Thursday morning, ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the news that for-now-Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson has requested a trade. This exact event may not go down in the annals of NFL history as a remember-where-you-were moment—Watson’s desire to move on from Houston was already clear and, besides, we are all in the same place all the time now—but it is nearly impossible to overstate how far the ripple effects of Watson changing teams could spread. Watson is 25. He is an elite quarterback. Every team other than Kansas City has reason to at least think about acquiring him. I feel like I’m living in some un-reality that this could actually be happening, but I’m not. If I were, I’d be in charge of the Houston Texans. By this count, there are more than 50 members of the NFL community who could be impacted by whatever happens next. Joe Flacco is on the list, for fuck’s sake! And it hardly stops there—this list is by no means comprehensive. As with any screwup of epic proportions, the breadth of the fallout cannot be fully catalogued in real time. History alone will trace the corollaries of the Texans’ incompetence, like those of the driver for the Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s wrong turn in Sarajevo in 1914, and order their importance better than we’re currently able to. No one is guaranteed to be immune from the ramifications. If you’re reading this, you probably merit inclusion on this list. Chaos is a ladder that Cal McNair and Jack Easterby joined hands and tripped over. And now we’re here:
1. Deshaun Watson
If his wish is granted, Watson would no longer have to play for an organization that, in the words of J.J. Watt, has “wasted” some of his prime years. Watson has a no-trade clause in his contract which means that he would have to approve any potential destination.
2. Nick Caserio
The new Texans general manager has barely started in his new job and is already faced with a franchise-altering decision. He could wind up with more draft picks at his disposal, but it would come at the expense of the franchise quarterback who was, by far, the most attractive feature when taking the job. I guess that’s what the $5 million per year is for.
3. David Culley
This is an unfortunate situation for the new Texans coach—there’s no other way to slice it, even though Culley knew this is what he was signing up for. He did get a five-year contract, a reflection that the job has some obvious downsides.
4. Chris Grier, Miami GM, and 5. Brian Flores, Miami head coach
The Dolphins have picks, cap space, and no state income tax to offer in a potential package. The Dolphins are a front-runner to get Watson and would immediately be a Super Bowl contender with him on the roster. Houston would have to stomach sending Watson to an AFC team, plus suffer the indignity of accepting back picks they traded away in the first place for Laremy Tunsil.
6. Joe Douglas, Jets GM, and 7. Robert Saleh, Jets head coach
Watson could make the Jets good. That’s how big of a deal this is. He’d be an incredible get for any coach and general manager, but for a young pairing like Douglas and Saleh, he’d have golden-ticket potential.
8. Scott Fitterer, Carolina GM, and 9. Matt Rhule, Panthers head coach
See above, with the Panthers being the third obvious contender for Watson along with the Dolphins and Jets.
10-24. Tua Tagovailoa, Sam Darnold, Teddy Bridgewater, Dak Prescott, Carson Wentz, Aaron Rodgers, Jimmy Garoppolo, Cam Newton, Mitch Trubisky, Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Alex Smith, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Lock, Joe Flacco
The 2021 offseason was already set to be one with unprecedented quarterback movement. Stafford became the first domino to fall after being acquired by the Rams in exchange for Jared Goff and three draft picks. So many other quarterbacks’ futures will in some way be determined by where Watson ends up. Other quarterbacks looking for new teams—like Rodgers, if he actually went for it—may find themselves no longer at the top of teams’ lists. The market may not move much until Watson has a destination, which will dictate the landing spots for many of the above players. Players like Tagovailoa or Darnold could see the teams that drafted them decide to move on since Watson is available and either of them could wind up in Houston as part of a trade package. (Ugh, hasn’t Tua been through enough already?)
25. Justin Fields, 26. Zach Wilson, and 27. Several unidentified draft picks
It will take a lot of draft capital to trade for Watson. The Jets have the no. 2 pick and the Dolphins pick no. 3. (A little-known fact is that this draft pick was, at one point, the Texans’ own!) That means that one of the non–Trevor Lawrence quarterbacks in this year’s draft, primarily Ohio State’s Fields and BYU’s Wilson, has a shot at ending up in Houston.
28. Mickey Loomis, Saints GM
We hold these truths to be self-evident: An NFL team needs a good quarterback to contend and Saints general manager Loomis has never missed an opportunity to mortgage his team’s future in the service of winning now. Finding a way to trade for Watson following the expected retirement of Drew Brees with New Orleans already $90 million over the 2021 salary cap would be his magnum opus.
29. The Benson family’s checkbook
It’s used to getting a workout from Loomis’s wheeling and dealing. Watson’s salary cap hit for 2021 is a team-friendly $15.9 million—which will help him widen his potential list of acceptable destinations—but climbs to $40.4 million in 2022. The Saints’ bills will eventually come due ... won’t they?
30. The salary cap
If nos. 30–31 come to pass, the salary cap has to be put out to pasture. This has gone too far.
31. Bill O’Brien, Alabama OC
The former Texans head coach’s reputation is enhanced by default with every development in Houston.
32. David Mulugheta
Watson’s agent goes from already pretty badass (he helped orchestrate Jalen Ramsey’s trade to the Rams) to definitely extremely badass.
33. Every other agent ever
34. DeAndre Hopkins
[Does victory lap.]
35. Laremy Tunsil
Tunsil is unfortunately too large a man to hide in Watson’s suitcase on his way out. He can wipe his tears with his $66 million contract.
36. Jack Easterby, Texans VP of football operations
Well, Jack, they’re certainly going to remember you.
37. Cal McNair
The Texans’ owner should probably be higher on this list, though it’s not exactly ranked. Things don’t really change that much for owners, though, since it takes much more than a disgruntled generational quarterback to jeopardize their tenure. That’s sort of the issue here—it’s why a new head coach wasn’t going to sway Watson’s desire to leave.
38. J.J. Watt
Could the Texans’ other star be the next to leave after Watson? Watt has a year left on his contract but no dead money, so if he’s motivated to get out, he probably can.
39. People who Photoshop players into other teams’ jerseys, 40. People who track private flights to predict NFL events, and 41. People who use major trades to tweet “What Offseason?!?!?”
Bad for Houston, great for content.
42. Trevor Lawrence
The presumptive no. 1 pick of the Jaguars could emerge as the best quarterback in the AFC South right away, but he’s relegated to being the second-most sought-after Clemson quarterback of this offseason.
43. Jerry Jones
Whatever happens between Dak Prescott and the Cowboys during their contract negotiations, Jones’s team has cemented its status as the least dysfunctional team in the state of Texas. Though, knowing Jones, maybe abdicating any spotlight is a bad thing?
44. Penei Sewell
A Watson trade has the potential to change how many quarterback-needy teams are at the top of the draft, which could have a significant impact on Sewell, the draft’s consensus top offensive lineman.
45. Reddit traders
The only beings more motivated to see a trade happen than Watson and his team are the ones trying to buy more GameStop shares.
46. Bryan Anger and 47. Ka’imi Fairbairn
The Texans punter and kicker could be in for some busy seasons in 2021.
48. Brandin Cooks, 49. Will Fuller, and 50. Randall Cobb
A Watson trade is clearly bad news for Houston’s receivers. Fuller is a free agent, so at least he has an escape route.
51. Christian McCaffrey
The Panthers running back, like any high-profile player on a team that could logically end up with Watson, has to feel conflicted. On the one hand, a player like McCaffrey could greatly benefit from playing with him. On the other hand, it’s possible they could wind up part of a trade package.
52. Allen Robinson
Any team that acquires Watson will be hoping to win immediately. If it has the resources to, it’s likely that team would be a player for high-profile free agents like Bears wide receiver Robinson, who would surely love to play with a quarterback like Watson.
53. Bill Belichick
Prove me wrong. He’s always in the mix.