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It’s fun to see the NFL look like the NBA every once in a while and send everyone into a frenzy creating fake trade scenarios.
There aren’t many blockbuster trades in the NFL that aren’t two teams swapping draft picks, but then Deshaun Watson got fed up with the Houston Texans. It’s arguable that a quarterback of Watson’s age and talent has never been traded in his prime before. The best comparison might be when Josh McDaniels alienated Jay Cutler in his first weeks as Denver Broncos coach and practically had to trade him to the Chicago Bears.
But Watson is better than Cutler. He had one of the best seasons ever on a bad team, doing everything he could and seeing the rest of the Texans let him down in a 4-12 season. Watson is a fantastic NFL quarterback. And since Watson’s unhappiness with the Texans became public knowledge, trade speculation has taken over NFL Twitter.
What team will end up with Watson? BetMGM has posted odds — there has already been plenty of line movement — so let’s look at which side has value as of Tuesday afternoon:
Well, maybe: Denver Broncos and Washington Football Team (+1000), San Francisco 49ers (+1400)
Here’s where we’ll start, though BetMGM is offering odds on all 32 teams. There are odds of +2000 or greater on 24 of those teams. If you want to bet on the Kansas City Chiefs landing Watson at 250-to-1, hey, go ahead.
Here are the three teams in that range of 10-to-1 but below 20-to-1. All three make sense but the problem for each of them is what they’d offer. They could all use a quarterback upgrade, but none of them have the draft capital to beat some other teams that can say the same thing. It’s not like the Texans will be moved by a package that includes Drew Lock.
The only reason these teams are on the list is need. Maybe the Broncos, with new GM George Paton, feel they can afford to give years worth of first-round picks. But it still might not be enough.
Reasonable candidates: Chicago Bears (+900) and New England Patriots (+900)
The Bears and Patriots have the same conundrum as the three teams listed above. They would love to get Watson but neither team realistically has the ammunition to pull it off.
For the Bears, it would be righting a mistake. The Bears passed on Deshaun Watson for Mitchell Trubisky in the draft and that was a franchise-altering error. The Bears haven’t had a quarterback of Watson’s caliber since Sid Luckman.
Watson to the Patriots is everyone’s nightmare. Bill Belichick had almost two decades of quarterbacking greatness with Tom Brady, and landing Watson would just be unfair. But one problem the Patriots have is a lack of young talent, thanks to some mediocre drafts. What would New England reasonably give up to land Watson? The Patriots pick 15th in the first round this season and it’s hard to imagine a New England team with Watson ever picking in the top 10.
Again, these teams sound good on paper but if Watson truly gets moved, there will be many teams in the running and a couple others can offer much more.
Now we’re getting serious: Miami Dolphins (+500) and New York Jets (+400)
Each of these teams have a top-three pick this year and a young quarterback who was once picked in the top five that could still emerge as a viable NFL starter. If the Dolphins offer Tua Tagovailoa and the third pick (obtained from the Texans in a batty Bill O’Brien trade for tackle Laremy Tunsil) as part of a package, how could the other teams compete with that?
The Jets might be able to, with two first-round picks this year in 2021 and 2022. It’s hard to buy Sam Darnold as a valuable trade piece. Tagovailoa wasn’t great as a rookie but he wasn’t bad. Darnold has been bad. To believe he will become a good NFL starter is to completely believe Adam Gase ruined him and he’s fixable, because there is no other tangible argument to be made for Darnold after three seasons. But he did have a draft pedigree, if the Texans are interested. But if the No. 2 pick is available in a Watson deal, the Texans would likely just take Justin Fields or Zach Wilson anyway.
The reason these teams stand out is because the Texans could have an immediate first-round replacement at quarterback who would help calm down some of the criticism for trading Watson. It’s hard to trade a great talent like Watson and then sell a fan base on a season of AJ McCarron at quarterback.
But the most obvious conclusion to this mess is the favorite.
Yeah, probably right: Houston Texans (+100)
Watson has completed one year of a four-year, $156 million deal. He has a $10.5 million base salary 2021, $35 million in 2022 and $20 million in 2023. Watson is 25 years and in his competitive prime.
If the Texans simply said he’s not being traded, it’s not like Watson has a lot of options. He could sit out, or make things very difficult on the Texans, but if Houston takes a hard stance, it’s hard to imagine Watson is going to pass on that much money.
The Texans are a frighteningly incompetent franchise and they have made countless terrible moves the past few years. But — let’s get your jokes out of the way — the Texans understand Watson is a rare talent. There’s a reason quarterbacks like Watson don’t get traded. It’s one thing to trade DeAndre Hopkins or make an impulsive deal for Tunsil, but trading a quarterback is a completely different category. New general manager Nick Caserio was hired in an unusual way, with the now-divisive Jack Easterby seemingly leading the way, but Caserio is not dumb. He knows that trading Watson will be the defining move of his career.
Maybe Watson gets traded, if a team decides to make a strong offer and the Texans decide that it’s worth moving an unhappy superstar. But there’s a reason the Texans are the even-money favorite to have Watson at quarterback to start 2021.
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