Before the sexual assault allegations (we’ll have a separate post about developments on that story shortly), Deshaun Watson was a top five quarterback entering his age 26 season. He was the type of quarterback who is never traded and spends nearly his entire career with his respective team; during said career, a QB like that guides his team to playoff appearances and Super Bowl runs. Watson’s trade request was expected to be a bookmark in the NFL’s new player empowerment era and the NBAification of the NFL. Now, teams no longer know Watson’s character or if he’s who they want representing their team. It is not known if he will be suspended by the NFL; if he is, no one knows how long a suspension will last.
One of Watson’s reported main suitors was the Carolina Panthers. Their new owner, David Tepper, wanted playoff success and he wanted it now. After a 4-12 season with Teddy Bridgewater under center, thanks to a terrible one possession record and horrendous linebacker play, Tepper wanted to upgrade the quarterback position and make a splash. With the eighth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and a slew of young talent, the Panthers had the chance to go from Bridgewater to Watson and get the franchise quarterback they wanted.
It didn’t work out. The Panthers scratched and sniffed. Instead of acquiring Watson, they moved a sixth round pick in 2021 and a second and fourth round pick in 2022 to the Jets for Sam Darnold. The former third overall selection tarnished the 5% of the sublime with the 95% disastrous and never could find consistent success playing for Adam Gase and behind a horrendous offensive line.
Rather than go all in on a no doubt, MVP caliber quarterback, the Panthers chose to create competition at the quarterback position, something that doesn’t reflect their previous plans. The Panthers either don’t want to have Watson quarterback their team after the current allegations, don’t think Watson was really available from the Houston Texans, or decided that it would be better to have Darnold and their current players and draft picks instead of Watson.
All signs point it to being the first possibility. Watson maintained he would not play for the Texans after meeting with new head coach David Culley. This pointed to a trade. The Panthers could offer the type of package required for the Texans to trade Watson, and Carolina was dying for a quarterback of his caliber. The Panthers were in on the Watson market.
By the looks of it, if Houston still trades Watson, it will be for substantially less than a player of his caliber is worth exchanging. Of course, it now looks like Watson will remain on the roster even after the 2021 NFL Draft. It’s reasonable to expect Watson to be traded next season, perhaps after his legal issues conclude or there’s a better idea of what the consquences for those actions will be, than for him to be traded in the next few weeks. This potential delay opens the door for teams like the Eagles and Dolphins, with multiple first round selections in 2022, to trade for Watson, or for Watson to stay in Houston, as crazy as that sounds. Here’s your monkey’s paw.
The Panthers giving up on everything they ever wanted for a young quarterback who hasn’t displayed consistent performance is a pause button on Watson trade talks. Expect Watson to be on Houston’s roster after the 2021 NFL Draft. Expect the allegations not go away and to carry into next year. A trade of Deshaun Watson is no longer imminent and may not even be inevitable. Everything about his future is a question mark.