If you're a professional sports team, it's not easy keeping up in the race for buzz-worthiness in Houston these days. The Houston Astros are off to one of their best starts in the history of the franchise, and are the betting favorites to make it to the World Series out of the American League. The Rockets, despite tearing our souls apart in overtime on Tuesday night, have had an unexpected return to prominence. Hell, even the Dynamo are just a couple of points out of first place!
The Houston Texans, God bless 'em (and I say that as an employee of their flagship station, as much as anything, but I am also a fan), fired the biggest buzz-gap closing salvo they could in draft season, finally investing significant draft capital in the quarterback position by trading up to take Clemson's Deshaun Watson. Immediately, a quarterback depth chart that was in the bottom two or three (or one) all of last season got a B-12 shot, to the point where more than a few teams are probably openly or semi-secretly jealous of the Texans' quarterback situation.
How many constitute "a few"? Great question! And I think the best way to answer that is simple — by asking each of the other 31 teams, "If the Texans called you to swap quarterback depth charts, who says 'NO'?"
Now, for purposes of this exercise, when I say "trade depth charts," I mean trade EVERYTHING that comes with that depth chart — the players, their contracts, the future dead cap money, their crazy girlfriends, the whole nine yards.
So let's do this, the QB depth chart swap game and "Who says NO to a swap with the Texans?" (keeping in mind all 31 other NFL teams would say NO if Brock Osweiler were still the starter)...
THE "NO's" (17 teams)
I count a total of 18 teams that would (and should) say "NO" to Rick Smith's generous offer of Deshaun Watson a rookie contract, Tom Savage in a contract year, and fun-loving Brandon Weeden as the third string for that team's corresponding QB depth chart. Let's put these teams in stages, degrees of "NO," if you will....
"Rick who? Rick Smith? Take a message, tell him I'm busy..." (7 teams)
Remember in Wall Street when Bud Fox is trying to get past the gatekeeper secretary just to talk to über-wealthy Gordon Gekko for five minutes? Well, there are seven "Gekkos" in this exercise:
1. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Starter Tom Brady and backup Jimmy Garoppolo (with competent third stringer Jacoby Brissett) form the most perfect depth chart at quarterback since Joe Montana and Steve Young in the early ’90s.
2. GREEN BAY PACKERS
When he is on his game, his A+ game, there is no better quarterback on the planet than Aaron Rodgers. He could be backed up by a pregnant hippo, and the Packers would still say "NO" to the Texans.
3. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
Russell Wilson has been to two Super Bowls, won one and is the smartest dual threat quarterback not named "Rodgers."
4. ATLANTA FALCONS
Matt Ryan is the defending league MVP and proof that eventually "purgatory QBs" can break through and carry a franchise. He is about a half dozen horrific Kyle Shanahan play calls away from being a Super Bowl champion. (Also, Matt Schaub is part of this depth chart!)
5. PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Roethlisberger is probably one or two more years from bumping into a tier of the "NO" side of the equation that requires a little more thought and analysis, but for now, he is still a no-brainer to keep.
6. OAKLAND/LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
Derek Carr is about to become the highest-paid player in football...
7. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
...surpassing Andrew Luck.
"We like our young guy..." (5 teams)
Here are five teams who would prefer to ride or die with the quarterback that they drafted in 2015, 2016 or 2017:
8. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Once Carr inks his extension, Jameis Winston will be the best quarterback still on his rookie deal and a future Super Bowl champion and MVP. He might throw for 5,000 yards this season with the weapons the Bucs have gotten him this offseason (DeSean Jackson, O.J. Howard).
9. TENNESSEE TITANS
Durability has been an issue, but Marcus Mariota has proven that the transition from a Chip Kelly-style offense to a pro-style smash mouth can be done.
10. DALLAS COWBOYS
Who has two thumbs and told you the Texans should have drafted Dak Prescott even AFTER they signed Osweiler? THIS GUY...(I am pointing at myself, that's what I'm doing there...)
11. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Carson Wentz looks like he's going to be a pretty solid pro. He lived up to the hype for enough of his rookie year to keep a strong "HOLD" grade on him.
12. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
The Chiefs are here in part because Alex Smith can win enough games to keep you in the mix now, but more on the strength of Patrick Mahomes's potential. His ceiling, from a tools standpoint, is higher than Watson's, but his floor is much lower, too. Coming from the Texas Tech "Air Raid," it's hard to project how he progresses. He could completely tank.
"Don't tell our old QB we talked to you...but no thanks" (3 teams)
At some point, quarterbacks reach an age where you have to be honest with yourself on just how long they give you to compete for a Super Bowl. These three teams push the limit of this evaluation:
13. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
14. NEW YORK GIANTS
15. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Three teams, two of whom have won Super Bowls with their veteran quarterbacks, that would probably ask if they could call Smith back while they go diligently scour some Watson film, but ultimately decide to circle the wagon one last time with their aging star quarterbacks. Just nobody tell Philip Rivers, Eli Manning or Drew Brees that their teams took Smith's call. They may not like that.
"After a night of thinking and drinking a little bit..." (2 teams)
The two for which I had to think for more than 60 seconds:
16. DETROIT LIONS
17. CAROLINA PANTHERS
Two teams with highly paid, former No. 1 overall picks. I don't think either team would come close to saying "YES" to Smith on his offer. However, if their GMs are any good, they would at least analyze it and realize that there is an argument for a "YES" that can be cobbled together. For the Lions, they're about to commit to an extension to Stafford that will put him among the highest-paid quarterbacks (with all the future cap clogging dead money that comes with it), and he's never won a playoff game. That matters, right? For the Panthers, Newton is a season removed from an MVP and a Super Bowl appearance, but the concussions, the physical toll of his style of play, and the fact that Watson played his college ball up the road at Clemson would all factor into a discussion, right? I just don't think these two quarterbacks fit the "no brainer NO" category.
THE YES's (14 teams)
Okay, now which teams SHOULD say "YES" to Smith's proposal if he were to come knocking? (To be clear, Smith is most certainly not dim enough to call some of the teams to discuss the proposed swap, but for our purposes, we are pretending he calls all 31 other NFL teams.) We do this in categories where the emphasis of the "YES" descends with each tier...
"Where do I sign?" (5 teams)
Merely listing the names of the quarterbacks on each of these five depth charts should be enough evidence that they should say "YES" to Smith without flinching
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1. NEW YORK JETS: Josh McCown, Bryce Petty, Christian Hackenburg
2. SAN FRANCISCO 49ers: Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley, C.J. Beathard
3. MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Sam Bradford, Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater (injured)
4. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Blake Bortles, Chad Henne, Brandon Allen
5. CLEVELAND BROWNS: Cody Kessler, Deshone Kizer, Kevin Hogan, BROCK OSWEILER!!
"Sure, I'd love a do-over on our QB depth chart..." (3 teams)
6. LOS ANGELES RAMS
Jared Goff, 2016's No. 1 overall pick, looks like a complete mess. It wasn't a great look when, on Hard Knocks, he didn't know how to huddle in training camp.
7. DENVER BRONCOS
Paxton Lynch, 2016's first-round pick for the Broncos, is set to begin training camp behind former seventh-round pick Trevor Siemian again. Not good.
8. CHICAGO BEARS
I wonder what it was like being Bears GM Ryan Pace the day after Day 1 of the draft. Did he wake up telling his wife, "Honey, I had the weirdest dream...that I mortgaged the Bears' future to move up one spot for a quarterback who started 13 games for North Carolina...it was terrible....wait, WHAT?!? THAT HAPPENED?!?!? NOOOOOOO!!!!!!"
"If only we'd lost one more game last season..." (1 team)
9. ARIZONA CARDINALS
I think if Watson were there at the 13th pick, the Cardinals would have taken him. A season of Carson Palmer might be worth swapping for your new future QB.
"YES, get me out of purgatory...." (5 teams)
These are the five toughest decisions of the "YES" category, as these teams' current quarterbacks are just good enough to guarantee you a loss in the first round of the playoffs (if that):
10. BUFFALO BILLS
The Bills should have thought about drafting Watson with the tenth pick before they traded out to let the Chiefs take Mahomes. Their commitment to Tyrod Taylor is basically two years before the dead money becomes negligible.
11. MIAMI DOLPHINS
The 2017 season is the last in which Tannehill's contract carries significant dead cap money. The Dolphins can eject from Tannehill for just a $4.6 million cap hit after this season. While Tannehill and the Dolphins made some progress in 2016, Tannehill feels like his ceiling is somewhere around Andy Dalton's. Speaking of which....
12. CINCINNATI BENGALS
Dalton's postseason record is well documented — he is 0-4. On top of that, you can practically set your watch to his performance year to year. In most seasons, Dalton did just enough to beat the teams the Bengals were supposed to beat, and lose to better teams. The problem for the Bengals is the roster is not getting MORE talented. The core is aging. For a quarterback who is the poster child for "needs all other position groups around him to be nearly perfect," Dalton may have already seen the best of the Bengals' supporting cast with him on the roster.
13. WASHINGTON REDSKINS
The Redskins are about to pay Kirk Cousins more than $24 million on his second franchise tag. They seem to have no desire to sign him to a competitive long-term extension. There's no way they sign him to a third franchise tag of nearly $30 million in 2018, so trading Cousins (and the others) for Watson (and the others) would allow the Redskins to reset with a young QB on his rookie deal.
14. BALTIMORE RAVENS
Yes, I know Joe Flacco has won a Super Bowl. However, we have enough evidence now to confidently assert that his 2012 postseason run, which was incredible (11 TD's, 0 INT's), was a complete outlier. The Ravens have missed the playoffs three out of the last four seasons. On top of that, Flacco carries MASSIVE dead cap money hits through 2019, when he will be 34 years old! If you could offer the Ravens a way out of the mundane on-field purgatory and contractual shackles of the Flacco era, a solution that includes Deshaun Watson, they SHOULD jump at it.
CONCLUSION: The mere metaphorical whiff of Deshaun Watson's potential has immediately upgraded the cachet of the Texans' QB room from the bottom of the league to somewhere comfortably inside the top two-thirds. It's not the ultimate destination, but it at least affirms the trade was the right thing to do. Here's hoping we still feel this way after Watson takes his first snaps.
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