Deshaun Watson will not face criminal charges for his alleged sexual misconduct and with the most serious aspect of the charges not behind him attention is going to turn to his football career, primarily his trade market and how much it would cost to fit him on a roster.
On the field there are few better QB’s than Watson. He is a dynamic player who helped lead the Texans to multiple playoff appearances. The trade cost for a player of Watson’s stature should be astronomical. We just saw a soon to be 34 year old Russell Wilson traded for two 1st round picks and two second round picks, Noah Fant and a few other pieces. Wilson had two years remaining under contract for $51 million and would then be eligible for a new contract likely in the $40 to $45 million per year range if all goes well.
Watson will be just 27 this season and is under contract for the next four years at a total of $136 million. So not only is he a more attractive player than Wilson but the contract over the four year period should favor Watson over Wilson as well even if it will not look that way in the short term. Given that the majority of uncertainty regarding Watson will now be gone I would guess you could be looking at three first round and three second round picks along with potentially a decent young player as part of a trade in light of the Seahawks haul for Wilson.
For a team to acquire Watson this year they would need to have $35 million to acquire the contract. Right now the only teams who would be capable of doing that are the Colts, Seahawks, Jets, Dolphins, and Jaguars. Plenty of teams can get there including the Lions, Steelers, Raiders, Bucs, Eagles, and possibly the Panthers. A team can restructure Watson’s contract for cap relief after the fact but would need the room, unless Houston picked up some of the cost, to execute the trade.
As it stands right now Watson’s contract has salaries of $35 million in 2022, $37 million in 2023, and $32 million in 2024 and 2025. Those would also be the salary cap charges associated with a team who trades for him. A simple restructure would allow Watson’s 2022 cap hit to be as low as $9.53 million following a trade. Watson’s 2022 and 2023 salaries are more or less guaranteed already, but a guarantee shouldn’t be of any concern for a team making this type of trade commitment as the expectation is to have a relationship well beyond the term of this contract.
Watson, like Wilson, has a no trade clause in his contract so he will likely have a number of teams he can select from to see if they can come to an agreement with the Texans on a compensation package. Given the level of QB play currently in the AFC, if I were in Watson’s shoes I would lean toward playing in the NFC where the path looks much easier to a Super Bowl appearance. I would guess Houston would prefer that as well, though I would not care where he was going if the best offer came from the Colts. The goal should be to get better not worry about how often you have to face him.
The cost on the Texans salary cap if they trade Watson will be $16.2 million on the cap, allowing them to open up $24.2 million in cap space this season while removing his $40M+ cap charge completely from the books in 2023. Since the relationship with Watson is beyond repair trading him clearly gives them the best path to rebuilding the team which was gutted to acquire a few players in 2019 and 2020 with no real thought for the future.
It should be noted that Watson can still be suspended by the NFL. My guess is, given the reporting on the allegations, that he will be. Over a decade ago Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for six games (it was downgraded to four) after accusations of rape. IIRC his suspension was handed down about a week to two weeks after it was determined no criminal charges would be filed. The NFL didn’t act last year on the allegations I can only assume because of the potential criminal charges that would come his way and not wanting to look as if they gave too weak of a punishment in the event his case did go to court. With civil charges still pending and the widespread reporting on the allegations one would think this would have a similar outcome.
While no team is going to want to trade for Watson and lose four to six games this year, that is a very different calculation than the potential of losing Watson for a season or to jail for his career. You could always peg some type of compensation to time played this year as part of the trade if necessary. I don’t think it will in any way get in the way of trading for him let’s put it that way.
I would expect the market to heat up very quickly and the rumor mill to be kicked into high gear starting tonight about how many teams are inquiring about his status.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.