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How Deshaun Watson trade request affects the Bengals

The top of the NFL draft hinges on what happens with Watson.

Cincinnati Bengals v Houston Texans Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

A month of heavy rumors has culminated in Deshaun Watson, the 25-year old star quarterback, officially requesting a trade from the Houston Texans.

It’s been reported that Watson has been unhappy with Houston’s ownership since even before the conclusion of the 2020 regular season. Watson is very publicly displeased at chairman and CEO Cal McNair for elevating Jack Easterby—a former pastor that somehow finessed his way into being an NFL executive—into a position of power and influence within the organization. Houston’s ownership ignoring not only their search firm to hire Nick Caserio as their new general manager, but also Watson’s request to interview Eric Bienemy for their head coaching vacancy, has only thrown gas on the fire.

This beef between Watson and McNair and Easterby has lead to Watson officially wanting out of Houston as of Thursday morning, but again, this has been inevitable for weeks now. The team hiring new head coach David Culley was not going to change Watson’s mind.

Whether McNair wants to accept this or not, Watson is infinitely more valuable to him than Easterby is or ever will be. This will not be an easy trade to facilitate because the last thing the Texans want is to be out of a franchise quarterback, the most valuable asset in American sports. But Watson—who signed a multi-year extension with $74 million fully guaranteed and a no-trade clause just last year—holds 100% of the leverage here.

If Watson does not want to play for the Texans, he does not have to. He’s owed just over $45M in guaranteed salary over the next two seasons and already pocketed a $29M signing bonus when he signed the deal. All he has to do is simply not play.

The Texans, on the other hand, cannot rectify this situation without getting rid of both McNair and Easterby, which is just not happening. If they are convinced that Watson will never play for them again, then they should know the longer they wait to trade him, the lower the compensation will end up becoming.

This reality makes Watson being dealt a foregone conclusion. The Texans want fair value for Watson, which is a boatload of picks along with a player or two, and it may be a minute before any team proposes an offer that will legitimately interest them. While that process unfolds, the final compensation will eventually become achievable for any proposing club.

What does all of this have to do with the Bengals? Well, with Joe Burrow still under contract for a few more years, they will not be trading for Watson. That is not the case for a couple teams picking ahead of them in the upcoming NFL draft.

The two favorites to land Watson are the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins. Both teams have two first-round picks in this year’s draft, and they should be looking to upgrade at quarterback. The quarterbacks they have now (Sam Darnold and Tua Tagovailoa, respectively) are both still young and could be offered in the trade so Houston can at least have an immediate replacement for Watson.

If either New York or Miami ends up with Watson, they would’ve definitely given up their top pick in the draft to Houston. The Jets own the second pick with the Dolphins right behind them at the third pick, which was originally given to them by the Texans back in 2019.

And just like that, one of the teams drafting in front of the Bengals are no longer a factor.

The Texans would then be right where they belong inside the top three picks, and who’s to say they won’t look at this year’s quarterback class? Going from Watson to either Darnold or Tagovailoa would be a severe downgrade, so they should absolutely be looking at Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, and any other quarterback who’s not Trevor Lawrence. And if they’d rather trade out of the top five to a team looking to take a quarterback, the result for the Bengals remains the same.

In this scenario, the team that doesn’t end up with Watson would still be likely to target a quarterback, but this may apply more for the Jets, who seem to be Watson’s preferred destination. If the Dolphins acquire Watson, the Jets would still have their pick at quarterback between the non-Lawrence group. The Texans and Falcons could easily follow suit, with the Falcons expected to take a quarterback regardless.

The Jets ending up with Watson would give the Texans the second-overall pick, which would likely end up becoming a quarterback, and the Dolphins may look at other options and attempt to build around Tagovailoa. While this is not completely ideal for the Bengals, the Dolphins would almost surely be the only team to pick a non-quarterback before them, which is better than two teams going that route.

It’s safe to say that Cincinnati should want as much drama in Houston as possible.