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BRB GroupThink: J.J. Watt & The NFL Trade Deadline

Would you? If so, what would it take?

Houston Texans v Tennessee Titans Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

The Texans are on their bye week. The one big story during this bye week is that at 1-6, the Texans should be sellers at the upcoming NFL trade deadline. Things have been discussed. Names have been brought up. Nothing substantial has risen.

One player hangs over this more than all others—J.J. Watt. For this week’s GroupThink, I asked the masthead a series of questions: Would you trade J.J. Watt? Who do you think could use Watt? What would be the minimum you would accept in trade for Watt?

These are their answers:

MATT WESTON:

I’m all in favor of trading J.J. Watt. He’s been very good, not great, this year. He’s 31 years old. The Texans are more than a head coach away from contending again and need to rebuild almost the entirety of their defense. They’re missing their first and second round picks in 2021. They need pick volume. They are over the cap entering the 2021 offseason. Watt has a cap hit of $15 million next year despite no longer being a $15 million a year player and would need to restructure his salary anyways. Trading Watt is the correct football move.

If Houston can get a second round pick, it’s a no-brainer—even for Jack Easterby. If they can get a third round pick, they’d have to think about it before probably acquiescing. If Watt asks for a trade, they should do anything they can to grant his wish. There are a few teams who could use Watt—Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Cleveland, Buffalo, Tennessee, Kansas City, New Orleans, and Arizona are all playoff caliber teams that could use an additional defensive end to support their pass rush, and each has the means to make a trade happen.

The idea of trading Watt is difficult for the heart, though. His career in Houston was a beautiful and wonderful time. His 2012-2014 run was the greatest three-year stretch of any defensive player not named Lawrence Taylor in NFL history. He anchored an entire defense, provided transcendent play, and made teams with horrendous quarterback play a must-watch even during that dull stretch of life. Watt is the greatest player in franchise history, but 2011 was a long time ago and this franchise is now based entirely around Deshaun Watson. Doing what they can to accrue picks to build the next good Texans squad with Watson as the focal point is all that matters going forward .

BIGFATDRUNK:

I would absolutely be willing to trade J.J. Watt, especially if that’s something he would want.

BOB threw away Watt’s career. Give the man an opportunity to win a Super Bowl with a truly competitive team, something we likely won’t be until 2022 or 2023.

That said, I would hold out for a second round pick. Thus, Watt saves face on his value, so to speak. If he’s OK with being moved for a third rounder, I might be willing to do that if it’s going to be in the high end of the round (a traded pick, for example).

JEREMY BRENER:

Absolutely not. While the Texans may be able to get some draft compensation for the greatest defensive player to put on a Texans uniform, the cons outweigh the pros.

At best, the Texans may get a third round pick for Watt. He’s worth far more than that to the Texans. He’s a leader in the locker room and the captain on defense. Taking him out of the equation weakens your defense from more than just the stats.

It will also sour the fanbase at a time when you are already losing interest as a team with COVID-19 looming and being unable to have packed stadiums eight times a year. Watt is a major reason why Houstonians still support the Texans. He raised oodles of dollars to help the city recover from Hurricane Harvey, and Houstonians still remember that.

If the Texans can somehow trick a team into parting with a first round pick, I’d do it, but no contending team is going to trade a top-60 pick for 20 games with an aging DE on the wrong side of his 30s. To the rest of the league, that’s who Watt is. Because he has so much history of success in Houston, he’s more than that here.

L4BLITZER:

It is a sign of how bad the season has gone for this team, that a mere 10 months ago they were in the driver’s seat to host the city’s first ever conference title game, with the possibility of a legit Super Bowl appearance in play. Now, we are staring down the barrel of not only a lost season, but due to horrific mismanagement of draft picks, trades and salaries, multiple lost seasons. At 1-6, and given how the team has played to date, a 9-0 or 8-1 run is not in the cards. Thus, we now ask the previously unaskable: Do we trade J.J. Watt?

Aside from Watson and maybe Laremy Tunsil, all other players should be in play. Of those on the roster, the best candidates to obtain any salary relief and or picks would be one of the wide receivers or Watt. What would a team be willing to give the Texans for Watt? I suppose if someone offered a 1st or a 2nd and another conditional pick, you would have to give serious consideration. How many teams would actually do that? Perhaps New Orleans or Green Bay might consider it, but otherwise, any other team, sensing the weakness of the Texans’ position will not overpay (further proof that BO’B never should have been given, or accepted, the GM mantle). Additionally, will Watt want to even go to another team? If someone like Miami or one of the New York teams wanted to bring him in, would the Texans send him, even if he has no inclination to go?

The catch with Watt is that he is like an old family necklace/ring. It may be gold, and perhaps has some gems of note that can fetch some value. Yet, you, as the owner, will value it more than a potential buyer. If Watt just up and retired today, he would have solidified his place on the Mount Rushmore of Houston athletes. Watt and Watson are neck-and-neck for biggest draws for the team. In a season with limited ticket receipts, the team will need revenue from any source it can get. Trade Watt, and the team loses much of its “Q” rating, with all the subsequent dollars that go with it. With 2020 going to be rough on everyone’ ledgers, can the Texans’ brain trust afford to trade Watt, especially if the yield is that of DeAndre Hopkins and further ticks off the fanbase?

If the team can get some legitimate picks (ideally at least a 1st and or 2nd, with another lower/conditional pick(s) attached) and it is to a team that Watt blesses off on as a future destination, you make the move. If the Texans still had its higher draft picks, then you don’t make this move. If Watt gives a “Hell No!” then you don’t make the move. The team is on the road to nowhere and needs to find the exit, but not at the price of alienating its greatest player or the fanbase that still reveres Watt (and spends the money to buy any Texans-gear with his number/name on it). Ultimately, there are no good options. It just boils down to whether all parties can find the best way to make the most of a bad situation.

MIKE BULLOCK:

If I was the Texans’ general manager and J.J. Watt came to me asking for a trade, I’d do my best to talk him out of it and try and work out some contract extension that sees him retire a Houston Texan while softening the $17 million salary cap hit on 2021. All the reasons why are detailed here.

In the event I was unable to dissuade him from wanting out, the next move would be to honor him by finding out where he wanted to go, and then I’d reach out to those teams to see if we could find a mutually beneficial deal. The Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers come to mind as potentially desirable landing spots. Both teams are currently well positioned for a Super Bowl run and both might be willing to cough up a high draft pick to give themselves one more piece of the puzzle.

The problem with all this comes in with something I’ve repeated more than once, J.J. Watt’s value to the Houston Texans is greater than his value to anyone else. There’s no chance that what he brings to the Texans in the way of leadership, fan support, ticket sales, wisdom, and on-field abilities is replaced by a third or worse round draft pick. To the Packers or Steelers, all the intangibles mean nothing on the front end; all they’ll see is the declining stats and mounting injuries. His locker room presence may not translate to a different team culture (it probably will, but in a negotiation, the other GM would be smart to assume it won’t.) That leaves another team hard pressed to give up more than a fourth round pick for the aging All-Pro.

Then we have the whole facet of Houston’s incoming GM and head coach. Are they going to shy away from the Texans job because J.J. Watt was traded for a mid-round draft pick? Here’s a guy that can be a huge benefit to anyone rebuilding this franchise (win Watt over on your vision for the team’s future and he’ll win over the locker room for you), so getting rid of him for a shot at drafting an unknown makes the gig less desirable. Just looking over the last handful of third rounders, is losing J.J. Watt worth it to gain another Kahale Warring, Braxton Miller, Jaelen Strong, D’Onta Foreman or even Jordan Akins? No way. In fact, of the Texans last ten third round picks, only Justin Reid and Akins are starters, and neither is a suitable replacement for Watt.

If the Packers, Steelers, or some other non-AFC South team is willing to pull their equivalent of a Bill O’Brien trade, giving Houston a first rounder in 2021 and a second rounder in 2022 or a similarly insane trade, the conversation becomes more viable to H-Town. Otherwise, it’s subtraction by addition.

Give your answers to the three questions in the Comments below.