If multiple teams are willing to sell the farm to land Deshaun Watson, who would have the most to sell?
That’s the question the Texans are probably asking themselves right now. Watson officially requested a trade Thursday morning, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The Texans now have to consider trading their superstar quarterback—something that almost never happens—and they will undoubtedly be wading through plenty of offers.
There are complicating factors to any potential Watson deal—most notably, Watson’s no-trade clause, which gives the quarterback significant leverage in selecting his next team—but the Texans will at least start by asking for the farm. And they may even get it. Proven quarterbacks of Watson’s caliber virtually never become available via trade or free agency, so the asking price could be enormous. There’s really no such thing as an overpay for a franchise passer.
So let’s pretend that this bidding war gets out of control. Which NFL team has enough to put together a package the Texans simply can’t refuse? Using Chase Stuart’s NFL draft value chart to compare first- and second-round draft picks over the next two seasons, there are three teams—the Jets, Dolphins, and Jaguars—that stand alone with enormous treasure chests of assets. Here’s how their potential offers could compare:
No. 2 overall pickNo. 23 overall pick (via Seahawks)
No. 34 overall pick
2022 first-round pick
2022 first-round pick (via Seahawks)
2022 second-round pick
Total value: 103.7
Other notable trade assets:
- Sam Darnold
Thanks to a July 2020 trade that sent Jamal Adams to the Seahawks, the Jets could offer Houston four first-round picks over the next 15 months. That offer basically sets the floor for Watson. If Adams—who, like Watson, wanted to be traded—was worth two first-round picks, then Watson should easily be worth double that.
Per Stuart’s method of valuing picks, the Jets have more draft capital than any other team. To incorporate the 2022 selections, I’m using the value of an average first-rounder (18.4) and second-rounder (10.0), since we don’t know where those picks will land. It’s possible the Texans wouldn’t value a future Seahawks first as highly, given Seattle’s recent history of success. But that could probably be offset by the Jets’ recent—and even not-so-recent—history of failure. You just never know where future picks will land; the Texans surely didn’t think they’d be sending the 2021 no. 3 overall pick to the Dolphins when they traded for Laremy Tunsil over a year ago.
Darnold would probably be thrown into any Watson trade offer, though it’s difficult to imagine him moving the needle much. With this year’s no. 2 pick, the Texans would not be in position to draft Trevor Lawrence, who is a shoo-in for the no. 1 spot. But they could still get Ohio State’s Justin Fields or BYU’s Zach Wilson. And I have to imagine they’d enjoy the chance to surround one of those two quarterbacks with plenty of talent via the Jets’ other selections—something the franchise struggled to do with Watson.
- No. 3 overall pick (via Texans)
- No. 18 overall pick
- No. 36 overall pick (via Texans)
- No. 50 overall pick
- 2022 first-round pick
- 2022 second-round pick
Total value: 93.7
Other notable trade assets
- Tua Tagovailoa
A Dolphins deal would surely come down to what the Texans think of Tagovailoa. The Miami rookie had an up-and-down debut season, getting benched for Ryan Fitzpatrick multiple times down the stretch as the team just missed out on a playoff spot. Still, Tagovailoa was just picked no. 5 in the 2020 draft and was coming off the heels of a devastating hip injury suffered in November 2019. His upside is still plenty high.
The Texans, though, may not be interested. Last week, The Houston Chronicle’s Aaron Wilson wrote that the organization does not see Tagovailoa as a Watson replacement. “The Texans are considered far more likely to draft a quarterback, someone like Ohio State’s Justin Fields or BYU’s Zach Wilson, to replace Watson than swap him out for Tagovailoa,” Wilson wrote.
If Houston doesn’t want Tua, that might be a wrap on a potential Miami deal (barring some kind of wild three-way trade that sends Tagovailoa to another team). The Dolphins have less draft capital than either of the two other teams listed here, and some of their best picks come from the Texans themselves. The Dolphins received 2021 first- and second-round selections as part of the 2019 Tunsil trade. At the time, Houston was willing to overpay for Tunsil because it desperately needed offensive line help to protect Watson, who was sacked 62 times in 2018 (the most in the league). To then trade Watson for those same picks might be too embarrassing for the Texans organization to accept. Houston would need to be extra motivated by Tagovailoa just to make such a deal palatable, and that simply doesn’t appear to be the case.
- No. 1 overall pick
- No. 25 overall pick (via Rams)
- No. 33 overall pick
- No. 45 overall pick (via Vikings)
- 2022 first-round pick
- 2022 second-round pick
Total value: 99.8
Other notable trade assets:
No one is really talking about the Jaguars as a potential Watson suitor. It seems like a no-brainer that they will take Lawrence at the top of the draft and rebuild around the most highly touted quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck—even if new head coach Urban Meyer has carefully chosen his words about what he’s thinking with the no. 1 overall pick:
Asked about QBs in the 2021 draft, Urban Meyer name-checks Trevor Lawrence ... and Justin Fields ... and Zach Wilson. Says drafting one will be the biggest decision he makes. He has been studying them and sees elite players.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) January 15, 2021
So ... we officially have drama with the No. 1 pick.
But I think Jacksonville should be in the mix. The Jaguars don’t have as much draft capital as the Jets, but that’s only because Stuart’s method of valuing picks is an average, pulling from NFL history to find typical values for each selection. Jacksonville may actually have the most to offer, because this year’s no. 1 pick should be worth much more than a normal no. 1. Lawrence has been locked in as this year’s top overall pick since 2018, when he burst onto the scene as a true freshman and led Clemson to a national championship. No one else can offer Houston a player with so much hype.
And no matter how good a prospect Lawrence is, the Jaguars should prefer Watson. Watson has made the Pro Bowl in three consecutive seasons and led the league in passing yards (with 4,823) in 2020. He played with little talent around him this past season and still turned in a career year. He’s a bona fide top-five quarterback in the league—it might be a decade before another prospect like Lawrence is in the draft, but it could be a century before a quarterback like Watson becomes available for trade again.
The Jaguars wouldn’t just be comparing Watson to Lawrence, though. They’d be comparing Watson to Lawrence and all the other picks they still have—plus the cap space they’d lose by not having a quarterback on a rookie deal. By standing pat and drafting Lawrence no. 1, Jacksonville can work on putting a competent roster around him. By trading for Watson, they’d have a sure thing at quarterback—but also a roster of scraps.
But what if it was just the no. 1 pick? If the Jaguars offered Lawrence for Watson straight up, the Texans would have to consider it, because even with all the draft picks the Jets and Dolphins have, neither can offer a generational quarterback prospect. This is a sort of Godfather offer, too. I’m imagining the Texans calling up Meyer and Meyer saying, “My offer is this: just one first-rounder.”
It would be weird if the Texans took just one first-round pick for Watson when the going rate for star players—even non-quarterbacks—is multiple firsts, but that’s why this deal could make sense for both teams. Lawrence alone could be worth more to the Texans than the picks the other teams can offer, and the Jaguars should clearly prefer Watson over any rookie, no matter how hyped he is. Jacksonville would still get to build the roster it wants, and the Texans would easily be able to sell fans on a new era.
The only problem is that the Jaguars and Texans play in the same division. Houston surely doesn’t want to face Watson twice a year for the next decade, and the Jaguars don’t want to do the same with Lawrence, should he turn out to be as good as scouts think. That’s a huge roadblock—these teams may never even get on the phone with each other.
Each of these three teams could offer highly attractive packages for Watson, and it’s striking just how similar the draft capital is between them. The Jets, Jaguars, and Dolphins can each offer a top-three pick, another first-rounder between nos. 18 and 25, and a high second-round pick. The Dolphins and Jaguars can offer an additional second-round pick in this year’s draft, while the Jets can offer multiple first-rounders in 2022.
It could come down to the details, and what the Texans prefer. The Jaguars could give Houston the no. 1 pick in the draft and thus the ability to pick the most highly touted quarterback prospect in nearly a decade, but also the incredibly sour taste of dealing a superstar quarterback to a division rival. The Jets can send the most in pure draft compensation, but would leave Houston looking for an answer behind center. The Dolphins can offer plenty of picks and a highly drafted sophomore QB, but also the embarrassment of having to trade for picks Houston previously owned. And every other NFL team would give Houston far less. The Texans can name their price, but they also have to pick their poison.
There’s also one other obstacle in the way of any deal. It’s called a “Godfather” offer because it’s an offer you “can’t refuse,” but Watson’s no-trade clause gives him the right to refuse any deal—or team—he doesn’t like. And he’s reportedly already flexing his leverage. According to The Miami Herald’s Armando Salguero, the Jets are Watson’s no. 1 team. The Dolphins are no. 2, and no other team was mentioned. That list could expand in the coming weeks, but Watson has a strong incentive to keep it as short as possible. The conundrum for the QB is that any team that trades for him may have to give up so many assets that he’ll be in the same position he is currently in Houston—surrounded by a roster of spare parts that he’ll be expected to lift to contention single-handedly.
The Texans could also try to refuse Watson’s request. The star quarterback has five years left on his contract, and Houston can fine him significantly if he starts missing practices or games. But the Texans would likely rather get a big haul than watch him sit the season on his couch. It’s a game of who blinks first.
Of course, those three teams aren’t the only potential trade partners. Another franchise could quickly get into the mix. There are rumors around virtually every quarterback-needy team, including the 49ers, Patriots, Bears, Broncos, Lions—any team you can think of, really. But no one will be able to offer the Texans nearly as much as the Jets, Dolphins, or Jaguars.
This article has been updated to reflect Thursday’s news that Watson has officially requested a trade.