It appears Deshaun Watson's time in Houston is rapidly approaching its end. Months after the team traded away star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans' quarterback is now reportedly fed up with the organization after a 4-12 season and its handling in hiring new general manager Nick Caserio.
Less than five months removed from signing the second-biggest contract in NFL history (four years, $177.5 million, including $111 million guaranteed), the Texans might be shopping their star. But where could he go? Obviously all but a handful of teams would want to open the door on a 25-year-old franchise quarterback. Who has the draft capital and the cap space to do so... that's another story.
Here are the six teams likeliest to land Watson in 2021 and beyond.
6) Indianapolis Colts: Indianapolis has stayed afloat since Andrew Luck's shocking retirement, going 11-5 this year with Philip Rivers under center. He, however, was only signed through 2020 and the Colts have the need and the cap space (nearly $69 million, second-most in the NFL) to take on Watson's monster contract. The draft capital is the biggest hindrance - they'll pick 21st this year and, assuming the defense remains one of the league's best, they won't be bad with Watson for the next few years, meaning they'd likely fall outside the top-20 in future drafts.
Then, of course, there's the added cost that would probably come with dealing Watson to an AFC South rival. From a competitive standpoint it would immediately turn the Colts into a Super Bowl contender, but the price just might be out of reach.
5) Houston Texans: While a messy divorce looks highly possible, realistically there's a non-zero chance Watson remains with the team that drafted him in 2017. For starters, Houston would be taking on a massive amount of dead money if they traded him - according to Spotrac, $67.1 million is the estimated number. That alone is reason enough to try and keep Watson around. But the off-season is barely two weeks old. Maybe wounds heal this summer, no real trade partner pops up, and come Week 1 next year he's under center again in H-Town.
4) New England Patriots: The Cam Newton experiment looked great for two weeks, then fell apart as New England missed the playoffs at 7-9. Alas, the Patriots weren't tied long-term to the quarterback position, and are in a great spot to nab Watson. They have $59 million in cap space free for this summer, and have only $23 million in contracts nailed down beyond 2022. In other words, they could completely rebuild their team around the 25-year-old Watson. They'd have to give up a couple of first-rounders to do it, but then again they haven't hit on a first-round pick since 2012 anyways.
3) San Francisco 49ers: Everything that could have gone wrong, did in 2020 for the reigning NFC champions. Decimated on both sides of the ball by injuries, the Niners stumbled to a 6-10 finish and the 12th pick in the draft... and it might be perfect. If they were to go for Watson it would mean the end of the Jimmy Garoppolo era, as they could save $23.4 million and eat only $2.8 million in dead money by cutting him. So despite a relative lack of cap space (just $23 million) they have the financial flexibility.
They have a decent 2021 draft pick to giveaway, and would have to give up another handful of good picks alongside it. But when everyone is healthy the team is a year removed from leading in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. Watson could only help the cause.
2) New York Jets: The Jets are in a weird spot. They have a new head coach in Robert Saleh, a hire that came with near-universal praise. They have the second overall pick in the draft, which they could use to take Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, or Trey Lance. They also have a year left on Sam Darnold's rookie deal to see if he truly can take the leap.
Those are all reasons not to go after a Watson type... and they aren't as good as the reasons to go after Watson. They have the cap space (an estimated $63 million this summer), they have the draft capital (they have two first round picks in both the 2021 and 2022 drafts) and, of course, the need. Plus, they could recoup some of those picks by moving out of the No. 2 spot and/or trading Sam Darnold. While it's fun to think about the potential of a Fields or someone else, Watson is a proven commodity.
1) Miami Dolphins: The Bills look to be the new class of the AFC East, and everyone else is trying to close that gap. Miami looks to be in the best position to do so, as they look to continue an increasingly upward trajectory under Brian Flores.
They have a little bit of cap space (about $25 million) but might have to move some pieces to make things work for 2021 and 2022. They own valuable pieces: namely, Houston's first- and second-round picks in 2021 (Nos. 3 and 35 overall) and a young quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa. But most importantly, reports are out that Miami would be Watson's preferred destination. Add all of that together and the Dolphins could essentially get a proven franchise quarterback for the cost of... giving Houston its own draft picks back.