Panthers owner David Tepper remained interested in Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson leading up to the NFL trade deadline, according to several sources who have been in close contact with him, but talks stalled and now appear to have been ended for an in-season movie.
A source familiar with the team's thinking said Saturday, after CBS Sports first reported the Panthers' continued negotiations with Houston, that Tepper and the Panthers have no intention of pursuing Watson prior to the trade deadline and they have not included Christian McCaffrey in any trade conversations.
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League sources told CBS Sports this week that the teams renewed talks early last week but were unable to agree to parameters on a deal. Houston's asking price for the quarterback, who is being paid by the Texans not to play this season while he faces 22 lawsuits alleging sexual assault or sexual misconduct, remains too high for the Panthers' liking (as well as the Dolphins), though there is an expectation within the industry that could change by Tuesday, which would be Houston's last chance to unload the player prior to the start of the 2022 league year in March.
The Texans have held out for five or six key pieces for Watson, including at least three first-round picks. No one has met that to this point. League sources said the Panthers at the time were willing to part with three high picks and All-Pro running back McCaffrey in a package for Watson; the Texans are very high on several of the Panthers' young defensive standouts (still on their rookie contracts and younger and cheaper than McCaffrey), and the sides failed to reach a compromise.
The Panthers have more proven young talent than the Dolphins, one other factor that could lead to them, and not Miami, landing Watson. Panthers executive Steven Drummond is very close with Texans top exec Jack Easterby, the Texans would prefer to ship Watson to the NFC, all things being equal, and Tepper's motivation to land Watson should not be overlooked. He has made it clear throughout his organization for some time that he covets the Texans' franchise QB, he is looking to expand the Panthers as a regional brand deeper into South Carolina, and believes that adding Clemson star players could help in that cause.
The move to acquire former Jets top pick Sam Darnold has already flamed out – Darnold quickly reverted to his slow starts and turnover-happy ways and was benched in Week 7 – and Tepper's frustration about the inability to find stability at the quarterback position, let alone high-end production, is high following four straight losses going into this weekend.
"The only reason that he doesn't have Watson already is that the price is too high," said one source with direct knowledge of the situation. "That's it. He's wanted him for a long time."
Another source with knowledge of the situation said, "This is a hedge fund guy. He is reading markets and looking for value. All you heard last week is the Panthers are out of it. Sure they are. He'll be back by Tuesday. Nothing is over until the deadline passes."
Suffice to say, there is a strong expectation in NFL circles that the Panthers will be among those talking to the Texans up to the deadline. Given Watson's legal matters, the complexities of such a trade, as well as Watson's uncertain playing status this season and beyond, many general managers have long surmised that Watson would not get dealt until 2022. And that very well could be the case. But there remain interested parties with the matter coming to a head early this week.