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Any NFL team that does not have the situation settled at quarterback has its eye on Houston. Well, at least the fan bases do.
With multiple reports indicating that former Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is increasingly upset with the organization, specifically team owner Cal McNair, potential destinations for the 25-year old have been thrown about.
“There is a growing sense from people in and around the Texans’ organization that Deshaun Watson has played his last snap for the team,” ESPN’s Adam Schefter wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “It’s early in the off-season, there’s a lot of time left, but Watson’s feelings cannot and should not be underestimated.”
As Schefter pointed out, it’s early. A trade cannot happen until the league year begins in March, and a lot can happen between now and then. There’s no indication that an official request for a trade has been put in, but the quarterback tweeted Friday, “I was on 2 then I took it to 10,” referencing a Future song and his reported frustrating level with the Texans. Houston is still in the process of hiring a new head coach after bringing in Nick Caserio as general manager. There’s a solid chance Watson stays put.
There’s a variety of factors for Watson’s frustrations, as detailed by Sports Illustrated in an eye-opening report over the weekend. But this is absolutely a situation the Carolina Panthers, and any team in need of a quarterback should have an eye on.
Why it makes sense for the Panthers to look into Watson
This isn’t hard. Watson is just hitting the prime of his career after signing a four-year, $156 million contract with the Texans. He led the NFL in passing yards (4,823) and threw 33 touchdowns to 7 interceptions, all while getting sacked 49 times. Watson is the only player in NFL history with at least 100 passing touchdowns and a 67.0 comp% in his first four seasons.
All that, and his top receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, was traded to the Arizona Cardinals before the start of the 2020 season.
The Panthers are exploring the options at quarterback . Dwayne Haskins was brought in for a visit last week before new general manager Scott Fitterer was hired. Head coach Matt Rhule has not committed to Teddy Bridgewater as the starter next season after a rough end to 2020.
“Teddy has to have a tremendous offseason. It’s been a long time since he’s played an entire year,” Rhule said after the conclusion of the season. “Part of being a quarterback in this league is being able to withstand the physical toll of the season, and playing your best football at the end of the year. I don’t know that I’ve seen that from him.”
The other quarterbacks on the roster — P.J. Walker, Will Grier and Tommy Stevens — have not proved enough to be labeled potential starers of the future. The answer at quarterback could come with the eighth overall pick, but the top options will be off the board.
A big trade like one for Watson would typically require consent of the ownership, and David Tepper is not the type to shy away from making big decisions and invest money where needed, which is part of why NFL Network threw the Panthers name out in relation to Watson on Monday. Tepper has been vocal about needing to find an answer at quarterback.
“When you talk about quarterback, and you think about what you’re doing there, it’s an ongoing process. And it’s a question of who can be that guy that can help you win. That’s the most important position on the field,” Tepper said. “And to say that unless you have that guy, for sure that gets you to playoffs and Super Bowls, you have to keep reevaluating that because that’s the only thing that matters is Super Bowls. And until you have that guy, you’re evaluating, evaluating, evaluating every year.”
The cap hit would be substantial, but not impossible, depending on what a trade involves.
Would the Panthers be competitive?
This is where it gets tricky: What do the Panthers have to offer up? The eighth overall pick? Christian McCaffrey?
There is not a recent trade to point to that accurately depicts what a team would give up to acquire a proven quarterback that would change a franchise like Watson. In 2009, the Denver Broncos traded quarterback Jay Cutler to the Chicago Bears for quarterback Kyle Orton, a first-round pick in 2009 (No. 18), a third-round pick in 2009 and a first round-pick in 2010. The Broncos also sent a fifth-round pick in 2009.
That was for a Cutler, a good quarterback, but not someone with the potential Watson has shown. Cutler was the same age then as Watson is now, and also requested to be traded.
Watson has a no-trade clause, which means he will have a right of refusal when it comes to where he could go, if he does end up requesting a trade. There’s reportedly interest from Watson in the Miami Dolphins, who own the No. 3 (courtesy of the Texans) and 18 picks in this year’s draft. Miami could trade Tua Tagovailoa and multiple first-round picks. The New York Jets, similarly, are stocked on picks and have Sam Darnold, another young quarterback with potential.
If, and right now it’s a big if, Watson is traded, it will be for a big return package. Bridgewater and his two years remaining on his contract aren’t worth that much. It would mean possibly sending McCaffrey over in a deal or other players, in addition to multiple first-round and other picks. The Panthers are on the brink of possibly losing four of five starting offensive linemen in free agency. Losing significant draft picks would make rebuilding an offensive line or getting a reliable pass-catching tight end, among other positions of need, that much more difficult for Fitterer and Rhule.
“If you are a team that’s looking for a QB, though, you look hard — every single minute of every single day,” former Panthers general manager Bill Polian told The Observer. “And you can’t afford to say, ‘Well, no, the price will be too high’ or ‘No, they won’t trade him’ or ‘No, this guy’s not available.’ You’ve got to turn over every rock, because you never know.”
The Panthers may be interesting to Watson partly due to the proximity to Clemson and his hometown of Gainesville, Georgia, which could get them in the room for the Texans. There will be no better quarterback option available this offseason, making it a situation Carolina must explore. But there are many hurdles to cross, and many teams drawing up their best offers to vie for his potential attention.
For now, it’s mostly ifs or could-bes, and an eye-grabbing offseason conversation as Watson’s Photoshopped image in every NFL jersey dominates the internet.