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The term “lost season” was thrown around a lot during the 2021 Texans campaign. From the talent-depleted roster to the hiring of first-time coach David Culley, there was rightful speculation it would be a disappointing campaign for the Texans. Unfortunately, the doubters (read: the majority) were proven correct. Houston won only four contests in 17 tries.
The phrase now applies nowhere better than the suddenly cloudy career of former franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson, quite literally, lost his 2021 season due to an unfortunate combination of his holdout and pending legal allegations. There is additional speculation he could lose a portion, if not all, of his 2022 campaign depending on the findings in court during the coming months.
It is now a matter of where Watson will be traded (and when he’ll be allowed to play) more so than an if. The Texans’ front office by their words and by their actions have all but moved on from what was just a year ago the greatest hope in Houston sports.
What’s more interesting, however, is that while the Texans have moved forward without Watson in their plans, so has the rest of the NFL.
Around the trade deadline, it seemed all but a done deal that Watson would be moved to the Miami Dolphins during the offseason. There was strong mutual interest and the team truly lacked a franchise quarterback. Weeks later, this may no longer ring true.
The Dolphins were winners of eight of their last nine games and firmly entrenched in the AFC wildcard picture before an unfortunate Tua Tagovailoa performance against the Tennessee Titans brought the campaign crumbling to an end. Coach Brian Flores had the Dolphins offense running an efficient, quick-passing game and operating relatively turnover-free to create plenty of operating room for their elite defense to win games. A winning blueprint was clearly there.
Despite their incredible win streak, this past Monday the Dolphins opted to part ways with Flores. The coach was considered one of the driving factors behind Watson’s not-so-secret desire to join the Miami organization. Suddenly, there’s quite the vacuum in terms of how to evaluate Watson’s likely destination. It begs the question: what now?
#Dolphins coach Brian Flores was a signfiicant reason why Deshaun Watson wanted to be in Miami. WIth Flores out, this situation may have changed.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 10, 2022
Hypothetically, let’s assume Watson is still interested in Miami as his top destination. Miami still has an excellent young core and South Beach is still — well, South Beach.
Acquiring the quarterback, as established at the deadline, would likely take three first-round picks and surplus assets either in day two of the draft or in the form of additional player compensation. That is hefty compensation for a team that cannot deny their shortcomings in other areas of the roster. Beyond Tagovailoa’s limitations, 2021 revealed a weak offensive line and a shocking lack of playmakers for a playoff aspirational team.
Even with a quarterback like Watson, would Miami have the firepower to compete with the Buffalo Bills on the perimeter or the bodies to play physically with the New England Patriots? This seems like a steep price to pay in a division where Watson far from ensures dominance. Not that the quarterback is no longer worth the price of acquisition for Miami, however the evolving circumstances do force one to consider if that’s the best use of their assets in the long-term with relative instability organizationally following Flores’ departure.
It may be time for both Houston fans and Watson to appropriately speculate for trade destinations outside of Miami and potentially larger returns. This is all of course still contingent on Watson and his camp waiving the no-trade clause.
The New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles are both obvious candidates at this point to offer the most for Watson. Both parties could offer 2 selections in this year’s draft in addition to whatever assets the Texans may desire. The relative success of Jalen Hurts this season may force the Eagles to run it back with a more talented roster in 2022, but it’s safe to say the Daniel Jones experiment in New York can be called a failure.
Would Philadelphia be willing to move on from Hurts, who brought them to a surprise playoff berth behind a great run game, at the cost of losing their opportunity to totally transform their roster with the multitude of first-round picks they have? If coach Nick Sirianni is out on the second-year signal caller, maybe they do feel comfortable pulling the trigger.
Would a new general manager in New York be comfortable mortgaging the future for Watson? His appearance in the NFC East would automatically elevate the team to contention and the weapons in Saquon Barkley, Kadarius Toney and Kenny Golladay could thrive in combination with his playmaking skills. Meanwhile, Houston could rapidly accelerate their rebuild with two guaranteed high selections. Seemingly a win-win.
Outside of Philadelphia and New York, other suitors would be unable to offer multiple firsts this year. This likely creates a situation similar to Miami where three first-round picks would be required. Atlanta, although seemingly flailing during year one of the Arthur Smith era, is unfortunately locked into Matt Ryan’s contract and out of the Watson sweepstakes. Similarly, despite appropriate draft capital, the New York Jets are likely committed to seeing through the development of Zach Wilson beyond his struggles this year.
That leaves Pittsburgh, Denver, Carolina, and Washington as the remaining “obvious” trade candidates. All would have to pay a heavy price due to their inability to trade multiple picks this year and the assuming decreasing value of all future picks due to the presence of Watson on the team. None of these destinations are near as large or as sexy as playing quarterback in Miami, would that appeal to someone who seems hell bent on playing in a glamor city?
Would Watson allow this kind of bidding war to happen just to weaken his future franchise?
It’s important to look back at 2020 in the face of this evolving situation. We are only one year removed from Watson staring reporters in the eye and saying that he wanted “to be legendary.” Don’t be fooled, the prospect of being legendary is quickly fading for the young signal caller. League coverage of the NFL has moved without him and so have a host of former fans who will not stand for even the allegation of what has come up against him. Forget the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Clemson speaking appearances and endorsement opportunities are fading into the rear-view mirror every day he allows the civil suits to dominate his story.
It is in the best interest of Watson to move to a different situation and put football back into focus. It is in the best interest of the Texans to take the best possible deal. There should be a clear, mutual win in focus if both parties agree to cooperate and take their heads out of the sand.
Pittsburgh appears just a quarterback away from obvious contention in the AFC. Washington performed admirably under Taylor Heinicke but it’s unlikely they consider him a long-term answer moving forward. Carolina has been desperately aggressive in their attempts to upgrade but may potentially be hamstrung by a sunk cost in Sam Darnold. Denver has been spoken as a possible destination since last year.
A new, competitive market is evolving that bodes well for general manager Nick Caserio and the leverage of Houston.
All of this to say: the Watson trade market has changed remarkably over the past month. Organizational changes will create new suitors and it’s quite possible previously interested parties will back out. Houston fans may want to start cheering for the Giants or another team to bring on a Rick Smith or Bill O’Brien type, someone who is familiar and comfortable with Watson could lead to an overpayment.
Watson’s trade control is slowly but surely changing from the vice grip he may have felt last March and the preferred destinations may very well be changing too. Caserio has to be feeling quite good about his decision to hold until the new year.