It took developments totally on-brand for 2020 to elicit a suggestion in 2021 that previously would've been preposterous -- the Texans should trade Deshaun Watson as soon as possible. And for the long-term viability of their franchise, they need to. Those developments, you ask? The Texans got an MVP-caliber season from Watson but flubbed their way to 4-12 then completely alienated said quarterback during their process of hiring a new head coach. And fired head coach Bill O'Brien left wreckage: A devastating amount of it. These are all the reasons a Watson trade should happen. Soon.
- Round 3
- Round 4
- Round 4
- Round 5
- Round 6
- Round 6
- Round 6
- Round 7
Those are the eight draft selections Houston holds in the 2021 NFL Draft. Their first pick is set to be at No. 67 overall. That is not what a team wants to have at the outset of a rebuilding process, one the Texans find themselves in today.
The Texans are $17.8M over the projected 2021 cap of $176 million, according to OverTheCap.com. To make financial matters worse, they're projected to have the fewest amount of cap space in 2022 at just $43.7M. For context, the divisional rival Colts have $155.3M. Of course, they could (see: need to) skim some money off the top by releasing expensive veterans, most namely franchise legend J.J. Watt. His cap hit alone would nearly get Houston back to...having no money to spend in free agency in 2021, as his cap hit of $17.5M would be off the books if he's let go.
Other possible cap casualties include:
- WR Brandin Cooks - $12M
- CB Bradley Roby - $8.2M
- RB David Johnson - $6.7M
- OC Nick Martin - $6.2M
- RB Duke Johnson - $5M
- DT Brandon Dunn - $3.1M
Clear a few of those names, then you're (kind of) in business, Texans. Well, except for the fact that the team would then be without some of their better, more established players.
And, while money talks, let's not forget every single free agent has witnessed everything that's transpired early this offseason regarding the Texans organization. If it's apparently the most undesirable head coaching job in the NFL, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, it's likely one of the least-desired free-agent destinations too.
Watson's value and team-building logistics
Even if the Texans climb out of this hole without looking completely tarnished, they probably have to accept they're going to be one of the worst teams in football again in 2021, Watson's Age 26 season. And even if his quarterbacking heroics can lift the club to a few more last-minute wins than it had this past season, are the playoffs even realistic? Probably not. The Super Bowl certainly wouldn't be.
Also, Watson's value is almost assured to never be higher than it is this offseason. He completed 70.2% of his passes, led the league in passing yards at 4,823 and yards per attempt at 8.9. In his third full season as the starter -- missed nine games due to injury his rookie season -- Watson set a new career-high in touchdown percentage (6.1%) and a career-low in interception rate (1.3%).
Watson has absolutely arrived as an elite NFL quarterback. Does that mean he's going to continue to break his own records every season? No. And chances are, in 2021, on another bad -- potentially worse -- Texans team, his production is going to regress back to the mean (probably just slightly). When that happens, a 26-year-old Watson will not be as valuable on the trade market as he is at this exact moment.
Beyond that, what will Watson's frustration level be in 2021 if he's balling again -- he will be -- and Houston limps to 0-4, then 2-6 and 3-8? The longer Watson clearly wants out, the less leverage the Texans have when they sit down at the trade negotiation table.
Also, the normal allotment of draft picks returns in 2022 -- along with an extra fourth and seventh -- but how damaged would the Watson-Texans relationship be by then? Even if those first and second-round picks are quality selections in 2022, they probably won't really become foundational pieces of the team by 2023 or 2024. Watson would be approaching 30.
There would likely be suitors and also replacements
From the Dolphins -- with two firsts and two seconds in the 2021 draft along with Tua Tagovailoa -- to the Jets -- pair of firsts in 2021 and 2022 -- there's probably about 25 other teams that'd actually be interested in Watson. A lack of suitors wouldn't be an issue and could conceivably drive up the price for Watson even more.
And while Watson is a sure thing -- the Texans need to understand that more superb quarterbacks will enter the NFL through the draft. Look at the wave of young passers taking over the league today. If Houston could secure the No. 2 (Jets) or No. 3 overall (Dolphins) picks in the draft -- they'd be staring Justin Fields or Zach Wilson in the face. And those players would be astronomically cheaper than Watson -- his cap hit is set to skyrocket to $40.4M in 2021 and $42.4M in 2022.
This suggestion isn't normal. But the Texans are the furthest thing from a normal rebuilding process. And, sure, maybe in a year or two, they could move Watson and get a sizable return. But it's highly unlikely they'd be able to get as much for him then as they could now, and waiting to make the move would simple delay the true start of Houston's rebuilding process.
So whoever's running the Texans needs to swallow his pride and trade Watson now.