Despite chatter and reports, a Deshaun Watson trade remains elusive — unless the Texans relent

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It was stunning, to say the least, to hear from two credible sources with two different teams that chatter was building regarding a potential trade of Deshaun Watson by the Texans to the Dolphins or Panthers. Then came the report from Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports that the Dolphins have emerged as the frontrunners to do the deal. Then came the report from Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald that the Dolphins “remain intrigued” by the possibility of trading for Watson but that they are “balking” at Houston’s expectation that they’ll receive three first-round picks and two second-round picks in return.

These rumors and reports are unfolding against the backdrop of several important realities. First, Watson’s legal situation continues to be unsettled at best. He’s facing 22 civil lawsuits that are months away, at the earliest, from resolution. He’s facing 10 criminal complaints that are destined to be presented to a grand jury. The FBI is on the scene, although it’s unclear whether the bureau is investigating Watson or one of his accusers or both. Any team that trades for Watson steps into the shoes of significant uncertainty.

Second, the Texans have to do something with Watson’s roster spot. He’s currently a member of the 80-man squad. In two days, it shrinks to 53. Unless they plan to have 52 players plus Watson, they’ll need to find a place to park him. Unless that place is “a new team,” injured reserve becomes the best (and maybe only) alternative to Watson playing.

But the Texans would have to be willing to pay Watson $10.54 million to not play this year, if he’s on IR. As the Texans keep their cards pressed tightly to the vest, there’s no insight as to whether they’d rather pay him the money now and try to trade him in early 2022 or whether they’ll consider less than what they want in order to avoid paying his 2021 salary. Remember, this is the team that once sent a second-round pick to the Browns in order to unload quarterback Brock Osweiler’s $16 million salary. As for most if not all teams, there’s a link between money and draft capital. Even if the Texans could get more in March (and they probably could), they’ll have to pay Watson $10.54 million to get there. Owner Cal McNair and his spiritual consigliere Jack Easterby may not want to “reward” Watson with eight figures of money for nothing, given the nature of the “thou shalt not” allegations made against him.

Third, Watson’s contract includes an astronomical salary of $35 million for 2022. If the legal situation, which clearly is complicating things now, stretches out for another 12 months, the Texans or his next team will be confronting a significantly larger financial dilemma than the Texans currently face.

Fourth, the league can put Watson on paid leave whenever it wants. With the Texans showing no inclination to play Watson, the league hasn’t had to take action. If the Texans trade Watson to a team that intends to immediately put him on the field, 345 Park Avenue may intervene.

For all those reasons, no team in its right mind will currently give Houston three first-round picks and two second-round picks for Watson. If Houston relents, potentially because McNair doesn’t want to pay Watson to not play, then a deal could get done.

Saturday’s flurry of reports and rumors undoubtedly emanates from the reality that, if the Texans are going to blink, they need to blink soon. And if they aren’t going to blink, they need to come to terms with the fact that the player to whom they gave a major contract less than a year ago will not be earning a penny of it in 2021 and, depending on how things play out, perhaps not in 2022, either.

Despite chatter and reports, a Deshaun Watson trade remains elusive — unless the Texans relent originally appeared on Pro Football Talk