The King is dead. Long live the King.
It’s pretty easy to type the words “replacing Deshaun Watson”. Actually replacing the superstar is nigh impossible. But Nick Caserio and Hack Easterby are going to have to do just that sooner or later. Unless something dramatic happens with regard to control of this franchise, wresting it from the soft, sweaty grip of Cal McNair, Deshaun Watson will never suit up in battle red again. Just like a trauma victim, we need to acknowledge the reality of post-trauma life, the stress it creates, and find a way forward.
We can pause here for a moment so everyone can mourn the loss of Watson, make a few cliched comments about why we can’t have nice things, and move along.
Here we go:
AJ McCarron Could Replace Deshaun Watson.
Not many teams have a three-time NCAA National Champion on their squad. While slinging the rock for Alabama, McCarron and the Crimson Tide won the title game in 2010, 2012 and 2013. Along the way, he threw for over 9,000 yards, 77 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, and had a 66.8 completion percentage. Unfortunately, his NFL career hasn’t been as rosy, and now McCarron is scheduled to be a free agent.
Originally drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals, McCarron was destined to be a career backup behind Andy Dalton. In the three seasons he suited up for the Bengals, McCarron was only afforded the opportunity to start three games, all of which occurred in 2015. In those games, he earned a QB rating of 97.1—pretty good for a career backup.
Since joining the Houston Texans, McCarron has started one game, tossed 0 touchdowns, 1 interception, and earned a rating of 63.5. The argument holds water that given a chance, some consistency, and solid surrounding talent, McCarron could turn into a quality NFL quarterback. Think of Rich Gannon, who had a journeyman career similar to McCarron before becoming the first quarterback in history to land Pro Bowl MVP honors in back-to-back seasons while winning the league MVP award at the same time.
Alex Smith Could Replace Deshaun Watson.
While his collegiate career wasn’t nearly as distinguished as McCarron’s, Smith has started 167 NFL games. The 15-year veteran has suited up for the San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs, and Washington Whatevers, completing 3,250 passes for 35,650 yards.
Smith was recently cut by Washington not long after landing the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award.
Nothing about signing Alex Smith seems sexy or exciting, but he would bring some veteran leadership to Houston’s offense. A player like Smith could do well to steward the team through the rebuild, while helping to coach up a young replacement if Houston manages to land one.
Jacoby Brissett Could Replace Deshaun Watson.
Many Texans fans might remember Brissett as the rookie QB who pantsed Bill O’Brien’s Texans in his first ever NFL start. At the time, J.J. Watt and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel had a history of feasting on rookie QBs; Brissett bucked that trend. The following year, New England traded Brissett to the Indianapolis Colts, where he went on to be a thorn in Houston’s side in the wake of Andrew Luck suddenly retiring.
To date, Brissett has started 32 NFL games, completed 586 passes for 6,459 yards, 31 touchdowns, and 13 picks. With a career rating of 84.1 and knowledge of the Indianapolis Colts, combined with his familiarity with Nick Caserio (who helped draft Brissett in 2016), this prediction about Brissett coming to H-Town might just have legs. Maybe.
Tua Tagovailoa Could Replace Deshaun Watson.
One of the names most often linked to the Texans in potential trades involving Deshaun Watson is the Dolphins’ quarterback who’ll be entering his second year in the NFL. The 23-year old Hawaii native is another Alabama Crimson Tide national championship quarterback. Taken by the Miami Dolphins in last year’s NFL Draft with the fifth overall pick. he was the first left handed quarterback selected in the first round since Tim Tebow. No, Tebow won’t be suiting up in Battle Red, although Hack Easterby has likely already made a call to persuade him to unretire.
Tua has tremendous upside, though not the potential of Houston’s current franchise quarterback. He started nine games in 2020, completing 186 passes for 1,814 yards. His passer rating of 84.1 is respectable. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dan Prescott holds the rookie record with a 104.9 rating; in the course of NFL history, very few have outshined Tua.
Pro Football Focus recently mocked a huge trade deal to the Texans that included Tua. However, their scenario didn’t end with Tua taking snaps from Justin Britt, as the mock had the Texans trading Tua to the Patriots for a first-round pick.
Justin Fields Could Replace Deshaun Watson.
Last week, I wrote:
In Ohio State’s abbreviated bid for a 2020 national title, Fields passed for 2,100 yards, 22 touchdowns, and had a 70.2 completion percentage. Not exactly Deshaun Watson numbers, but there are COVID asterisks there. What Fields does have in common with DW4 is his pre-draft narrative. Initially, Fields was easily considered the QB2 in the draft behind Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence. But Fields has seen his stock fluctuate in recent weeks with many putting BYU’s Zach Wilson ahead of him.
Some say Fields doesn’t read defenses very well. Others say he stares down his receivers and doesn’t check down enough. Another criticism is how long he holds the ball - something Watson hears a lot. There’s also some criticism about Fields’ pitch speed. Sound familiar?
Over the course of his Buckeye career, Fields tossed 67 touchdowns, only 9 picks, and completed 68.4% of his passes. He only lost two games—one to Alabama (the 2020 National Championship - coming off a nasty injury suffered in the prior game versus Clemson), and the other to Clemson, also in the NCAA Playoffs.
Mighty Matt Weston detailed three scenarios yesterday for trading Deshaun Watson that ultimately affect his replacement. The best possible outcome is for Nick Caserio to make a draft day trade that brings the Texans a huge haul of picks, plus a starting quarterback and possibly another starting caliber veteran. However, Houston could sign McCarron, Smith or Brissett to hold the line while using the wheelbarrow full of draft picks to rebuild the roster.
The Texans need upgrades at nearly ever position on defense. They need a player or two on the offensive line. They need a better running back and a wide receiver to sit across from Brandin Cooks. Bringing in a veteran quarterback and waiting until next season to draft a young, future star makes a lot of sense. Let’s face it, Houston’s not going to compete for a Super Bowl in 2021 and might not even compete for a playoff berth if Watson leaves. With that line of thinking, a trade involving Jimmy Garoppolo, Sam Darnold, Justin Herbert, Derek Carr, or Kirk Cousins is also possible.
While we wait to see, we count the minutes until March 15th, when the free agency legal tampering period begins, and then on to April 29th, when the 2021 NFL Draft starts, all we can do is speculate.
Either way, it’s obvious Nick Caserio is clearing cap space, having already released Greg Mancz, J.J. Watt, Nick Martin, Duke Johnson, and Cullen Gillaspia. Some of that money might need to cover the hole of $21.6 million in dead money Watson will leave behind. If Caserio is savvy—which we have yet to see—he could perhaps get Watson’s new employer to pay a large chunk of what Houston will owe Watson when he leaves. Only time will tell.