Sean Pendergast

Early Favorites Developing to Land J.J. Watt and Deshaun Watson

Deshaun Watson is still a Houston Texan, but teams are lining up to make offers.
Deshaun Watson is still a Houston Texan, but teams are lining up to make offers. Photo by Eric Sauseda
Most of the time, it's fun to live in a city where your NFL team is highly relevant, especially this time of year. If your team is garnering headlines in late February, it means they probably just came off a deep play off run, so it's about happiness, or it means your team is about to do some big things in the draft or free agency, which at the very least, represents hope.

For the Houston Texans, the hyper-relevant state of the franchise has nothing to do with success or hope. The team is coming off a 4-12 season, the opposite of success. The team is not picking in the draft until the third round, the opposite of hope. Oh, and didI mention, J.J. Watt is gone, and Deshaun Watson wants to be gone? Thank God the temperatures soared back into the high 40's this weekend! Kill me now.

So let's do a status update on where the Watt and Watson markets currently stand, starting with the one we KNOW will be playing elsewhere next season, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year, J.J. Watt.

JJ WATT MARKET

For what it's worth, the most emphatic reporting of mutual interest between Watt and an NFL team has come from Mary Kay Cabot, who covers the Cleveland Browns for cleveland.com. It started in the middle of last week, while Houston was hunkering down without power, Cabot was reporting the Browns as an early leader in the race for Watt.


By this weekend, the status was more along the lines of "there remains interest between Watt and the Browns, but they are one of several interested teams." Yeah, no surprise there. More from Cabot:

[The Browns are] still attractive to Watt as he weighs some of his early options because they have the potential to contend for a Super Bowl, they have a good quarterback in Baker Mayfield, and a good supporting cast that includes one of the premier edge rushers in Myles Garrett.

They also have something that many of the other interested teams don’t: money. Compensation is obviously always an essential factor, and Watt wants to get paid in his first swing at free agency.

The Browns, who had the most cap rollover of any team in the NFL this offseason at $30.4 million, currently have about $27.6 million in cap space when factoring in the salaries of their top 51 players, according to spotrac.com.
The Green Bay Packers have been the betting favorite to land Watt, and they made some moves to clear out some cap space last week. However, the Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel insists the Packers are not signing Watt, unless the market for Watt collapses, which is unlikely:

The Packers cleared about $10.25 million in cap space last week by releasing former Browns linebacker Christian Kirksey and offensive tackle Rick Wagner, and many speculated that they did so to sign Watt. But longtime Packers beat writer Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was adamant on Friday that that’s not happening.

“I see where it might look like that, but the #Packers are not going to sign Watt,’' he tweeted. “They have to get under the cap and they have too many others they need to re-sign/extend. Unless the market somehow collapses on him, he’ll sign for way more than GB can pay. It’s not a good match.’'
Ok, now onto Watson...

DESHAUN WATSON MARKET

First, unlike Watt, who has the freedom to move on and explore his next chapter, Watson does not have that luxury. He is under contract for another five seasons, having inked a huge extension in September 2020. The team, as of right now, insists it will not trade Watson. There is a lot more hair on this Watson situation than the clean break with Watt.


For what it's worth, the new leaders in the clubhouse to land Watson appear to be the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers. The Broncos were installed as the betting favorite by Fanduel:

Which team will Deshaun Watson take this next snap with?

Denver Broncos +150
Houston Texans +300
Miami Dolphins +350
Carolina Panthers +400
San Francisco 49ers +500
New York Jets +500
Chicago Bears +1500
New England Patriots +1500
Washington Football Team +1700
Meanwhile, multiple reports over the last week indicate that Panthers owner David Tepper, a hedge fund billionaire before purchasing his NFL franchise, is ready to make a huge run at Watson. From Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports:

Carolina is beyond smitten with Watson and owner David Tepper is fairly consumed by the prospect of landing him and no matter what happens with this transcendent young quarterback (and I still believe he is dealt at some point), the Panthers are going to play some role in the process. They might not be able to secure him, ultimately, and others clearly possess higher draft capital, but when it comes to Watson, Tepper's aim is true and their desire is real.

Tepper, a billionaire's billionaire, has been more patient with this franchise to this point than many had anticipated. But that by no means should fool one into thinking he is a particularly patient man by nature, and the team's front office shake-up last year is certainly indicative of that. The Panthers are entering their second year under coach Matt Rhule, and Tepper is ready and eager to spend to try to have his bottom-10 club (5-11) make significant gains after mostly just tinkering and tweaking and trying to rebuild through the draft to this point.
A trade with the Panthers would send Watson back to the part of the country where he was a hero to college football fans, having won a national championship for the Clemson Tigers in 2016. For the Texans, a trade with either the Panthers or the Broncos would not net them a top three overall pick in the upcoming draft, like a deal with the Jets or Dolphins likely would, but both teams have some intriguing, young defensive players that, in addition to multiple draft picks, could jumpstart a Texans rebuild.

For now, though, particularly on the Watson situation, we wait.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast