The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback sat out the entire 2021 campaign after requesting a trade from the Houston texans about this time last year. Watson, 26, was then accused by north of 20 women of sexual misconduct in civil court.
With his off-field situation set to potentially come to a head here in the next few days, it’s being reported that the Carolina Panthers are one of 10 teams interested in acquiring the three-time Pro Bowler. In fact, owner David Tepper is said to be “all in” on the signal caller.
That can’t be considered too much of a surprise given Tepper’s previous interest in Watson ahead of the aforementioned allegations against the quarterback becoming public record.
Now that Carolina has hired Ben McAdoo to take over as offensive coordinator following the firing of Joe Brady, there’s renewed belief that the Panthers will look to add Watson to the mix.
The performance of Sam Darnold in his first season with the organization coupled with Cam Newton’s struggles following his return add more layers to this. With the quarterback market thinning out, something could actually get done in short order. Below, we look at how a Deshaun Watson trade to the Carolina Panthers might look.
Carolina Panthers must add players in Deshaun Watson trade
Carolina already yielded its second-round pick and fourth-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft to the New York Jets in the ill-fated Sam Darnold trade. Even as much as Darnold’s $18.86 million cap hit for next season is going to hurt, this could have a larger impact.
Houston is said to be demanding multiple first-round picks, other mid-round selections and players in exhange for Watson. On the field, that asking price makes a ton of sense.
- Deshaun Watson stats (career): 67.8% completion, 14,539 passing yards, 1,677 rushing yards, 121 total TD, 36 INT, 104.5 rating
These numbers equate to north of 4,000 total yards with 30 touchdowns against nine interceptions per season. Prior to sitting out the 2021 campaign, Watson was considered one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL — right there with Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen. Pending his off-field situation, he’d return in 2022 in similar fashion.
That leads us to our overriding point. Carolina must up the ante by offering up multiple young players in addition to draft picks in order to acquire Watson from the Texans.
It’s unlikely Houston would be interested in taking on Darnold and his bloated 2022 cap hit (unless Carolina adds more assets for the Texans’ trouble). Running back Christian McCaffrey becomes an intriguing option given his all-around ability. But his contract coupled with two consecutive injury-plagued seasons makes McCaffrey’s value a lot less than it would normally be.
The finances of a Deshaun Watson trade to the Carolina Panthers
Carolina currently finds itself $27.09 million under the 2022 NFL salary cap after restructuring multiple contracts. For his part, Darnold is owed $18.86 million (all guaranteed) for 2022 after the Panthers picked up his contract option.
As for Watson, he’s playing under a four-year, $156 million contract. Any acquiring team would be on the hook for $35 million of that. In short, the Panthers don’t even have enough cap room to add Watson to the mix without contracts heading back to Houston.
Having already restructured the contracts of linebacker Shaq Thompson and offensive tackle Taylor Moton to save a combined $16.2 million against the cap, Carolina has other avenues to create more room. Per Over the Cap, trading McCaffrey and wide receiver Robby Anderson would save another $13.5 million. This would give Carolina enough to add Deshaun Watson to the mix without even having to deal with Darnold.
Unfortunately, that’s not a sound way to build a playoff contender. The Panthers would then be committing $53.86 million against the 2022 NFL salary cap on two quarterbacks (26%).
Deshaun Watson to the Carolina Panthers trade scenario
- Panthers get: Deshaun Watson
- Texans get: 2022 first-round pick, 2023 first-round pick, 2025 first-round pick, second-round pick, Christian McCaffrey, Jeremy Chinn
A deal of this ilk would help the Texans expedite their rebuild under Lovie Smith. By acquiring McCaffrey and hoping he returns to full health, Houston would be adding one of the most-dynamic skill-position players in the entire NFL.
- Christian McCaffrey stats (2018-19): 2,485 rushing yards, 223 catches, 1,872 receiving yards, 4,357 total yards, 32 TD
Whether it’s 2021 draft pick Davis Mills or another quarterback under center, a healthy McCaffrey could help turn around the Texans’ fortunes in a big way.
As for the 23-year-old Chinn, all he’s done in two NFL seasons is prove his worth as one of the best young defenders in the NFL.
The former second-round pick from Southern Illinois has recorded 143 tackles, 10 quarterback hits, 10 passes defended, three forced fumbles and two interceptions in 31 career games. Last season alone, the linebacker/safety hybrid yielded a total of 33 catches in 16 games.
Add in the draft picks headed to Houston, and this would be an absolutely stellar deal for Texans general manager Nick Caserio.
As for Carolina, it must be noted that the Seahawks received two first-round picks, two second-round picks and three players for Russell Wilson. Watson is a good seven years younger than his counterpart, meaning he’d have to net more in a trade.
There’s also a scenario here that includes Carolina working out a short-term extension with the aforementioned Darnold, only to trade him to the Texans in the process. That would lower his dead cap hit in a potential deal — providing the Carolina Panthers with more cap room after acquiring Deshaun Watson. In this scenario, sending another second-round pick and change to Houston would have to be in the cards.