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For years, critics complained that Ernie Accorsi had given up way too much in his blockbuster trade for Eli Manning back in 2004. But he always dismissed such talk by pointing to the importance of a franchise quarterback, and the difference that great players can make for any team.
“You can’t give up too much for [John] Elway,” Accorsi said. “You can’t overpay [Joe] DiMaggio.”
That’s true, but even Accorsi, the former Giants GM, had his limits. That Giants’ trade for Manning almost didn’t happen because Accorsi refused to give up his young, dynamic pass rusher, Osi Umenyiora, in the deal. He didn’t budge on that. And the deal only happened when the Chargers blinked and agreed to take a future first-round pick instead.
That’s important to remember as speculation ramps up that the Houston Texans might soon start entertaining trade offers for Deshaun Watson. There is a good argument to be made that a team should be willing to give up almost anything for a 25-year-old, three-time Pro Bowl quarterback who might be one of the five most talented quarterbacks in the league because there is no more important position in sports.
But how much is too much? Where’s the line?
Or is there even a line that could prevent the Jets from making this deal?
“One thing to remember is that if the Jets give up all their best assets – players and draft picks – they’d be left with a top-five quarterback on a bottom-two team,” said one NFL executive. “Never mind that Watson might not waive his no-trade clause to go to a team that just gutted itself. Why would they do that? As good as Watson is, the Texans were 4-12 last season.
“He can’t do it by himself.”
That’s something Jets GM Joe Douglas will have to ponder if Watson is ever officially put on the trade block, and as he considers who his quarterback will be for 2021 and beyond. The decision is not just Sam Darnold vs. a rookie like Zach Wilson or Justin Fields vs., possibly, Watson or even Russell Wilson. It’s about what those teams will look like with each of those quarterbacks, too.
And the team might not look like much with Watson if the price is too high. John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, the most plugged-in of those covering the Texans, recently wrote a story saying the Texans should start shopping Watson and that they should specifically shop him to the Jets. And he said they should “start” by asking for both the Jets first-round picks this year (2 and 23), one of their two first-round picks in 2022 and a second-round pick in 2022, plus Darnold “and perhaps defensive end Quinnen Williams”, too.
He had suggested Williams before when he tweeted back in January that the Texans should ask for all of the Jets’ first and second round picks the next two years, plus Williams “at the least”. Granted, those are only the suggestions of a reporter. But McClain, a Hall of Fame writer, likely didn’t just make up a price that extraordinary without talking to a source or two.
Giving up all, or even most, of the four first-round picks the Jets have in the next two drafts would be hard enough. And most people around the NFL do think it would take at least three of those, plus other picks or players, to convince the Texans to deal Watson at all. But adding in Darnold, whom the Jets could likely flip for a second-round pick? And also adding in Williams, their 23-year-old defensive tackle, coming off a seven-sack season and filled with so much promise?
Let’s face it: The Jets don’t have many players on their roster that other teams will want. There’s Williams, Darnold and left tackle Mekhi Becton. Even for Watson, it will be hard for the Jets to give two-thirds of that trio up.
Of course, they would still have $90 million in salary cap space to quickly rebuild their roster – more than enough to add a top receiver, replace Williams and add an expensive offensive lineman, a cornerback, and an edge rusher too. And the 25-year-old Watson, who’d be one of the biggest stars in the game if he played on a winning team, would likely be an effective recruiter.
Historically, though, spending big in free agency has proven to be a terrible way to rebuild a team. It also would go strongly against Douglas’ plan to build the Jets through the draft.
But is it worth the risk for a franchise quarterback like Watson? There’s no sign that Darnold is that caliber of player, and if the Jets are wrong about Wilson or Fields they’d be right back in the endless cycle they’ve been in for decades – bouncing from one quarterback to the next, hoping the right one lands in their lap.
Watson could be a quick end to what has really been a 50-year search.
“Teams spend years searching for players like (Watson),” the executive said. “If you have any shot at him, you have to take it. And you can’t worry too much about the cost.”
“There has to be a limit somewhere,” the source said. “If you take the greatest quarterback in history and put him on the worst team you’re not going to win a championship. You’ve got the most important building block. But you’d still have a lot of building to do.”