By Christopher Farbolin
Franchise quarterbacks rarely end up on the market, much less elite ones. However, this offseason is a rare exception, with three-time Pro Bowler Deshaun Watson demanding a trade from the Houston Texans. Normally when an elite QB is available they are in the twilight of their career (Tom Brady, Brett Favre, and Peyton Manning to name a few). The possibility of acquiring Watson has captivated nearly every fanbase in the NFL. I am convinced I have seen an edit of Deshaun Watson wearing every single NFL jersey aside from Kansas City, Green Bay, Seattle, and Tampa Bay.
Although Watson has been linked to several teams, I am going to focus on the eight that could realistically make a move. The rankings will be based on the best fit for Watson, not who can give the Texans the most in return. Several teams that could use a QB are off this list; the Steelers will not be on this list because Big Ben will be back in 2021, the Saints won’t be on here because of their cap situation, and Atlanta won’t be on here because Matt Ryan is under contract for two more years and the Falcons don’t have the cap space for Watson. The Jaguars and Colts won’t be on this list because Houston isn’t giving their franchise QB to a division rival.
- San Francisco 49ers – This is far and away the best landing spot for Watson, with the 49ers being just a year removed from being in the Super Bowl. If San Fran gets Watson, you can pencil them in as NFC Champions next season and make a case for them as the best team in football over Kansas City. The 49ers would give Watson one of the best offensive coaches in football in Kyle Shanahan, who makes every QB he works with better. Not to mention the 49ers have an elite defense that is as good as any in football when healthy, meaning Watson won’t have to get into shootouts every week. You also get George Kittle, who is arguably the hardest matchup for defenses in the NFL, along with a young and improving receiving core consisting of Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and Kendrick Bourne. Maybe the most important factor for Watson is the offensive line, considering his injury history and how bad Houston’s line has been over the past four years. The 49ers happen to have a great offensive line and a stable of running backs that will take some of the pressure off of Watson that he has had with the Texans.
- Miami Dolphins – Don’t get me wrong, I like Tua Tagovailoa as a long term option and think much of the criticism is too harsh, however I think it’s impossible to pass up on an opportunity to get Deshaun Watson. Miami has the assets to make a move with tons of cap space and draft capital, and Watson would be a significant upgrade over Tua. Miami may not be as complete as the team that precedes them on this list, but they do have a great defense that is only getting better under Brian Flores. The offense leaves a lot to be desired, but there are some pieces there. Mike Gesicki has emerged as one of the best tight ends in football, and Devante Parker is a reliable number one receiver. The offensive line is very young, but should get better with experience and some moves in the offseason. The Dolphins have publicly stated their commitment to Tua Tagovailoa as their quarterback, but they do have the ability to pull off a trade, and Miami needs a guy that can go back and forth with Josh Allen for the next decade.
- Washington Football Team – Washington is in a tough spot as far as quarterback is concerned. After cutting ties with 2019 first round pick Dwayne Haskins, Washington’s best option is former XFL backup Taylor Heinicke. Although Heinicke played well in the playoff loss to Tampa, he probably isn’t a long term option. Washington is a quarterback away from being a real threat in the NFC, with a dominant defense led by Chase Young, Montez Sweat, and Ryan Kerrigan. Washington also has one of the most slept on receivers in football, Terry McLaurin, who has played at a Pro Bowl level in back-to-back seasons. Because they won the NFC East Washington does not have a high draft pick to get one of the top QBs in the draft, but they do have over $38 million in cap space. Having Ron Rivera as head coach also helps, along with being in the easiest division in football. Watson would elevate this franchise trapped in mediocrity for the past 20 years.
- New England Patriots – This may seem like a low ranking for a team with the greatest coach of all time, but the Patriots aren’t as good of a fit as many would think. Now I’m not saying New England is a bad situation. I have them in the top half of my list for a reason, and that’s Bill Belichick. The Patriots have a good defense and a solid offensive line (although they will likely lose guard Joe Thuney in free agency). However, unlike Washington, the Patriots don’t have a reliable receiver and also are in a significantly tougher division. The AFC East isn’t the cake walk it was for Brady and Belichick for the last two decades. Buffalo just got to the AFC Title game and aren’t going anywhere, Miami just won 10 games and have a promising young core, and the Jets have a ton of cap space and four first round picks over the next two years. It is worth noting that recently hired Texans GM Nick Caserio is a former Patriot, so there are connections to make a deal happen.
- Chicago Bears – Life doesn’t give you second chances often, but that’s exactly what the Bears are getting after passing on Watson for Mitch Trubisky back in 2017. The Bears are intending to move off of Trubisky after declining his fifth year option. Like Washington, the Bears don’t have a high draft pick due to making the playoffs, so their best bet is to get a QB in free agency or through a trade. The Bears have a great defense and a star running back in David Montgomery which is a significant upgrade over what Watson had in Houston. The downside to Chicago is the offensive line, which was an issue in 2020. It also doesn’t help that Allen Robinson is unlikely to return, and that there is front office and coaching uncertainty. GM Ryan Pace and Head Coach Matt Nagy are on the hot seat, so why not go all in on Watson?
- Denver Broncos – Nine years ago the Broncos landed Peyton Manning in free agency, and it led to a four-year run of dominance capped off with a Vince Lombardi Trophy. The Broncos have a chance to get another home run in free agency in Deshaun Watson, except this time Denver will be getting a star QB in their prime. I am a big fan of Drew Lock, as I’m sure many Mizzou fans are, but Lock regressed in 2020 after an impressive five-game stint as a rookie. Lock can still be a franchise QB either in Denver or elsewhere ,but the Broncos have been involved in several trade rumors and appear to be on the market for a QB. Denver does provide Watson with great skill players such as Melvin Gordon, Phillip Lindsay, Cortland Sutton, Noah Fant, and 2020 first round pick Jerry Jeudy. The Broncos also have a good defense and are a fairly stable organization, which are two things that cannot be said about the Texans. However, Denver does have an unproven GM, Vic Fangio is probably gonna be gone after next season, and the offensive line has holes. The main reason I put Denver behind Chicago is because the AFC West is gonna be a much tougher division in the coming years than the NFC North.
- New York Jets – It was a tough choice between the final two spots, as neither is a very good spot for Watson to wind up, but the Jets get the edge. The reason for this is the Jets have far more cap space and more draft picks than Carolina, and Deshaun Watson wanted the Texans to hire Robert Saleh as their coach. With Saleh now in New York, Watson seems like a good fit. I wouldn’t bank on this happening because the Jets have the second overall pick, so they may opt to build around a rookie QB who is cheaper and won’t cost you draft picks. The Jets roster is in a total rebuild, the weapons are bad, the offensive line is improving but still pretty bad, and the defense lost its one elite player Jamal Adams. Watson would have to carry this organization, but they do have a foundation in place to be relevant down the road.
- Carolina Panthers – I spoiled it in my last ranking, but the Panthers come in last on this list. Carolina is currently the most likely landing spot for Watson, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Although I do like Matt Rhule, the Panthers are rebuilding the entire defense, so Watson will be forced to get into high scoring shootouts to win. The Panthers would also likely ship Christian McCaffrey to Houston in a trade, meaning Watson won’t get to work with one of the best backs in football. Carolina is also in a division with the reigning Super Bowl champs, along with New Orleans and Atlanta who have very talented rosters. Even if Watson lands in Carolina, it will still be an upgrade. The main takeaway from this article is that any team is better than the Texans.
Edited by Emma Moloney