Sean Pendergast

The Big Cautionary Tale In a Possible J.J. Watt Trade

If the Texans are going to move J.J. Watt in a trade, they better cash in on the picks they get back in the deal.
If the Texans are going to move J.J. Watt in a trade, they better cash in on the picks they get back in the deal. Phot by Eric Sauseda
As we all wake up on the Monday morning following the Texans' bye week, here is where the trade market sits with the NFL and the Texans, according to Jason La Canfora of

Dealing superstar defender JJ Watt remains unlikely, sources said, though many other front office executives believe the veteran would be very open to going to a contender at this stage of his career. However, he is a favorite of ownership and that fanbase, has a hefty salary ($17.5M next year) and is unlikely to command the kind of offers it would require for ownership to seriously consider moving him. Defensive end Whitney Mercilus remains the subject of trade talks as well, with numerous contending teams seeking to boost their pass rush by the deadline.

The Texans have four receivers who they would be willing to move, according to league sources: Will Fuller, Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb and Kenny Stills. Fuller has drawn the most interest, while Cobb and Stills have contracts that many teams see as prohibitive. At this point, it would surprise rival general managers if the Texans do not move at least one receiver, while tight end Darren Fells is also drawing some interest and running back Duke Johnson is available as well.
While Will Fuller is on his way to a career year, and thus trading him off for draft capital would be an underwhelming end to a Texans career that, at times, had so much promise, the question on the minds of most Texan fans is "Will they move J.J. Watt?" It's the question that people ask me in the hallway at work, it's the question people ask me when they see me in the lobby of my building, and it's the question that even friends and relatives of mine outside of the city (none of them even Texan fans really!) are wondering.

For what it's worth, Watt is still a really good football player, but he is noticeably NOT the same guy he was before injuries torpedoed three of his seasons and ravaged his anatomy. As you can see from the stats below, provided by Aaron Reiss of The Athletic, It takes Watt several more snaps to generate pressure than it did back in the day:

Now, some of the decline is due to Watt's aging, but some of that is due to the fact that Watt is the only Texan in the front seven who is playing worth a damn. He has no help. I think other NFL teams know this, and there are probably multiple teams out there that might be willing to trade the Texans, say, a second round pick for his services the remainder of this season and all of next season. (NOTE: Watt is under contract for 2021 at a non-guaranteed salary of $17.5 million.)

I don't think a team would be willing to part with a first round pick for Watt, unless there's a team being advised by former Texans GM Bill O'Brien that we don't know about. So getting a second round pick would be considered a win, just based on the valuation of football assets. However, we know there's a lot more that goes into deciding to trade J.J. Watt. There is a lot of emotional equity wrapped up in his career, and the public relations fallout (of which there will undoubtedly be some) must be weighed in.

To that end, I would provide this reminder to anyone getting hyped about recouping a second round pick in next year's draft for the greatest player in the history of the franchise. You all remember the trades involving Duane Brown, Jadeveon Clowney, and DeAndre Hopkins, right? For a refresher, here were those deals, along with the players the Texans drafted with each of those picks in parentheses:

October 2017:
DUANE BROWN and a 2018 5th for a 2018 3rd round pick (RANKIN) and a 2019 2nd round pick (L. JOHNSON)

August 2019:

March 2020:
DeANDRE HOPKINS and a 2020 4th round pick for a 2020 2nd round pick (BLACKLOCK), DAVID JOHNSON, and a 2021 4th round pick

So sum total, here is what three trades collectively sending out Duane Brown, Jadeveon Clowney, and Deandre Hopkins — combined 11 PRO BOWLS — yielded for the Texans:

OL Martinas Rankin
CB/S Lonnie Johnson
OLB Jacob Martin
OLB Barkevious Mingo
CB Gareon Conley
DL Ross Blacklock
RB David Johnson

Combined.... one Pro Bowl, by David Johnson, all the way back in 2016, a season that, for him, might as well have taken place on Mars. These days, he's a shell of THAT version of himself.

So consider this post a warning for two entities. First, for fans out there hellbent on getting any form of draft equity any Texans player, including but not limited to Watt, be warned that eventually those draft picks must actually get used, and more often than not, the Texans have attached underwhelming (or flat out bad) names to those picks. Second, this post is a warning for and a plea to the Texans — please, please, please hire a general manager that knows what the hell he is doing. PLEASE.

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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