprised by. Enter the Houston Texans. They appear poised to put 2020 in the rear-view mirror not by getting vaccinated, but by choosing their team chaplain over their franchise quarterback. These kinds of things happen from time to time. A mania takes hold and the owner chooses Jerry Krause over Michael Jordan. But this specific thing, a character coach over Deshaun Watson? That doesn’t happen. The Texans are predictably insisting it won’t, and this is the NFL, where the players lack the bargaining power of their compatriots in the NBA or MLB. But it sure seems like the train has left the station. The Texans have made their bed, and Sam Darnold might be lying in it. Here is an exhaustive list of all of Watson’s potential suitors.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars
Few things grip the sporting imagination like the allure of a generational prospect. Trevor Lawrence has been billed as a future NFL savior since the day he arrived on Watson’s former Clemson campus. But when it comes to generational prospects, the focus should be on the “prospect” and not the “generational.” Lawrence is prospective. Watson is proven. This trade should be made 10 times out of 10. But it won’t even be considered thanks to the simple fact that the Jaguars play in the Texans’ division. And even if it were possible, it probably wouldn’t be probable. A prospect’s pull is just that strong.
15. Indianapolis Colts
Unlike the Jaguars, the Colts would have the will to get this done. Like the Jaguars, they are doomed by their divisional proximity to Watson’s likely former team. The Texans have developed a sky-high tolerance for humiliation, but not even Jack Easterby could live with Watson facing his former club two times per year.
14. Detroit Lions
In meme speak: “What if the Texans organization but worse?” The Lions, who own the No. 7 overall pick and perhaps another first-rounder in exchange for Matthew Stafford, would surely be interested. Watson, who possesses a no-trade clause, undoubtedly would not. Perhaps if the Lions had not hired a walking, talking phonebook shredder as head coach. The Lions have since ventured into "The Great Beyond: The Jared Goff Years."
13. Pittsburgh Steelers
This one only comes into play if Ben Roethlisberger retires. There has been no indication that’s a serious consideration. Even were that domino to fall, the Steelers are one of the league’s most committed “draft-and-develop” franchises. Owning merely the No. 24 pick, they would probably have to part with three first-rounders just as a starting point. Watson would be a winning player for one of North America’s winningest franchises, but it’s not the right time.
12. Chicago Bears
As usual, the Bears are picks bereft, with only five total as of January 29. Not as usual, one of them is in the first round, No. 20 overall. That’s a weak launching point made weaker by the fact that this deteriorating roster probably won’t be champing at the bit to trade multiple first-rounders for the second time in four years. Of course, when you are going on a century of lacking a true franchise quarterback, you at least entertain the possibility. The biggest problem is, it’s hard to see what would be in it for Watson.
11. Las Vegas Raiders
Although the Raiders are obsessed with former team captains from Clemson, this one feels unlikely. Coach Jon Gruden has had an insatiable star power craving during his second Raiders tour of duty, but it’s been more miss than hit. Watson and his no-trade clause would probably proffer a “no thanks.” Although Watson is a great fit for Gruden’s brand of efficiency ball, it’s not a deep enough overall roster for a division ruled by Patrick Mahomes with Justin Herbert on the come up. Watson will have too many better options.
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10. New England Patriots
The Patriots are the last place most teams would trade their franchise quarterback. Just like in your home fantasy league, no one wants to get ripped off by the smartest guy in the room. But the Pats have an opening with their longtime No. 2 personnel man Nick Caserio now being the No. 1 in Houston. Caserio has predictably put on a brave face and claimed he won’t be moving his most important player, but if the situation becomes untenable, who speaks Caserio’s language better than Bill Belichick? This is a long shot possibility, but this connection at least puts it in the realm of the possible. (Google “padres jed hoyer anthony rizzo”.)
9. Atlanta Falcons
Matthew Stafford is moving on. Ben Roethlisberger is working on a restructured contract. We haven’t heard much about Matt Ryan, but he is an increasingly immobile quarterback playing behind a battered offensive line for a franchise in reset mode. Watson is from Georgia. The initial dots connect. The money does not. Ryan’s deal is Goff-ian in its difficulty to cut, while Watson and his no-trade clause may prefer a project that is closer to completion than this aging skill corps and underwhelming defense. Conversations will be had. They probably won’t go anywhere.
8. Denver Broncos
This one is tricky. Watson has made it clear he would prefer to play for a new guard coaching staff. Head coach Vic Fangio and OC Pat Shurmur are not that. On the other hand, Watson would know Fangio can be trusted on his side of the ball, while he would have one of the league’s most impressive young skill groups to work with on offense. It would require a sales job, but there’s enough talent here that Watson’s ears should not be closed.
7. Washington Football Team
Forcing a trade to the Washington Football Team would arguably be the world’s most dangerous game. Decades of Daniel Snyder baggage makes it extremely unlikely. But if the Footballs could at least get Watson to take their call, their pitch of “player’s coach, on-the-rise defense and explosive young weapons on offense” would be intriguing. The Team is in a “finishing touches” roster position after last year’s surprising NFC East crown.
6. Los Angeles Rams
The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue recently reported that Rams coach Sean McVay likes No. 2 QB John Wolford's "processing speed and the way he can extend plays with his legs, and is also intrigued by Wolford's ability to "move and to reset his launch point.” Buddy, if you think those things about John Wolford, have I got a quarterback for you. The problem is that the Rams would basically have to invent a new Bitcoin to procure the necessary trade compensation and salary cap space. It could maybe be accomplished by including Jared Goff in the deal, but that has us venturing deep into “Sal from Jersey City calling into 69420 THE FAN at 9:34 AM” territory. It turns out listener Sal was right, only he wanted to trade for Matthew Stafford, not Deshaun Watson.
5. New Orleans Saints
Similar to the Rams, the Saints would basically need a complete restructuring of the American economy to get Watson in the building. No team is more aggressive, though, while Watson boasts nearly all the same strengths of (apparently) outgoing franchise quarterback Drew Brees. Like Brees in his prime, Watson is highly efficient while maintaining explosiveness and avoiding turnovers. This one is surely at least being discussed, but the required level of cap and draft pick wizardry would likely be impossible for even Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis to summon.
4. San Francisco 49ers | More Analysis: WATCH
We’re getting warmer. Although they have been more respectful of Jimmy Garoppolo’s feelings than the Rams and Jared Goff, the 49ers have made it clear they are open for business at quarterback. Garoppolo can come off the books with only a few Game Stop shares in dead money. Watson would be everything coach Kyle Shanahan has ever dreamed of under center. A weapon with both his arm and legs, Watson can win in the deep game while maintaining efficiency in the short area of the field. A coach who made Brian Hoyer watchable and Matt Ryan an MVP could take things stratospheric with a talent like Watson. The No. 12 overall pick would at least get the Niners in the trade talks door. Shanahan and GM John Lynch don’t blink when there’s a player they crave.
3. Miami Dolphins | More Analysis: WATCH
The Dolphins seemed fated to draft Tua Tagovailoa for two years. They’ve seemed fated to acquire Deshaun Watson for two weeks. So which is it? The clue could be in the coaching staff, where the Dolphins recently hired Tagovailoa confidant Charlie Frye as QBs coach. Is that a smoking gun? No. For starters, the Dolphins have yet to land the bigger fish of offensive coordinator following Chan Gailey’s retirement. Frye could coach Watson just as well as Tagovailoa. But the Dolphins’ 2020 evaluation of Tagovailoa did not match Twitter’s. They saw a 22-year-old rookie reducing some lemonade from lemons even if there was too much pulp. Unless Watson forces the issue by demanding a trade to Miami and Miami only — which is not an impossible scenario — this isn’t the most likely outcome even if it makes the most sense on paper.
2. Carolina Panthers
My theory based on years of baseball brain is that the Texans would love to trade Watson not only out of the division, but out of the conference. If that’s true, no one matches up better than the Panthers. They have an imaginative brain trust, a dire need under center and the No. 8 overall pick. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport has reported they will be “aggressive” in their pursuit of a player who would be a worthy heir apparent to Cam Newton. Watson and his no-trade clause hold all the cards. Would he want to play for a coach in Matt Rhule who apparently makes prospect decisions based on elevator rides and insists you be “coachable” every second of every day? A football junkie himself, the answer is “probably.” The main thing standing between the Panthers and Watson is an unlikely destination team, the...
1. New York Jets | More Analysis: WATCH
So You’ve Destroyed Your Organization To Such A Degree That Deshaun Watson Would Rather Play For the Jets: A Pamphlet. As recently as last July, the Jets were a franchise that former first-round picks forced trades from. Now thanks to sheer luck and one good hire, they are in the driver’s seat for one of the five most valuable players in the NFL. Watson has let it be known that he is enamored with new coach Robert Saleh, and the Jets can offer by far the most attractive compensation package. Not only do they possess the Nos. 2 and 23 picks, they also have an expiring rookie quarterback contract in Sam Darnold. Stars have not aligned for this organization since Joe Namath had a few too many mojitos and guaranteed they would win Super Bowl III. This is another such constellation. If Watson is truly available, the Jets have the need, resources and personnel to make it happen.