It’s no secret Deshaun Watson wants out, but the Houston Texans are stubbornly clinging to their superstar signal-caller. At least for now.
Watson is bound to get his wish soon enough, because the Texans are rebuilding anyway, and could use the haul of proven players and trove of draft picks a trade package would yield.
While there are some obvious suitors for Watson, our list of five perfect fits for him are going to include some outside-the-box destinations that make lots of sense. After all, unless your quarterback is named Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes or Aaron Rodgers, it’s arguable that Watson is an upgrade over anyone on the roster.
Deshaun Watson to Miami Dolphins
- Dolphins Deshaun Watson trade package: QB Tua Tagovailoa, CB Xavien Howard, three 1st-round picks
Houston could get a cornerback who just led the NFL in interceptions last season in Howard, a promising young quarterback on a rookie contract in Tagovailoa, and three first-round picks if it strikes a deal with Miami.
New Texans general manager Nick Caserio is well-acquainted with Dolphins head coach Brian Flores due to their shared time with the New England Patriots. You can bet Flores is speaking with his GM Chris Grier about getting a deal done for Watson, especially after Tagovailoa looked unimpressive compared to fellow 2020 rookie phenoms Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert.
If Tagovailoa were to be viewed by Texans brass as a starter, there wouldn’t be a need to draft a quarterback third overall in 2021. Thus, Houston would suddenly be in position to trade out of the third pick with another QB-needy team and accumulate even more picks than the three first-rounders it’d get from Miami here.
Obviously, things have changed in the Dolphins organization since Flores arrived. The team lacked talent at key spots last season, yet still managed a 10-6 record and narrowly missed the playoffs. Upgrading from Tagovailoa and Ryan Fitzpatrick to Watson would make Miami a threat to dethrone Buffalo in the AFC East — and even to challenge for a Super Bowl.
Flores is going to have an elite defense for years, and the Dolphins invested three draft picks in their offensive line in 2020. They have some cash to spend in free agency, and trading Howard would free up an additional $9 million to make room for Watson and others.
Florida, like Texas, doesn’t have a state income tax, so that only helps Miami’s cause to convince Watson that taking his talents to South Beach is the way to go when he waives his no-trade clause.
Deshaun Watson Carolina Panthers
- Panthers Deshaun Watson trade package: RB Christian McCaffrey, QB Teddy Bridgewater, three 1st-round picks, 2nd-round pick
How fitting would it be for Watson to land with a team and play in a stadium where he scored his first NFL touchdown? It could definitely happen, because the Panthers have the willingness, need at QB, draft capital and established players required to make a trade work.
Carolina has cleared out a lot of cap space of late, presumably as a precursor to some big splash move. Trading an All-Pro playmaker like McCaffrey would sting given his running and receiving prowess, yet the Panthers would still have Robby Anderson and DJ Moore at receiver in this scenario.
The remaining draft and cap resources could be used to build out the offensive line in front of Watson and to franchise tag right tackle Taylor Moton. It’s worth noting Carolina invested all its 2020 draft picks on the defensive side of the ball, so that unit should take a huge step forward in 2021 now that those players have had a year to develop.
Another appealing aspect of Watson landing in Charlotte is the presence of wunderkind play-caller Joe Brady. Still only 31 years old, Brady should stick around for at least a few seasons before making the leap to head coach — particularly if he gets to coach someone like Watson through the prime of his career.
Watson and Brady could be perhaps the greatest QB-OC tandem in the NFL going forward. That’ll ultimately lead to Brady’s departure, but for now, it’ll get Carolina into Super Bowl contention in no time.
Having a new, aggressive owner in David Tepper who’s willing to do everything to improve the Panthers should appeal to Watson, who’s after a great culture, which is exactly what Carolina seems to be building under Tepper and coach Matt Rhule.
Deshaun Watson to Arizona Cardinals
- Cardinals Deshaun Watson trade package: QB Kyler Murray, EDGE Chandler Jones, two 1st-round picks, one 2nd-round pick
Watson really brings a similar skill set to the gridiron as Murray, only he’s more adept as a passer, has a bigger frame to absorb hits and makes up for any inferiority in athleticism with his football IQ and ability to lead.
For as gifted as Murray is, he is the smallest QB in the league. He got banged up toward the end of 2020, and Arizona’s collective letdown resulted in an 8-8 mark and missing the playoffs. Murray also ranked 16th in Pro Football Focus‘ passing grades, which is essentially right in the middle of the pack among NFL starters.
Caserio has long-standing ties to the Patriots as mentioned before. Jones began his career in New England and is entering a contract year, so it’d make sense for him to be featured in a trade package along with Murray and a few high draft picks.
What’s another great benefit to this deal for Watson? The offense is already tailored to his strengths and features his former go-to guy from Houston in DeAndre Hopkins.
Instead of fretting about Murray’s durability for years to come, the Cardinals can take the guesswork out of their QB situation by committing to Watson, who already has chemistry with Hopkins and seems to have a higher ceiling and longer career forecast than Murray does.
Watson would join an Arizona team that had a solid defense last season even without Jones for most of the way. Players would be lured to the Cardinals in the future because of Watson’s presence, and he’d be an ideal new face of the franchise to take the place of legendary receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
The NFC West would get a lot spicier with Watson joining the fold — but not in San Francisco, as has been bandied about. Instead, in the desert.
Deshaun Watson to New York Jets
- Jets Deshaun Watson trade package: QB Sam Darnold, DL Quinnen Williams, three 1st-round picks
If Houston doesn’t love Darnold, in this trade the Texans would get New York’s No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Trevor Lawrence is out of reach, but Houston would have its pick of the top quarterback prospects after him. Then, Darnold can be flipped for another pick or player later on.
Bright lights. Big Apple. Returning Jets football to prominence. That’s a fine sales pitch for Watson, even as there’s some uncertainty around the rather turbulent organization, which is in the midst of a coaching staff change led by Robert Saleh.
Given that Saleh was San Francisco’s defensive coordinator last season and still had the 49ers among the NFL’s best units despite so many injuries bodes well for his ability to coach up the Jets. That’s why the painful parting of ways with Williams in a trade is possible.
Plus, Saleh is bringing in offensive play-caller Mike LaFleur, who operates a run-first, play-action heavy scheme that should help extend Watson’s career longer than it’d last as he continues to get pummeled in Houston.
Sacrificing its two first-rounders in the 2021 draft and a Day 1 pick next year along with a couple promising young players isn’t too steep a cost for the Jets to incur. They’re bringing in a legitimate top-five quarterback in the NFL who’d help usher in a complete culture overhaul to what Gang Green fans are used to.
With tons of salary cap space to spend in free agency even after acquiring Watson and high second-, third and fourth-round picks still to use, New York is ideally suited to take Watson in.
Deshaun Watson to Dallas Cowboys
- Cowboys Deshaun Watson trade package: QB Dak Prescott, WR Amari Cooper, 2021 1st-round pick
Picking up a proven long-term quarterback and No. 1 receiver, along with two first-round draft selections, is a pretty good haul for Watson if Houston goes bold and keeps him in the Lone Star State.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones loves taking big swings, and has perhaps made some ill-advised moves in recent years. This one would make up for so many of those in one go.
Watson is the ultimate big-market superstar who’d raise Dallas’ profile even higher. If Cooper is part of the trade, he’d still have CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup to throw to, along with Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield.
One big strength of the Cowboys’ most successful teams in recent years is the offensive line. That unit got really banged-up in 2020 along with Prescott, but just about anything is better than what Watson has worked with on the Texans.
As long as Dallas can figure it out well enough on the defensive side of the ball, Watson’s arrival would make America’s Team the instant favorites in a rather weak NFC East division. As the personnel department sorts out how to build around Watson, at least for 2021 he’d have the Cowboys in contention for at least nine wins.
Talk about moving the needle, though. Watson with that iconic star on his helmet? As long as Prescott’s negotiations for a long-term contract extension continue to stall, a tag-and-trade to Houston wouldn’t be the most outlandish scenario.
Read More: 5 most ideal Dak Prescott landing spots