When the 2021 season rolls around, Deshaun Watson is in all likelihood going to be on a new team. The Pro Bowl quarterback has formally requested a trade from the Houston Texans after the relationship between the two sides deteriorated over the last few weeks and months. Of course, given Watson's MVP-caliber talent and being just 25 years old, he's going to be the biggest offseason prize out there and there will be a number of teams calling up newly hired GM Nick Caserio to see what it'll take to land Watson.
My colleague Cody Benjamin already highlighted all the teams that could be interested in Watson, which is unsurprisingly nearly half the league. What we're going to be diving into here is which teams have the best arsenal of assets that could actually execute a deal of this magnitude. According to CBS Sports NFL Insider Jonathan Jones, he is of the belief -- after speaking with various sources around the NFL -- that the compensation for Watson will equal at least three first-round picks and likely a second or third.
Below, we're highlighting and ranking five teams that have the proper ingredients that very well could result in Deshaun Watson leading one of their franchises in the near future. As we roll through these candidates, it's important to note that not all first-round picks are created equal. For example, the New England Patriots, a club very much in the market for a quarterback, are a team you will not find on this list. Despite having the fourth-most amount of cap space and the No. 15 overall pick, there are simply better packages out there that could be made by franchises that knocks them out of the running. The same can be said for Indianapolis, who owns the 21st pick in the 2021 draft and is looking to add a QB in the aftermath of Philip Rivers retiring.
These teams listed below, in my view, can formulate the best-of-the-best offers for Houston as they try to get Watson into the fold.
Key assets: 2021 first-round pick (No. 9 overall), 2022-24 first-round picks, QB Drew Lock, 2021 second-round, WR Tim Patrick, OLB Von Miller
Projected cap space (via Spotrac): $18,550,052 (11th-highest in the NFL)
The headliner in a package created by the Broncos starts and ends with the No. 9 pick this year. That puts Houston right in the sweet spot to immediately land a quarterback prospect to replace Watson as the face of the franchise going forward. If the Texans want to address another position of need with that No. 9 overall pick, Denver could always throw in quarterback Drew Lock, especially if Houston believes he could become a viable starter. Not only do the Broncos currently have a top-10 pick this year, but they also own their first-rounders through 2024. A blend of those picks, possibly Lock and other veteran pieces like receiver Tim Patrick and maybe even pass rusher Von Miller could be attractive to the Texans.
That said, it does need to be pointed out that Watson does own a no-trade clause. Would he really want to jump into a division with Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert? There could be easier paths, despite joining a roster with receivers Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy.
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Key assets: 2021 first-round pick (No. 8 overall), 2022-24 first-round picks, QB Teddy Bridgewater, RB Christian McCaffrey, 2021 second-round pick
Projected cap space (via Spotrac): $7,983,434 (16th-highest in the NFL)
A trade with Carolina gives the Texans the opportunity to be competitive in the immediate while also building towards the future. Teddy Bridgewater is an ideal stopgap quarterback for Houston to start in 2021 while they allow whomever they select with the No. 8 overall pick to develop. Meanwhile, the Panthers own all of their first-round picks in the foreseeable future and could use any combination -- coupled with the 2021 second-rounder -- to put together a compelling offer. Adding Christian McCaffrey to this deal would certainly grab headlines, but Carolina would also need to be ok with taking some rather lofty dead-cap hits if they moved him. It is worth it if that's what separates them from acquiring Watson? I'd say so but the Panthers most likely would want to pair Watson with a star like McCaffrey to create a lethal attack out of the backfield.
Watson's connection to the Carolinas is also pretty apparent thanks to his illustrious tenure at Clemson. The quarterback could also be intrigued with the possibility of joining forces with head coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady, who are both viewed as some of the brightest up-and-coming offensive minds in the league.
When healthy, San Francisco's roster is ready-made to make a Super Bowl run. The one area many have pegged Kyle Shanahan to possibly upgrade this offseason, however, is quarterback, which he could do by acquiring Watson. Despite having an inferior 2021 first-round pick to the Broncos and Panthers, the Texans could look at Jimmy Garoppolo as a better option than Drew Lock, Teddy Bridgewater, and anyone else they could pick at the back end of the top-10 picks in the draft. After all, Nick Caserio was on the Patriots staff when New England took Garopolo in the second round and helped groom him. If he still has that same affinity for him, they could ship Watson to the Bay Area, have Garoppolo be the franchise quarterback going forward, and then use the boatload of picks -- including No. 12 overall -- to build a better roster around him.
Meanwhile, Watson likely wouldn't complain about heading to a team that has weapons like George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk. That's also not mentioning Watson pairing up with Kyle Shanahan, who is known to be an offensive guru.
Key assets: 2021 first-round picks (No. 3 and No. 18), QB Tua Tagovailoa, two 2021 second-round picks, 2022-24 first-round picks
Projected cap space (via Spotrac): $25,818,922 (eighth-highest in the NFL)
There is a considerable jump in assets when we get into the top two and you could make a case for either of these clubs to have the best overall package. With the Dolphins, they have an ideal blend of young talent and picks that they could ship to Houston. They own all of their first-round picks over the next handful of years and have tremendous capital in 2021. Thanks to a prior trade with the Texans revolving around offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, the Dolphins own the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 draft to go along with their own first-rounder that sits at No. 18. Miami could send both of those pieces to the Texans along with 2020 first-round quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Those three assets alone may be able to get a deal done as Houston would have a promising young quarterback and two first-round picks to build around him, including what may be the best non-QB prospect of the class at No. 3 overall.
Meanwhile, there are already reports that Watson could be open to joining the Dolphins. With Brian Flores's team already pushing for a playoff spot this past season, adding Watson could take them over the top as a true contender in the conference.
Key assets: 2021 first-round picks (No. 2 overall and No. 23 overall), 2022-24 first-round picks, QB Sam Darnold, 2021 second-rounder
Projected cap space (via Spotrac): $65,062,454 (second-highest in the NFL)
This is reportedly Watson's top destination so they get a bit of a bump over the Dolphins for now as it may be easier to actually get a deal done. Really, what separates them from an asset standpoint depends on how the Houston brass feels about Tua Tagovailoa. If they see him as a franchise centerpiece, then shoot the Dolphins to the top of this list. If they don't, they are better off striking a deal with the Jets, who own the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. There, the Texans can have their pick of the litter outside of Trevor Lawerence, meaning they can land Zack Wilson, Justin Fields, or whomever they dub to be the next franchise quarterback.
With the Jets also owning the No. 23 pick and all of their future first-rounder through the 2024 season, there is plenty there to get a mega trade executed.
Sam Darnold is also an intriguing trade chip, but it seems rather unlikely that the Texans would skip out on a young prospect with the No. 2 selection and ride with Darnold, which could make him a non-factor in these talks.