By Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)
It’s a news story that won’t go away. But is this another case of the media exacerbating the situation? Or is there no smoke without fire?
How did we get here?
Deshaun Watson sent social media into meltdown with a (kind of) cryptic tweet, indicating in a passive-aggressive way that he is upset with what is going down in Houston.
The tweets refer to owner Cal McNair’s decision to hire new General Manager Nick Caserio without Watson even having an inkling or being given a heads-up, and was clearly the bite on the hook that started this whole circus.
Even with the above, I am surprised at how loud the the Deshaun Watson trade rumours are at this point, considering that we are in January and at the time they surfaced, we were heading into the Divisional Round of the play-offs. That being said, Watson, who led the Texans to a 4-12 finish in 2020, wasn’t the only one who was dissatisfied with the team; JJ Watt also addressed the media to vent at the current atmosphere within the squad.
To date, the former Clemson QB, selected 12th overall, has a 28-25 record and has just posted career highs in TDs, passing yards and QB rating (Pro Football Reference) in 2020. Recently selected to his third straight Pro Bowl, he has won just the one postseason game: last year’s comeback victory against the self-destructing Bills.
He has a knack for making plays when he has no right too and already has a jam-packed highlight reel accumulated through the years of his rookie deal.
Watson signed a 4-year, $156 million contract with the Houston Texans and will start next season on a $35m base salary.
Houston fans would have thought that further demise was avoided after the firing of GM and Head Coach Bill O’Brien, but it seems the storm may have not past yet on the south coast of America, an area accustomed to experiencing hurricanes and the like.
If the few next steps taken by the Texans are the wrong ones, the team most recently added to the NFL could be in poverty for long enough to call it a depression.
BUT don’t expect an answers until a few things happen.
Don’t expect this to be resolved any time soon: think of it more like a writer’s strike in the middle of a TV boxset season.
Come March, when free agency re-opens for business, I would expect something, if anything, to happen. In the meantime, there are still plenty of dominoes to fall.
The next Head Coach
Newly appointed General Manager Nick Caserio, who spent almost two decades working his way up the New England Patriots organisation, has a huge call to make straight off the bat: Who to hire as a Head Coach? This decision alone could almost single-handedly confirm Deshaun Watson’s fate.
If Caserio is smart, and let’s assume he is, he needs to get on to the phone to Watson and his agent pronto and talk about potential candidates that they would like to see at least interviewed for the vacant Head Coach role. At the very least, I would expect Caserio to at least give Watson a heads-up on who they have identified as their next HC.
The top runners for the position at this moment, a select number of whom have already flown in to be interviewed, are the Bills DC Leslie Frazier, Panthers OC Joe Brady, former Lions HC Jim Caldwell, Colts DC Matt Eberflus and former Bengals HC Marvin Lewis. Other names usually flung out into the open are Baltimore Ravens OC Greg Roman and Chiefs OC Eric Bienemy, who is currently handcuffed as the Chiefs are still in the play-offs.
The one thing working in the Texans favour (take the small victories) is that their vacant position and the Eagles HC position are the only two left to fill, having seen a plethora of HC positions confirmed over the past week.
It’s possibly far-fetched to say that a hire that Deshaun Watson frowns upon will be the final nail in the coffin, but if you can appease Watson by bringing in someone he is keen to work with or at least familiar with, it will go a long way to pouring water over the burning embers currently fuelling his dissatisfaction.
Houston are already behind the 8-ball with free agency, currently standing at $20m in the negative with regards to the 2021 salary cap. Shifting Watson’s baggage would obviously go a long way to resolving that, but you still have to replace him… and for those of you that didn’t know, BREAKING NEWS: Quarterbacks are expensive. Don’t expect the Texans to be too adventurous in free agency.
The NFL Draft
Thanks to Bill O’Brien, the Texans are also asset poor in this regard. After shipping out DeAndre Hopkins and trading for Laremy Tunsil among other deals, the Texans are not picking until the 3rd round (#67) in the 2021 draft. They could have been picking 3rd overall this year and could have entertained a decent number of trade partners to help be the catalyst to reloading this team.
The perfect way to replace Deshaun Watson would have been to use the number 3 pick to select one of the QBs in this year’s draft. Unfortunately, no bueno. One straw to clutch at is that Caseiro has worked most of his career as a personnel/scouting talent guy, so you could have worse people helping to select these players.
What will it take for Watson to be traded?
It’s worth prefacing that Deshaun Watson has a “no trade” clause, and Watson would be required to waive his right to that clause for any potential trade to be processed. If the right team came knocking, however, I don’t see this as an issue.
While there would be queues longer than those you find on Wimbldeon each morning prior to the day’s play at the tennis major, there aren’t many teams that have the potential draft capital or the ability to get creative in their trades.
I would be shocked if this was an “only draft picks” deal as you are looking at somewhere between three and five 1st rounders. Therefore, a makeweight will have to be players. Houston are devoid of talent at a few positions, especially on defence, but there aren’t many available players that are going to command the equivalent of 1st round picks unless they are deemed busts by their current employers. That, and also the fact that Bill O’Brien is no longer there to pull the wool over their eyes.
Players like Deshaun Watson do not come around very often like this for trade and would take quite the haul for something to manifest and facilitate this trade, but let’s have some fun…
Who are the potential candidates?
Everyone has been quick to jump to the Dolphins but they do tick quite a lot of boxes. First off, they could give back the Texans their 3rd overall pick as well as the #18 they currently hold. Add to that a future first and we are starting to get close to a potential tipping point.
Perhaps add in a cornerback that is heavily invested in, such as last year’s 1st round pick Noah Igbinoghene or perhaps free agency signing Byron Jones or, at a bit more of a stretch, Xavien Howard. Corners can be found in the 2nd and 3rd rounds of drafts and can be nurtured into becoming premier players on teams. Losing one of these guys may leave them slightly short-handed but the two that are left are more than sufficient while they coach along the others on the squad/any more they bring in to the building.
Getting a top QB in return is possibly something they would be interested in and could even send back Tua Tagovailoa. Three 1st round picks, a CB and Tua should be more than enough to secure the services of Watson.
However, I just don’t think the Dolphins will pull that trigger. Despite Tua’s struggles, I get the feeling they have to roll with him and see what he can do in a second year, with an offseason and with a training camp under his belt. He is barely a year removed from his career-threatening hip injury and the game may have just been a bit too fast for him straight off the bat, especially if he felt he wouldn’t have seen the field at all this year.
New York Jets
Nick Caserio knows the AFC East well enough after spending the last 20 years in it with the Patriots, but could another AFC East team come calling?
The New York Jets and GM Joe Douglas have just welcomed former San Francisco DC Robert Saleh into the building. We all know that HCs like to get their guys in and do not have any attachments to most of the players on the roster when they walk through the door and wipe their feet on the mat.
Sam Darnold has already had his fair share of ups and downs since being picked at #3 overall back in the 2018 draft. At 23, many will still feel he has had a fair crack at the whip and while he has shown glimpses, there are a few kinks to work out with him and he is still labelled as a project at this time. The Jets will have to make a decision on him soon either way as he enters the 4th year of his potentially five- year rookie deal.
They have a bucket-load of cap space, certainly more than enough change to get frisky in free agency if they so desired, and Deshaun Watson would be behind an improving offensive line that has seen the recent additions of Mekhi Becton, Connor McGovern and George Fant from the various avenues available.
What can they offer to the Texans? Erm, just the 1.02 in the 2021 draft!
It’s highly unlikely and they wouldn’t have spent the whole season sucking eggs to give up Zach Wilson or Justin Fields… or would they? The Jets would not have planned for Watson being available, but add in #23 overall, which they have from the Seahawks in the Jamal Adams trade, and perhaps next year’s 1st/this year’s second, along with Sam Darnold and a friend (maybe Quinnen Williams with the outgoing JJ Watt), you start to reach the watermark required to get to the table.
San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers are no strangers to huge trades and making statements.
Jimmy Garroppolo costs the 49ers $3m against the cap in 2021 and from what I have seen so far with him and Kyle Shanahan is a reluctance of trust in an offence that doesn’t need a good QB to run it. But imagine that there was!
They could send Jimmy G and his good looks along with #12 and #43 overall in 2021, along with a future 1st rounder and perhaps a piece that may have been discarded anyway from their long list of free agents in 2021 such as Tevin Coleman, Jerick McKinnon or Jeff Wilson. Chuck in Richard Sherman/Emmanuel Moseley at CB and Soloman Thomas/Ronald Blair at DE, or one of their recently acquired draftees such as WR Deebo Samuel or Brandon Aiyuk, as those players are easier to find in the later rounds. At this moment, there are just 25 players signed through 2021 on this roster, which is simply mindblowing. I wouldn’t even take Nick Bosa off the table, however unlikely.
We’ll finish off in Charlotte, where Teddy Bridgewater was brought in and seen by many as the bridge to their next big QB. Is that QB Deshaun? I expect HC Matt Rhule and OC Joe Brady to continue their promising start together in the NFL and let’s face it, the offence got no love in the draft, with every selection going on the defensive side. They did give the offence some extra meat on the bone in free agency though, with the additions of Teddy B at signal caller and Robby Anderson among others.
The team will continue to be in transition over the next year or two as they ride off further in the distance from the Cam Newton and Ron Rivera era. Carolina does have a pick at #8 this year, which could solve their QB conundrum with possibilities such as Trey Lance and Mac Jones. However, if those are not suitable, you could send #8, #39, the 2022 1st round pick, DJ Moore and either a cornerback (Troy Pride/Donte Jackson) or pass rusher (Brian Burns).
I could go on and list other potential suitors such as Atlanta, Chicago and maybe even Washington, but when it all comes down to it, this all seems to me like a pipedream. I fully expect Watson to play for the Texans in Week 1. Would he be wasted there? Of course. The team seem a long way away from being a challenger and there are a lot of holes on the Texans’ roster, but creating a hole in the most important part of it to try and plug some others is a dangerous game and I just can’t see Nick Caserio and their future GM pulling the trigger on it.
If the Texans do decide to part ways from Watson, they do have the ability to pump up the value for him, with many potential suitors waiting in tow.
At least Bill O’Brien wont be the one with the gavel.
Let me know your thoughts, by intereacting with us @Full10Yards on Twitter, Facebook, etc. We’ll be sure to have a discussion on this once the season is over so keep your #eyespeeled.