NFL rumors: 5 most realistic Deshaun Watson trade destinations

By Matt Johnson
Jan 3, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) warms up before a game against the Tennessee Titans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Deshaun Watson signed a monster contract extension with the Houston Texans, hoping the franchise would turn things around and build around their franchise quarterback. With turmoil increasing in Houston and greater uncertainty about the team’s long-term outlook, NFL rumors are swirling.

Despite Watson playing at an MVP-caliber level this season, leading the NFL in passing yards (4,823) and finishing with the second-highest quarterback rating (112.4), the Texans finished 4-12. This year, the team was so bad that J.J. Watt apologized to Watson for wasting one of his years.

With the Texans operating without 2021 first- and second-round picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, thanks to former coach and general manager Bill O’Brien, there is increasing doubt about the hopes for this team to turn things around. Now, in an offseason that could already see the Texans trade Watt, Watson could also head out of Houston.

According to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, Deshaun Watson has quietly talked to teammates about the possibility of seeking a trade. It’s paired with increased NFL rumors that some in the league believe he will ask to be dealt.

If he becomes available, nearly every NFL team will likely make a call to Houston. The 25-year-old has proven he is an elite quarterback, delivering the best season in his career despite an underwhelming supporting cast. With that said, a few teams stand out the most for a blockbuster deal.

Here are the five most realistic Deshaun Watson trade destinations.

Deshaun Watson trade to the San Francisco 49ers

Deshaun Watson
Dec 20, 2020; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) during warmups before the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

There isn’t a better landing spot out there for Deshaun Watson. In Houston, he overcame poor play-calling, a lack of creativity in the offensive scheme and limited weapons. He would find himself in the exact opposite situation with the 49ers. San Francisco won six games this season, despite going through a plethora of devastating injuries on both sides of the ball. Despite all of that, paired with the atrocious quarterback play, the 49ers still averaged 23.5 points and 388.1 total yards per game. As for Jimmy Garoppolo, the team would save $24 million by cutting him this offseason.

Imagine Watson in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. We know he loves this offensive scheme. Watson would bring a level of athleticism and playmaking ability that Shanahan has never had at the position. It will open up this offense far more than ever before, with Watson rolling out to make 40-plus yard throws, keeping it on RPOs. Shanahan’s offense is based on variations and the level of creativity in the playbook explodes when your quarterback can make the throws and move like we’ve seen Watson do throughout his career. Put Watson in San Fan Francisco and he becomes an NFL MVP frontrunner, while the 49ers become Super Bowl favorites in the NFC for years to come.

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New England Patriots trade for Deshaun Watson

Deshaun Watson: New England Patriots
Nov 22, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) runs with the ball as New England Patriots linebacker Josh Uche (53) defends during the second quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Deshaun Watson has been connected to the Patriots for over a year. The Pro Bowl signal-caller was the early favorite to be New England’s quarterback in 2021 and NFL rumors swirled about the possibility of a move in March 2020. With Bill Belichick and Co. looking for their next franchise passer this offseason, Watson makes all the sense in the world.

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It’s worth mentioning that Houston hired Nick Caserio as their general manager this offseason, luring him away from the Patriots. The bond between him and Belichick is there, which makes trade talks a lot easier. New England owns the No. 15 and No. 46 overall picks in the 2021 NFL Draft. In order to acquire Watson, though, Belichick would likely need to give up at least three first-round picks to the Texans.

If the Patriots traded for Watson, there would still be plenty of money this offseason to build a team around him. New England is projected to have $63 million in cap space this offseason, per OvertheCap. Even when factoring in Watson’s four-year, $156 million contract, it still leaves room to sign a wide receiver like Allen Robinson or Kenny Golladay. Put that plan into action, paired with the culture already established in New England, it would be a superior situation to what Watson is going through with the Texans.

Deshaun Watson traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers

Deshaun Watson: NFL rumors
Sep 27, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt (91) and Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) shake hands during a time out in the third quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 28-21. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers enter the NFL Playoffs as Super Bowl contenders. Keep in mind, all of this is being accomplished with a rapidly deteriorating Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben graded as the 25th quarterback in the NFL this season by Pro Football Focus and ranked 17th in passer rating (78.3) on deep passes. With this team already thinking about its future at quarterback, Watson is everything Pittsburgh needs.

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The Steelers already boast a defense capable of winning a Super Bowl, but the offense holds them back from reaching that. With Watson, who posted a 116.1 quarterback rating on deep passes and finished as the third-highest graded quarterback by PFF, he unlocks Pittsburgh’s offense. A receiver duo of Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson would be better than anything Watson will ever have in Houston. Plus, he’ll help unlock Pittsburgh’s dormant running game. It would be costly to trade for Deshaun Watson, but he would put this team on the same level as the Kansas City Chiefs in 2021.

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Carolina Panthers trade for Deshaun Watson

Deshaun Watson: NFL rumors
Sep 29, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) attempts a pass during the third quarter against the Carolina Panthers at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

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Teddy Bridgewater is a fine quarterback, one who can provide a consistent level of play when great pieces are around him. We saw offensive coordinator Joe Brady get the most out of Bridgewater in 2020, even as All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey missed most of the season. It won’t be long before Brady leaves to become a head coach and once that happens, Carolina needs a quarterback who can thrive in any scheme and offers the ability to lift a team.

Even without Brady calling plays, Watson could excel with the Panthers. A receiving corps with D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson, two dangerous playmakers, are coming off 1,000-yard seasons. We’ve seen how much Watson likes utilizing his running backs and McCaffrey is a legitimate All-Pro talent running the football and catching it out of the backfield.

Would it cost Carolina multiple first-round picks, including the No. 8 overall selection, to trade for Watson? Yes. With that said, owner David Tepper is willing to be aggressive to get the guy he wants. He proved that by signing head coach Matt Rhule to a huge contract. Watson would be even more impactful for this franchise, potentially making the Panthers the class of the NFC South.

Deshaun Watson trade to New York Jets

Deshaun Watson
Dec 15, 2018; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) is pressured by New York Jets cornerback Buster Skrine (41) during the third quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

If any team can offer the kind of war chest Houston would want, it might be the New York Jets. The front office isn’t committed to Sam Darnold and is open to trading the No. 2 overall pick. Given the team’s need for a face of the franchise, pulling off a blockbuster trade for Deshaun Watson only makes sense.

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The Jets could package the No. 2 pick, the No. 27 overall pick (via Seattle Seahawks), the 91st overall selection and Seattle’s 2022 first-round pick. It would be a lot of assets to move, but New York would still have the No. 34 overall pick this year and each of its 2022 draft picks. Plus, with more than $60 million in projected cap space this offseason, New York has all kinds of financial flexibility to sign more star talent.

Watson would be a star in New York, having a bigger platform and the opportunity to prove he is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. If the Jets make a great coaching hire, like Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy or Carolina Panthers OC Joe Brady, this becomes an even better destination.