I think about this picture often:
This photo of Deshaun Watson, gazing into the rear-view mirror while seated in a Maserati, dates back to his pre-draft process. Over the years, however, it has come to symbolize a quarterback perhaps let down by his organization. Anytime the Houston Texans would make a move to weaken the roster around him, such as trading away DeAndre Hopkins, my mind would flash to this image of a young man, looking let down and disappointed in those around him.
I thought of it again today, with the news that Watson might force his way out of Houston. Let down by an organization again, when they chose not to interview Eric Bieniemy for their vacant head coaching position, as the quarterback had asked. He hoped to have input on some of the bigger decisions facing the organization, and now the Texans might face an even bigger one: Whether to trade him.
If – IF – incoming general manager Nick Caserio is forced to move Watson, what are the potential landing spots for one of the game’s elite quarterbacks?
The easy answer is: Almost anywhere. But let’s dive into the top candidates. Rather than working through approximately 25 teams I narrowed the list the best I could, but yes Broncos and Colts fans, your GMs should be calling too.
(Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports)
The reasons the Jacksonville Jaguars are at the top of desirable head coach/general manager spots this cycle are myriad. Jacksonville has cap space (they are projected to have $73+ million in cap space according to OverTheCap.com, although that number might decrease if the NFL lowers the salary cap), they have draft capital (the Jaguars hold six of the first 100 picks in the upcoming draft) and they have young talent to build around, including running back James Robinson, wide receivers Laviska Shenault Jr. and D.J. Chark, and linebacker Myles Jack. They also hold the first-overall pick, i.e., the keys to the Trevor Lawrence kingdom. Yet while Lawrence is a solid quarterback prospect, billed as the "surest thing next to Andrew Luck) life - and football - teaches us there are no sure things. Tell that to the 19-0 New England Patriots, or Best Picture winner "Saving Private Ryan" (I guess "Shakespeare in Love" established the run or something). Figuring out the quarterback position is often the hardest part about rebuilding an organization. With the picks Jacksonville has - along with the cap space - they could certainly make a move for Watson. Whether they do might come down to how they value Lawrence on a rookie deal (and their evaluation of him as a prospect) versus Watson and his larger contract. Lawrence might make more financial sense, but Watson could make you an immediate contender. They have the picks to move and the cap space to fit him on the roster. The only questions might be would they do it, and whether Caserio would want a high-caliber player in return. After all, other potential trading partners have more to offer in that realm. Oh, and they have also interviewed Eric Bieniemy...
(Kevin Wexler-USA TODAY Sports)
If the Jacksonville Jaguars do not move for Watson, could the team right behind them in the draft pounce? While everyone has been lauding Jacksonville as the premier destination for head coaches, the truth is the New York Jets have many of the same things to offer. Jacksonville has six picks in the first 100 selections of the draft, and so do the Jets, as they have a pair of first rounders, a pick in the second, two more in the third and then one of the first in the fourth. Thank you Seattle Seahawks. They also have almost as much cap space as the Jaguars, projected right now to be just north of $70 million. The difference between the Jets and Jacksonville might be the quarterback situation. While the Jaguars certainly need to address the position, the Jets can arguably go in a different direction, deciding to build around Sam Darnold provided the incoming head coach has a plan of attack. Or they could trade for Deshaun Watson. From Watson's perspective, the roster in New York could be a bit thinner than in Jacksonville. Yes the Jets have pieces such as Denzel Mims, Jamison Crowder and Christopher Herndon on the outside, and the impressive Mekhi Becton protecting his blindside, but they have massive holes on defense. Would Watson want to leave Houston behind just to join a team that, like the Texans, struggles to get stops? The "rinse and repeat" pattern of Watson fighting and clawing to keep teams in games, only to see the defense let him down, might just repeat itself with the Jets. And if New York pays the asking price for the QB, they might not have enough to rebuild on that side of the football the way they need to. Still, if you are the Jets, you are making that call today. Plus, you could offer something the Jaguars cannot match: A starting quarterback. Darnold plus the picks might be a more attractive offer to the Texans than just the picks alone.
New England Patriots
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Anytime a star player is mentioned as a potential trade or free agent acquisition, #FootballTwitter immediately thinks of one team: The New England Patriots. And with good reason, because we have seen before the Patriots make surprising moves. Trading for Randy Moss, trading Jimmy Garoppolo, trading for Stephon Gilmore, and countless others. They just have not needed to add a starting quarterback in the past two decades. With it seeming as if the Cam Newton experiment in New England is over, the Patriots might be a landing spot for Deshaun Watson. Bill Belichick has always sent high praise Watson's way, and not in the "the 2-13 New York Jets are the greatest team ever assembled and Adam Gase is worthy of Coach of the Year" manner, but true legitimate praise. This year before the Patriots faced the 2-7 Texans - a game they would lose - Belichick said this of Watson:
...the quarterback is too good. He can extend plays, he can make all the throws, he can get the ball down the field, he has a nice touch and doesn’t turn the ball over. He does an excellent job of making good decisions and not giving the ball away.
Back in 2019 he called him one of the "top players at that position we've ever faced." This is a man who has coached against some of the greatest quarterbacks ever. High praise indeed. Yet when you look at the Jets and the Jaguars and what they can offer, the Patriots seem to be lagging in the rear-view mirror. OverTheCap.com has them with just under $60 million in potential cap space, and New England just has the sole first-round pick and only two in the top 100, as they lost a third-round selection due to the taping incident a season ago in Cleveland. Would they move Stephon Gilmore plus picks? Perhaps, but would that be enough? There is also a rumble of another potential move: the coach himself. Would Robert Kraft step in and trade Belichick to Houston? He might want to, but one cannot imagine Nick Caserio, after finally getting the chance to run an organization, signing off on that move. So while Patriots fans would love to see Watson in Foxborough next year, it does seem like one of the more outlandish landing spots.
San Francisco 49ers
One thing became abundantly clear this season: The San Francisco 49ers need to address the quarterback position. Injuries and ineffectiveness at that spot have turned #49ersTwitter into a virtual war zone, with fans and analysts debating between Jimmy Garoppolo, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, Nick Mullens, C.J. Beathard and Joe Montana on the TB12 diet. What if they could put an end to the debate by trading for Watson? While the Jaguars and the Jets have questions to answer about their offensive scheme going forward, given the lack of a head coaching hire, we know what the 49ers offense is going to look like in 2021. Shanahan's system turned Garoppolo into a Super Bowl quarterback, and that offense is very quarterback friendly. Ted Nguyen of The Athletic wrote a piece last week outlining just how much that system helps QBs, and outlined how dropping one of the game's elites (Aaron Rodgers) into that environment is almost unfair. Now imagine Watson in such a system, working off of play-action, boot-action, and all the things Shanahan does to aid QBs in the passing game. The schematic fit would be deadly. However, making such a move would be tough, although doable. Right now the 49ers have just over $22 million in projected cap space, although moving on from Garoppolo would free up around $24 million in space, giving them over $46 million to play with (again assuming the NFL does not change the salary cap). That gets them in the neighborhood. The same would be true if they traded Garoppolo, which makes one wonder if he would be part of a deal. Because the tougher needle to thread would be the pieces San Francisco could send Houston. The 49ers lack the draft capital that the Jets and the Jaguars have to offer, but would Caserio take Garoppolo as part of such a deal? Would him, plus a first-rounder in 2020 and future firsts, be enough?
(Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports)
The decision to trade up one spot in the 2017 NFL draft and select Mitchell Trubisky - with both Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson on the board - will haunt Ryan Pace until he is out of the NFL, and perhaps beyond. What if he could rectify that decision? Despite their late-season charge to get into the playoffs, the Chicago Bears still have a quarterback problem. Yes, Trubisky looked better down the stretch but his best games came against Houston, Jacksonville and Minnesota. Not exactly the "murderer's row" of NFL defenses in 2020. When they had a chance in the season finale to get into the playoffs with a win over an improved Packers defense, Trubisky was back to his shaky self. And when you dive into the late-season performances from the QB, you can see how Matt Nagy and Bill Lazor were able to manufacture the success: By making him the only paid high school quarterback in the world. Because if you want to talk about a "QB friendly" offense, just look at this: *Shudders* But what could Chicago offer? Right now they are slated for a pick in the 20s in the first round, behind each of the teams already discussed. They also have just two more selections in the top 100. They have future picks to be sure, but when teams are offering multiple first round picks in 2020 like the Jets and the Jaguars can, it is hard to compete with that. As for players, what can Chicago offer? Nick Foles? Khalil Mack, perhaps but that might just get Pace right back on the hot seat. Then there is the cap space issue. According to OverTheCap.com Chicago is actually under the projected cap right now, and that is before any potential league adjustment to the 2021 number. Hard to see the Bears making this possible.
Here is another picture of Deshaun Watson that I cannot help thinking about today. Because the Miami Dolphins might be the most logical destination for the QB. Think about it. Despite selecting Tua Tagovailoa in the top five last year there are still questions about his potential as a starting quarterback in the league. Chan Gailey did not ask the rookie to do much in terms of reading the middle of the field, perhaps thinking that was the best way for the Dolphins to win games, but Gailey paid for that decision with his job. Given that there are rumblings about Miami drafting a quarterback with the third-overall pick - just two behind Jacksonville and one behind the Jets - why not address the position not with the third QB in the draft, but with a much surer thing? Miami could offer both of their first round picks and something that the Jaguars cannot top: Tagovailoa himself. Caserio might be in a position to decide between multiple firsts and either Darnold or Tagovailoa. Which would you pick sitting here right now? Darnold and the three years of film on him, or half a season of Tagovailoa? Where you stand on that question might determine what you think the most likely spot for Watson in 2021 is. The same goes for Caserio himself. My money is on Miami.