What Happens When the NFL’s Passing Yards Champion Demands a Trade

Will Perry

After a 4-11 season and weeks of cryptic social media posts, star QB Deshaun Watson has officially demanded a trade from the Houston Texans. Not even a year removed from signing a 4-year, $156 million contract, Watson is fed up with the organizational dysfunction and wants to jump ship before it sinks completely. Additionally, the lack of respect he has received from executives in decision-making has frustrated him to no end.

 Watson threw for 4,823 yards this season, the most in the NFL (ESPN), and he was the third-highest graded QB by Pro Football Focus, with a score of 92.5. The only players ahead of him were Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, who just faced off in the NFC Championship last week. The waste of his superhuman abilities is almost criminal. It is incredibly rare that such a phenomenal player at the most important position hits the trade market like this, so this is an exciting and hopeful time for many fans and executives who want a foundation around which to build their team. ESPN’s Mike Greenberg touted this as potentially the “biggest trade in NFL history.” (ESPN)

How Did He Get Here?

Only one year ago, the Texans were a promising franchise, facing the Chiefs in the divisional round of NFL playoffs, making them a top-8 team. Since then, however, almost nothing has gone well. Bill O’Brien, the now-fired head coach and general manager of the Texans — and possibly the most hated man in Houston — has put them in an untenable position. The most egregious move was trading DeAndre Hopkins, arguably the best receiver in the entire NFL, for an old, fading running back to play behind their horrendous offensive line. However, he did far more damage when you look past the surface. The Texans roster is clearly bereft of player assets, which does not make them unique, but what does make them unique is their lack of future assets (i.e. draft picks and money), severely hurting their ability to improve. Basically, they stink, and they have no way to get better.

Will He Stay in Houston?

After giving Texans executives the silent treatment for weeks, his request for a trade is not particularly surprising. But Houston isn’t ready to give up on their relationship. David Culley, a Ravens assistant (which tells you how undesirable this job is), was hired as the team’s new head coach a few days ago to be the new head coach. When asked about Watson, Culley said: “The reason I’m in this position today is because I know he’s going to be a Houston Texan” (Bleacher Report). Unfortunately for them, Watson has other ideas, and he possesses an immense amount of power in this situation. According to Jamies Rapien, a Texans beat reporter, Watson is fully prepared to sit out of the 2021 season. Watson is far too valuable of an asset for Houston to allow a holdout — a player of his talent is rare to find on the market and he should command three first-round picks or some combination of picks and young players. Furthermore, Watson has a no-trade clause in his contract that he can waive, meaning he can choose where he wants to go; the team can’t just ship him off to whoever has the best offer. It seems unlikely that Watson will play another snap for the Texans. 

Where Could He Go?

Here are the current front-runners according to betting odds: The Houston Texans, the Miami Dolphins, and the New York Jets. After these top 3, the odds plummet for everyone else, with no one given better than a 2 in 17 chance. However, there is one dark horse team who could make the move: the Indianapolis Colts.

Houston Texans (+150):

+150 means it’s more likely that he leaves than stays, but no other single team has a better chance. From a strategic standpoint, I think the Texans might need to cut bait with Watson, who obviously doesn’t want to be there, and then have a firesale of any other players of value (JJ Watt, anyone?). It’s time to enter rebuilding mode. But also as a fan of the game, it gives me pain to see an MVP-caliber player’s talents wasted so thoroughly.

Miami Dolphins (+250):

Despite taking Tua Tagovailoa with the 5th overall pick in 2020, the Dolphins have a surprisingly good case for why they should get Watson. Although they definitely won’t throw in the towel on Tua if things don’t pan out with Watson, the Dolphins are more than a little disappointed by his first season, and sending him to Houston as part of the trade could be mutually beneficial. Despite being 10-6 last year, the Dolphins will most likely regress a bit due to some unsustainable positive turnover variance this year. With Watson under center, however, they would be an immediate contender. Ironically enough, Miami owns Houston’s #3 overall pick this year as part of an earlier trade, so between that, their own 18th pick, and Tua, the Dolphins have enough assets to trade for Watson without sacrificing many — if any — future assets, as most teams would need to do. 

New York Jets (+350):

After a disappointing few seasons from young QB Sam Darnold, the Jets may be primed to make a move on Watson (although throwing darts to make decisions may have been more effective than trusting the half-baked plans of ex-head coach Adam Gase, so Darnold only deserves some of the blame). After already spending his entire career behind one of the worst offensive lines in football, it befuddles me why Watson has told reporters he’s interested in the Jets, who have a pathetic pass-protection unit themselves. After trading safety Jamal Adams to the Seahawks this past offseason, the Jets have multiple first-round picks in each of the next two drafts. With a few decent draft picks and free-agent acquisitions — the Jets have the 3rd most cap space in the league — they could put together a serviceable roster around Watson, but it’s hard to imagine them in the playoffs anytime soon after a miserable 2-14 season.

Indianapolis Colts (+2500):

No, that number is not a typo; the Colts only have an estimated 4% of getting Watson. I’m not a Colts fan, but even I find them to be an interesting prospect. Firstly, their starting QB, Phillip Rivers, just retired, and their backup is a free agent this offseason too. They are a good team, playing solid — even if not particularly flashy — football. They lost in the first round of playoffs this year, but the foundation of this team is young and could be promising in the future. However, the most intriguing part of their team isn’t what they have, it’s what they lack: expensive players. They have over $64 million in cap space, the second-most in the NFL. If they were able to compete well with so few highly-paid players, imagine what they could do with Watson and another stud receiver (Maybe a Golladay, Godwin, Robinson, or Fuller — a teammate of Watson’s — all of whom will be free agents this offseason). The next richest team with a winning record last year was Tampa Bay, with a comparably paltry $24 million. The Colts have all their draft picks but no extras like Miami or New York, so they would probably need to give up a player or two (Julian Blackmon, Xavier Rhodes, or DeForest Buckener?) in addition to their 2020 and 2021 first-rounders.

Source: https://www.spotrac.com/nfl/houston-texans/deshaun-watson-21753/

Image Credit: Houston Press