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The Three Deshaun Watson Trade Options

The Texans shouldn’t trade Deshaun Watson, but if they do, these are the only real possibilities available to them.

Tennessee Titans v Houston Texan Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Texans have failed Deshaun Watson every step of the way. Whether it was Bill O’Brien’s offense, the mismanagement of the offensive line, a failure to spend on the rest of the roster to maximize Watson’s rookie contract, or the decision to put their culture ahead of Watson’s wishes, the Texans screwed up the impossible.

A franchise quarterback. Fifteen years of competitive football. All of it whisked away. Madness.

New England 2017, a silly dream. Houston’s young franchise quarterback wants out. More than likely, he will never play for the Houston Texans again.

So far, general manager Nick Caserio has said all the right things. Watson is the quarterback of the Houston Texans. We have no interest in trading him. Phone calls go straight to voicemail. It is a silent derision of Watson’s wishes.

It’s still early, though. It’s only March. The pressure is starting to increase. Each day pulls us closer and closer to the 2021 NFL Draft, an important deadline in this saga. The Texans can’t rationally trade Watson after the draft. They have to know exactly what draft capital they acquire for Watson would be worth. If Watson is still here once May arrives, get ready for a long holdout, an arduous process, a nasty thing that will carry on until at least 2022.

Caserio will eventually pick up the phone between now and then. His previous comments about not trading his franchise quarterback were the right things to say, but they are also a ploy to get desperate teams desperate for the type of quarterback they’ve never had, requirements needed to increase the value of all trade proposals Houston will review.

The David Culley hiring signifies Watson will eventually be traded. He’s the head coach you want taking you to the pizza buffet after a 41-12 loss. He isn’t the one you want guiding you to win football games. “Faith, family, and football.” “The red carpet feels just like regular carpet.” “The most important part of football is the football.” “I know it works because it works.” Culley is an architect of smiles, glowing quotes, fun practices, and the faint light illuminating the 2-14 abyss.

The Texans will probably trade Deshaun Watson. Everything is pointing to this. When they do, they have three different trade options they can pursue.

  • Houston can look to turn Watson into a young, franchise quarterback still playing on his rookie contract. The best option there is Justin Herbert. He was a top ten quarterback his rookie season while playing behind an invisible offensive line. From a football and salary cap perspective, the Chargers may not even want to make this trade. Herbert is transcendent. He’s cheap. He’s the same cheat code Watson used to be.

From a business perspective, however, acquiring Watson makes sense for the Chargers. No one in Los Angeles cares about anyone but themselves. They especially don’t care about the Chargers. The failure in San Diego that piggybacked behind the Rams’ move is an afterthought. It’s currently a dazzling array of jerseys no one will ever wear. Watson could change that. He could be the symbol of the franchise, the man plastered across billboards, programs, tickets, and letters to season ticket holders. Watson could turn the fair weather into a faithful storm and raise the Chargers above the Rams in a city that doesn’t currently care about either of them.

Like Los Angeles, Jacksonville is another option in a Watson trade. Trading within the division shouldn’t matter. It’s all about getting the best package available. In that scenario, Watson becomes Trevor Lawrence, the next truly generational quarterback prospect. Like Los Angeles, this is a trade the Jaguars probably wouldn’t make from a football perspective but would have to entertain from a business and ownership perspective. Parking lot arguments are dissolved with Watson. The Jags get the quarterback they never had. The Texans get the quarterback prospect they once had. Of course, Watson’s no-trade clause complicates things, but perhaps the lack of a state income tax in Florida and/or the presence of Urban Meyer, a coach who once heavily recruited Watson back when both were in the college game, makes it a more appealing option.

The other two options Houston has under this umbrella are Kyler Murray and Tua Tagovailoa. Like the Chargers with Herbert, Arizona may not even want to trade Murray, but unlike Herbert, Murray has holes in his game. His miniature size makes football complicated. There are entire games when Murray looks hungover, the ball comes out flat and fuzzy, and his accuracy still needs work. Yes, he’s dynamic and electric, but the offense he orchestrated in Arizona was mediocre and bland, consisting mainly of scrambles and speed-outs to DeAndre Hopkins.

No one knows if Tua is a franchise quarterback yet. The sample size is small. He’s mobile, intelligent, and can throw three routes well: the flat, the slant, and the seam. There are too many blank spots in his game right now. There were concerns that Tua’s previous injury would zap his arm strength, and these concerns are still lingering. Nothing is definite. It’s all draft pedigree and previous displays of talent.

  • The second path is to exchange Watson for draft capital. The most valuable resource in a rebuild is draft picks, not cap space. Draft capital provides cornerstones of the next competitive team. Free agency fills in the blanks once the flowers bloom.

The New York Jets are the one team who can offer more than the rest. Thanks to their horrible performance and the hilarious Jamal Adams trade, the Jets have four first round picks the next two seasons, including the second overall pick in 2021. They also have two second round picks. This could provide the foundation for the next good Houston Texans team, whatever that may mean.

The Dolphins can offer a blend of the two. A hybrid theory. They can provide Tua and two first round picks in 2021, one of which is the third overall pick that Miami reaped from the Laremy Tunsil trade, which would give the Texans back what they already gave away. With Tua on the roster, Houston could then trade down from third overall, turn it into a new first round selection and additional picks. Houston could also ask for Miami’s second round picks this year and next year and/or an additional first. At the end of the trade, Houston could potentially have four firsts, two seconds, a young franchise quarterback, and more.

  • The third path is to turn Watson into resources to rebuild the entire defense. Bill O’Brien ignored the Texans’ defense the last eighteen months of his reign and instead invested in an offense he maneuvered to only average. In O’Brien’s wake, in the span of two seasons, Houston fell to a bottom three defense. The dam has burst. Zach Cunningham is the last man out of the tunnel. Cheers have become jeers. There is nothing left.

The Panthers are starving for a quarterback thanks to new owner David Tepper’s bloodlust. Watson would look beautiful in black, silver, and teal. Carolina can offer an assortment of talented defenders on their rookie contract. Guys like Brian Burns, Derrick Brown, Yetur Gros-Matos, and Jeremy Chinn, along with additional draft picks.

The concern with going this route is that it complicates the game. Teams can win games without great quarterback play; it just makes it more difficult and requires an amalgamation of moving parts. Instead of five pieces working together, fifteen are required. Each additional piece opens the door for injuries and regressive performance to dismantle the entire machine. A trade like this would lead to Houston creatively searching for competent quarterback play.

Of the three options, a Herbert trade is the best one for Houston. It gives the Texans a new franchise quarterback and an opportunity to absolve their previous sins. Yet this probably isn’t even a realistic option. It’s a hopeful desire. If we have learned anything this last decade, it’s that hope is dubious. It’s a fleeting, outlandish, and silly feeling.

The Jets offer the best and most realistic trade opportunity in a Deshaun Watson trade. The second overall pick in 2021 becomes the next best quarterback in a deep draft class. Zach Wilson or Justin Fields. Three more first round picks and two seconds expand upon this. The Jets scream hell yeah now that they finally have stability at a position that has eluded them for all these years.

Of course, there isn’t a trade package for Houston that provides fair value for Watson. This is the position they put themselves in by making disastrous decision after disastrous decision, all while telling us they know best when in reality, they didn’t know anything at all. That being said, there are different opportunities available, and if Caserio can nail this trade, the abyss may only be two years deep and Watson could be the diving board leapt off from to build the next good Texans team.

Failure in a Deshaun Watson trade is Armageddon. Failure isn’t an option. Screw this up like they screwed everything else up, and Houston football will be putrid and rotten for most, if not all, of the next decade.