Stephen Dranoff


Recent Posts by Stephen

Analyzing the Trade Value of Deshaun Watson

Prior to this offseason there had only been just two notable trades centered around the quarterback position dating back to 2015 – the Nick Foles/Sam Bradford deal between the Chip Kelly-run Eagles and the St. Louis Rams, and the Patriots sending Jimmy Garoppolo to San Francisco in favor of a 40-year-old Tom Brady. Broadening the search, there was the Washington Football Team’s trade for Kyle Allen in 2020 as well as Ryan Tannehill going from Miami to Tennessee as a backup option to Mariota. Clearly, there was little-to-no star power involved.

Then, this past spring, we saw a slew of quarterback movement across the league. Five starting quarterbacks were moved in four separate trades – Matt Stafford, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Sam Darnold, and Teddy Bridgewater. Each of these deals had vastly different repercussions, but taken as a whole, they set the market for future trades including the quarterback position.

With rumors swirling about a potential trade including the Texans’ Deshaun Watson prior to Tuesday’s trade deadline, I’ll dig into what his true value is.

I. 2021 Offseason Trades

The Rams mortgaged their future by trading away two future 1st round picks – which they are no stranger to doing – as well as a 3rd round selection in the 2021 draft, in order to go all in on winning a Super Bowl. They did so with the gusto to move on from Jared Goff – the quarterback who led the franchise to the Super Bowl just two years prior and had yet to play a snap on the added years of his extension. On the other side of that deal, the Lions sent away the corner stone of their franchise for the past 12 season in exchange for three Rams’ draft picks and the aforementioned Goff. Both quarterbacks were on deals that exceeded $134 million in total value, both with more than $57 million fully guaranteed at signing. However, Stafford, with only two years left and no guarantees in the final year, is nearing the end of that deal. On the other hand, Goff was entering the first of a four-year extension that included a fully guaranteed second year of $26.150 million. The difference in contract structure was certainly a factor in the Lions receiving such drastic compensation for the 33-year-old quarterback.

Notice, the Lions restructured Goff’s deal after the trade, resulting in $15 million in 2021 cap savings but $5 million increases to the cap hit in each of the 2022, 2023, and 2024 seasons. This was likely a calculated move due to the deflated 2021 salary cap and the expected boom in the seasons to come.  

In another trade involving a 2016 1st round quarterback, the Eagles severed ties with Carson Wentz for a conditional 2022 2nd round pick and a 2021 3rd rounder – which was flipped in order to help the team move up 2 spots in the first round of the 2021 draft to select Devonta Smith. The fractured relationship between Wentz and Philadelphia is well documented and a divorce made sense for all parties involved. However, like Goff, Wentz had yet to play a snap on the new years of his $128 million extension, of which $66.5 million was guaranteed at signing.

Additionally, the 2022 2nd round selection that the Eagles received only becomes a 1st round pick if Wentz hits certain playing time percentages in 2021 – a metric that is completely out of the Eagles’ hands and could fail with one snap decision by Indy’s management to bench the quarterback or a season ending injury, which Wentz is no stranger to.

The other two trades involved the Carolina Panthers and first year general manager Scott Fitterer. After signing Teddy Bridgewater in the 2020 offseason, the Panthers decided to bring in the much-beleaguered Jets quarterback, Sam Darnold, in exchange for a 2021 6th round pick and two 2022 picks – a 2nd and a 4th rounder. This move signaled the beginning of the end in Carolina for Teddy, who was moved just 3 weeks later to Denver in exchange for a 2022 6th round pick.

If you’re confused by the movement of all these players, have no fear. I’ve included a summary of each deal below to put everything into perspective.

Los Angeles RamsMatt StaffordDetroit LionsJared Goff
   2021 3rd (#101)
   2022 1st
   2023 1st
Indianapolis ColtsCarson WentzPhiladelphia Eagles2021 3rd (#84)
   2022 2nd*
Carolina PanthersSam DarnoldNew York Jets2021 6th (#226)
   2022 2nd
   2022 4th
Denver BroncosTeddy BridgewaterCarolina Panthers2022 6th

*Conditional; could become a 1st if Wentz plays in 75% of the Colts’ total offensive snaps or if Wentz plays 70% of the Colts’ total offensive snaps and the Colts make the 2021 season playoffs

Stafford and Goff are both former 1st overall picks. Wentz is a former 2nd overall pick. All three were playing on deals that were top 5 in total value among quarterbacks when signed. Bridgewater was no slouch himself in the business of football, having signed a three-year $63 million deal ($33 million of which was guaranteed at signing) in the 2020 offseason. Darnold was the only one of the five who did not force their former team to take a dead cap hit of $17 million or more by trading him, and that is only because he is still on his rookie deal.

II. Deshaun Watson

Looking at these five quarterbacks in comparison to Deshaun Watson, it is evident that the Texans could get far more than what the Lions got in exchange for Matt Stafford – overlooking Watson’s potential legal complications.

First, Stafford was already 33 years old when he was traded. In comparison, Deshaun Watson is just 26 and entering the prime of his career – making his situation more akin to Wentz, Goff, and Darnold.

However, those three vastly underperformed in the year prior to leaving their former teams. In 2020, Wentz put up career lows in passer rating and yards as well as career highs in INTs and sacks in just 12 starts. Similarly, Goff threw for career lows as a full-time starter in TDs and adjusted completion percentage on balls thrown over 20 yards in the air, a metric tracked by ProFootballFocus. He also regressed significantly in passing yards from 2019. Lastly, the former Jet threw for more INTs than TDs, was sacked a career high 35 times, had a career low passer rating, and won only two games in 12 starts.

On the other hand, Watson’s 2020 season was the best of his career, throwing for career highs in yards, TDs, and completion percentage while also nearly cutting his 2019 INT total in half. Not only were these figures career highs, but his 4,823 passing yards led the league. He did all that without his favorite target, Deandre Hopkins, after he was traded to the Cardinals in the offseason.

Watson’s statistics also exceed Stafford’s in every category – and most importantly, in the run game. Watson has proven to be a better passer when comparing the three seasons prior to (potentially) being traded. However, in the modern-day NFL, having a quarterback who can both throw with accuracy and have the ability to take off and run is of increased importance. That is exactly what Watson is. From 2018 through 2020, the only quarterbacks with more rushing yards than Watson were Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen. Likewise, only Matt Ryan and Pat Mahomes topped Watson in combined passing and rushing yards over that period.

On top of being one of the best dual threat quarterbacks in the league, Watson is one of the best deep ball passers in the league, ranking 3rd in adjusted completion percentage on balls thrown over 20 yards in the air in 2020 and 1st in 2019 among quarterbacks who threw at least 50 such passes. Keep in mind, all of this 2020 success took place with Brandin Cooks (in his first season with the Texans) and oft-injured Will Fuller as his top targets.

If that wasn’t enough, Watson is under contract through the 2025 season when he’ll be just 30 years old. That gives the team who trades for him the rest of this year and four more seasons with Watson under contract.

III. Trade Value

Now, determining what a player’s worth is in draft capital is much more difficult than determining how much he should be paid. There are many schools of thought – none of which are perfect. The three most popular include the draft pick value chart’s devised by Jimmy Johnson, Jason Fitzgerald and Brad Spielberger, and the football analysis website ProFootballFocus (PFF). Each of these charts have their own methods of analyzing the weighted trade value of all 250+ draft picks, yet they’re all means to the same end – trying to calculate the true trade rate of some of the most valuable commodities that NFL team’s control.

TeamTraded AwayTraded ForJimmy JohnsonFitzgerald-SpielbergerProFootballFocus
Detroit LionsMatt StaffordJared Goff   
  2021 3rd (#101)966610.194
  2022 1st+4201,0380.390
  2023 1st++1907790.246
SUM  706 (#26)2,478 (#3)0.830 (#10)
Philadelphia EaglesCarson Wentz2021 3rd (#84)1707550.237
  2022 2nd*+ OR 2022 1st+190   420779   10380.246   0.390
SUM  360 (#54) OR 590 (#32)1,554 (#18) OR 1,793 (#11)0.483 (#35) OR 0.627 (#19)
New York JetsSam Darnold2021 6th (#226)12530.055
  2022 2nd+1907790.246
  2022 4th+344810.109
SUM  225 (#73)1,513 (#19)0.410 (#45)

*Conditional +Value equal to the 16th pick in the following round ++Value equal to the 16th pick in the second round following the round the pick is actually in

A future year’s pick declines in value (similar to the time value of money) and is considered for draft value as a mid-round selection in the round following that in which the selection is actually in. Additionally, if a pick is two years down the line, it is valued as a mid-round pick two rounds following. This is why the Lions received less than the equivalent of two mid round 1st round picks in the 2021 draft across all three methods.

In fact, the Lions only received the equivalent of the 26th overall pick according to the Jimmy Johnson chart, the 3rd overall pick according to the Fitzgerald-Spielberger chart, and the 10th overall pick according to PPF’s metrics. There is obviously a large disparity from the Jimmy Johnson chart to the other two. The same discrepancy holds true in both the Eagles and Jets trades. Even so, this analysis proves just how important it is to get picks upfront rather than waiting for them due to their rapid depreciation rate.

Analyzing the 2021 trades above we see that the Lions clearly got the most draft capital measured by each of the three value metrics – not even including the value that Jared Goff carries.

Considering that Watson is seven years younger than Stafford, under contract for an extra three years, and drastically outperformed the ex-Lions quarterback, Watson’s trade value could be more than two times what Stafford’s was. If this is true (and not taking into account the potential legal issues that Watson faces) then the Texans could expect to receive a package including 3-4 first round picks – especially if they are in future years – as well as multiple day two selections.

The team’s public demands do not look as outlandish now as they did before conducting this analysis. Still, given the rumors about Watson’s off field conduct, it may make more sense to structure this deal in way that is more similar to the Wentz trade, predicating which round selections will be given up depending on his play time percentage or roster status. If that is that case, Houston will likely push for more picks in order to raise the total value of the deal in the case that the playing time criteria is not met.

Only time will tell if a team is willing to take a shot on the fifth-year quarterback (who could be facing a league suspension or even criminal punishment) but if they do, Houston’s return would likely be like everything in Texas – much bigger!