First off, let’s operate under the assumption that there is really no way whatsoever that the greatest quarterback in Houston Texans history ever plays another meaningful snap for the team. Even if, by some miracle, Kyle McEasterby can smooth over the mess they created with Watson at the end of 2020. Even if, the pending sex scandal lawsuits are all settled and all involved can move on with their lives unscathed. Even if the 2021 Texans were the sort of team that gave Watson any more hope than the 2020 version did. That’s a lot of “ifs” and, while stranger things have happened, the outlook isn't good. That brings us to the next point:
How the Houston Texans Move on From Deshaun Watson.
Prior to the aforementioned legal mess, Watson’s trade value was at a historic high. Many experts agreed there truly was no precedent for equal compensation in a trade that landed a franchise quarterback in his prime. Houston literally could have written its own check in a deal with any number of teams.
Now, that value has plummeted, with some of those same experts stating Houston would be lucky to get a single first round pick for Watson at this stage. In all this, there is a certainty that should not be overlooked: History is the greatest teacher of all. Nick Caserio doesn’t have to look too far in the rear view mirror to see two of the worst trades in recent pro sports memory. Everyone watched in horror as the Texans dragged on the Jadeveon Clowney situation far too long and then gave him up for peanuts. Then, while we were all still shrouded in the shock of that mind-numbingly idiotic move, Houston shipped off DeAndre Hopkins in an almost equally terrible trade. As we’re past the June 1st roster/salary cap landmark of the NFL calendar, many so-called experts are calling for the Texans to get rid of Watson for “whatever they can get”.
That would result in a trifecta of horrible trades made by the Texans in the last five years. USA Today expounds on the post-June 1st implications:
If Watson is moved after this deadline, the Texans would absorb a dead money hit of $5.4 million, and save over $10 million in cap space for the upcoming season.
A savvy GM could work a deal where the other team absorbs $5.4 mil in dead money. It’s been done before. The sticky wicket arises like this:
Still, quarterbacks with Watson’s skill-set do not become available every day, so the [Carolina] Panthers might still be looking to make such a move. Whether they entertain such a deal with the ongoing civil litigation lingering, however, is a different question. It is hard to imagine... trading for a player who is staring down at a minimum the Commissioner’s Exempt List, if not harsher penalties.
That is what other general manager should/will use to devalue Watson. It’s simple Sales 101. In any trade, there are normally two parties trying to A) devalue the asset they want to acquire while B) maximizing the value of the asset they no longer want. Car salesmen are trained to point out what a pile of junk your trade-in is whenever you go to the car dealership while telling you just how life-alteringly wonderful their cars are. Pro sports general managers are no different. Bill O’Brien would have made a horrible car salesman... but that dead horse has already been beaten into oblivion.
Another Sales 101 mantra: Buy low, sell high.
Drafting Watson is the middle of the first round was a great ‘buy low’ moment, courtesy of ex-general manager Rick Smith. Trading Watson right now would be the equivalent of selling low.
Houston’s potential trade partners have all the ammunition in the world right now to devalue Watson. He’s currently labeled “not a team player”, facing MAJOR legal issues that call into question not only his future but his character as well. Is Deshaun Watson the great face of the franchise we all thought he was, or is he an absolute monster? Will he demand a trade from the next team the first time things don’t go his way? What sort of assets will a new team have to commit to keeping Watson out of trouble? These are all things a potential trade partner will use to devalue Watson in negotiations.
On the flip side, Houston has nothing to gain right now by trading Watson. The 2021 season is a lost cause and/or tank job depending on how you want to view it. Not only did the roster get significantly older, but it did not improve in any area this offseason. To make matters worse, the rest of the AFC South got better.
Houston is installing a new, yet seriously old, defense. A host of new coaches, including a rookie head coach who seems to have no potential left. A front office still run by the NFL version of Jim & Tammy Faye Baker. An unabashed desire to be flimsy facade of “Patriots South”.
If you believe this team is a few players away from a championship, I love the optimism, but let’s get our feet back on the ground, shall we? Not to mention that any solid trade for Watson would bring unknown commodities in return. For example, let’s say the desperate-to-trade-for-a-quarterback Denver Broncos come calling. John Elway’s ego is big enough to convince himself he could save Watson from any further self-inflicted failings. In a hypothetical best case scenario, Denver gives Houston their 2022 first and second round draft picks, plus a veteran player or two. That’s probably not going to happen at this stage, but just for sake of argument, we’ll be blindly optimistic here.
Watson ends up playing at least 10 games in Denver in 2021 (assuming he’s on the exempt list for 6 games), taking them to the NFL Playoffs. The value of those draft picks Houston got in the trade plummets. In many circles, the Broncos are predicted to win five or six games in 2021. That would give Houston a top ten draft pick. If Denver suddenly rockets into the ten win category, that turns the assets into bottom ten draft picks. That’s the difference between a premier quarterback/DE/offensive tackle and having to settle for another linebacker or cornerback in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
With that in mind, the Texans are better off waiting until next 2022 to move Watson. Once the 2021 season has concluded, the value of what Houston can get in return will come into focus, and just what Houston needs to do for 2022 will have clarified as well.
Prior to the lawsuits coming to light, Houston had a lot more suitors to choose from. They potentially could have traded for another young quarterback ala Tua Tagovailoa or similar—or a draft pick that could have landed them Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, or another rookie QB. Having a young quarterback to develop might have altered the fortunes of 2021. Sure, Davis Mills might turn out fine, but Tua and others are closer right now.
Houston really has nothing to gain by giving up Watson right now.