The Houston Texans remain in a very awkward situation regarding their relationship with their franchise quarterback, but a divorce is a lot more difficult than it appears.
Houston Texans: Exploring Complexities Behind a Deshaun Watson Trade
Is Deshaun Watson leaving?
The Houston Texans were on the right path of righting their wrongs after a rocky 4-12 season, the Texans had a fresh start at hiring a GM and HC to build a team around Deshaun Watson. Watson had his best statistical season to date and took a step forward as the franchise’s most important player.
The process of how the team hired Nick Caserio has dampened the high spirits regarding a rebuild in the front office. But with that being said, Watson leaving Houston is a lot more difficult than what the media is reporting.
Can Deshaun request a trade? Absolutely, but Houston has no reason to concede. Watson lost some leverage when he agreed to a 4-year deal worth up to $156 Million with nearly $74 million guaranteed when signing. That’s a huge commitment for any franchise, and Watson hasn’t hit the first year of his deal yet. He will be playing under the rookie fifth-year option in 2021.
As John Wade pointed out on our latest Texans Unfiltered episode, Deshaun will be hurting his cause if he sits out this season. He will forfeit a year of service and can be fined by the team for the time he misses.
Asking for a trade is a lot easier than getting it done and that goes for both sides. Watson only trick up his sleeve is the no-trade clause negotiated in his second contract. But that only works in his favor if the Texans decide to trade him, and why on Earth would Houston trade a talent of Watson's caliber?
The Texans have the best quarterback since their inception and they can keep him in Houston despite his possible trade demands. Is it convenient? No, but none of this is. Houston made a lot of questionable decisions that have led to this moment between the franchise and their quarterback.
How did the Houston Texans get here?
Deshaun Watson has witnessed plenty of disappointment in his first four years in the league, from the embarrassing playoff defeat at home to the Indianapolis Colts in 2018 to the 24-0 collapse against the Kansas City Chiefs the following season. He shares some blame in the final outcomes of those games, but he doesn't control the dwindling structure of the roster through the years.
The times haven't always been bad in Houston. However, no one can dispute the Texans have always had some crazy turnover at the end of each season that erased some of the progress.
Deshaun Watson shows flashes in his rookie season. Finishes 3-3 as a starter. Rick Smith steps down from his post as the general manager to be by the side of his wife’s fight with cancer. Former VP of Player Personnel Brian Gaine is brought back as the GM after failing to materialize anything with several other top candidates (Nick Caserio).
Texans lose to the Colts in the Wild card round of the playoffs at NRG. Jack Easterby is brought in April as the Executive Vice President of Team Development. Houston loses two of their starting defensive backs, Tyrann Mathieu and Kareem Jackson, in free agency.
Gaine is fired in the first week of June. Texans attempt to hire Nick Caserio for a second time but are stonewalled by the Patriots. The team decides to move forward with a committee approach at GM, which is headlined by their head coach Bill O’Brien. Houston spends two future 1st, a 2nd, and a 3rd to acquire Laremy Tunsil, Kenny Stills, Duke Johnson.
O'Brien trades Jadeveon Clowney on the franchise tag to the Seattle Seahawks for a 3rd. He uses that pick to acquire Gareon Conley.
Texans have another strong regular season despite the roster turnover but lose in the playoffs to the eventual Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs. DeAndre Hopkins is traded to the Arizona Cardinals in a very lopsided trade. Houston loses their stalwart nose tackle D.J. Reader. Texans trade their 2nd rounder for Brandin Cooks. Re-sign Deshaun Watson, Zach Cunningham, and Whitney Mercilus.
Texans fire their HC/GM Bill O’Brien after an 0-4 start. Jack Easterby, who has risen to Executive VP of Football ops' role, takes over as the interim general manager without any personnel experience. The team finishes with a 4-12 record (closes the season 0-5 after Will Fuller and Bradley Roby are suspended for PED). Houston hires longtime New England Patriot executive Nick Caserio (who is great friends with Easterby) as their fourth GM since Watson was drafted.
There were concerns about how Easterby solidified his standing with ownership despite Gaine and O'Brien having a shorter leash as the Texans' general managers. And It didn't help that there existed distrust from the players towards Easterby, and how ownership backed him up. The Caserio hire only provided further evidence that ownership was looking to keep Easterby involved with the organization moving forward.
Looking at the recent history of blockbuster trades involving multiple 1st rounders:
Miami Dolphins traded Laremy Tunsil, Kenny Stills, a 2020 fourth-round pick, and a 2021 sixth-round pick for two first-rounders (2020 and 2021) and a 2021 second-round pick.
Jacksonville Jaguars traded Jalen Ramsey for two first-round draft picks (2020 and 2021) and a 2021 fourth-round pick.
New York Jets traded Jamal Adams and a 2022 fourth round-pick to the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for safety Bradley McDougald, two first-rounders (2021 and 2022), and a 2021 third-round pick.
What will Watson's market look like?
Any team that looks to trade for Watson has to consider the steep price it will take. Two first-rounders have been good compensation for teams that have traded a non-QB cornerstone player, but none of them measure up to what Watson is worth.
That is no slight to Ramsey, Tunsil, or Adams, their market dictates they are top players, but they don’t impact a team’s situation as a quarterback does. And there aren’t many teams that can trade their future away and simultaneously build a competitive team around Watson.
Any team wanting to acquire Watson will have to surrender a first-rounder for at least the next three drafts. As Houston has found out through the Tunsil trade, two years is already a long enough time to have no first-round draft choice.
Which teams can trade for Watson?
The only teams which can meet the Texans' potential demands of draft picks are the ones that are dealing with newfound riches. And by that, I mean the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins.
It’s no shocker those two teams are frontrunners by the national media to make a swing for Watson. Both are big markets that could explode with Watson as the face of their franchise, and they are well-positioned after trading their young marquee players in Adams and Tunsil.
The Jets possess an additional first-rounder and third-rounder in this upcoming draft (5 picks in the first three rounds in 2021). They will have an additional first in 2022 to go along with all their draft selections (4 picks in the first three rounds). The Jets have 4 first-rounders, two-second rounders, and three third rounders at their disposal in the next two drafts if they are serious about a Deshaun Watson trade.
They would be one of the few teams that can meet the criteria of more than two first-rounders and not worry about mortgaging their future for the next three drafts. They could also include Sam Darnold in the trade if it made sense for both sides.
The Dolphins are the other team with extra ammunition to swing a trade with the Houston Texans, thanks to the Tunsil trade. Not only could they offer both their first-rounders in this draft, but they could offer their first in 2022. Dolphins also own two second-rounders in 2021 and could offer a young quarterback of their own in Tua Tagovailoa.
Miami has three first-rounders, three-second rounders, and two third-rounders in the next two drafts to offer the Texans if they decide to make an aggressive push for Watson.
Besides the bounty of picks Houston would acquire, the Texans would be taking a noticeable decline if they acquire Darnold or Tagovailoa. Drafting Justin Fields or Trevor Lawrence also presents a risk in itself since there is no guarantee they fulfill their potential in the NFL.
It's pretty pointless to discuss the possibilities of engaging in trade talks with either team since Watson can dictate his next destination with the no-trade clause.
We come back to the same conclusion I alluded to earlier; the Texans have no obligation to trade Watson if the Dolphins or Jets aren't among the teams he potentially approves (Despite all the fabricated smoke created by media outlets, Watson still hasn't requested a trade).
One of you readers might chime in, "The Dolphins and the Jets aren't the only teams interested in acquiring Watson!" You could be right.
Maybe a mystery team steps into the ring with a godfather offer similar to the Jets or Dolphins, but would they be willing to mortgage their assets for the foreseeable future? Does Deshaun want to be a part of another team without any first-rounders?
A player of Watson's intelligence has to know a team without multiple first-rounders will be difficult to contend with. The market will be limited for Watson. Not due to lack of interest, but because Watson would have a potential say, and not many teams can afford to mortgage their future for the next three or fourth drafts.
Watson will be better suited to remain in Houston, but he will need to make sure his expectations are fully understood by management and ownership moving forward. The Texans have lost a lot of talent in free agency, and they weren't able to replace the production through the draft, free agency, or trades.
On the bright side, a lot of the issues can be corrected with a qualified GM now taking control of things, but Watson is no spring chicken anymore; he knows the power he carries as the face of the franchise. We can't expect the team to adhere to all of Watson's demands, but they will need to listen to him when it matters.
Unless Watson is adamant about leaving and waives his no-trade clause, the Texans and Watson are stuck with each other for better or worse.