By Pete Baxter
Rumors have swirled throughout the NFL offseason regarding Deshaun Watson’s future. It was reported in January that Watson had officially requested a trade from the Houston Texans. This was immediately following the team’s hiring of new General Manager Nick Caserio.
This followed a season in which Watson led the league in passing, putting up 4,823 yards and 33 touchdowns for an otherwise abysmal Texans team. From the get-go, Houston brass was adamant that they were not trading their superstar quarterback.
Just two months later, Watson found himself embroiled in a shocking legal situation. He is currently facing 22 active civil lawsuits from women accusing him of sexual misconduct. This, of course, made his situation in Houston considerably more complicated.
Finally, with teams reporting for training camp, the Texans seemed to have changed their tune. Watson’s personal quarterback coach Quincy Avery told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Friday that he is “100% sure” that Watson will be traded in the near future. It has been reported that bidding for Watson is expected to start at three first-round draft picks.
Needless to say this is an unprecedented situation. We have never seen a superstar quarterback in his prime become available. Watson is just 25 years old and is widely considered to be a top-5 quarterback in the NFL.
Over the past month, rumors have arisen that the Philadelphia Eagles are among the most likely possible destinations for Deshaun Watson should he be dealt. Peter King has been quoted saying the Eagles are “likely to be in play” for a Watson deal. Adam Schefter reported on the John Kinkade Show that he believes the Eagles are “more equipped to make a run at DeShaun Watson than any team out there.”
These reports have been met with mixed reactions from Eagles fans. That said, I cannot warn the Eagles enough to steer clear of the disaster that is the Deshaun Watson situation. The negative impact of completing a blockbuster deal for Watson would far outweigh the benefits of bringing on the embattled star quarterback.
Let me begin by saying that this article is not a criticism of Deshaun Watson’s skill or his undeniable superstar ability. Watson is a top-5 quarterback in the NFL. As noted, he led the league in passing last season, while also completing over 70% of his passes. Additionally, he rushed for an impressive 444 yards and 3 touchdowns.
He achieved this while being the second-most sacked quarterback in the NFL behind a disastrous offensive line. He had also just lost his top weapon in DeAndre Hopkins in a lop-sided trade to Arizona. Watson overcame massive adversity to achieve his third consecutive Pro Bowl season.
Unfortunately, one great player, even a quarterback, is not enough to overcome a bad roster and a bad front office. From top (owner Cal McNair and executive VP/motivational speaker Jack Easterby) to middle (since-fired head coach Bill O’Brien) down to the players on the field, the Texans were a disaster last season. Along with Watson’s trade request, Houston legend J.J. Watt also requested his release from the team during the offseason after the Texans finished just 4-12.
The Eagles, meanwhile, rivaled Houston in terms of dysfunction last year. The Eagles finished a deeply disappointing 4-11-1 in 2020. This atrocious campaign led to the dismissal of head coach Doug Pederson, who had won a Super Bowl just four years earlier. It also led to the team cutting ties with their former franchise quarterback and former MVP candidate Carson Wentz.
Not unlike Watson’s situation in Houston, there was a notable disconnect throughout the season between the coach and the front office. The dysfunction came to a head in week 17, in which the team appeared to blatantly tank the game by benching quarterback Jalen Hurts in the second half of their matchup against the Washington Football Team for no clear reason.
A Bad Fit
So, from Deshaun Watson’s perspective, in moving from Houston to Philadelphia, he would be moving from one dysfunctional, rebuilding team to another.
While the Eagles have marginally more talent than Houston on paper, the cost to acquire him (three first-round picks and most likely an assortment of talent) would only further set back the Eagles ability to rebuild a winning franchise.
Similarly, and somewhat ironically, the benefit of acquiring a superstar quarterback such as Watson would, ultimately, prevent the Eagles from being able to build a winning team around him. Let’s dig a bit deeper into this concern:
The Eagles cannot afford to hand over three first-round picks to the Texans. This is especially true if they want to build a winning team around their quarterback. The Eagles have an impressive 10 draft picks in 2022, including two first-round and two second-round picks.
These picks can be vital in helping the Eagles fill the remaining holes on their roster heading into 2022. They could potentially acquire their linebacking core of the future and add depth to their defensive backfield. Names like Adam Anderson of Georgia, Derek Stingley of LSU, Kayvon Thibodeaux of Oregon, and Kyle Hamilton of Notre Dame are just a handful of highly touted defensive standouts expected to fly off the draft board in 2022.
The Eagles invested in their offense this season with number 10 pick Devonta Smith and are widely expected to improve on offense with the development of Jalen Hurts. If they are able to utilize their future draft capital to invest in their defense heading into 2022, they could find themselves with a top-10 defense along with a young, fast-paced offense just a year from now. This could fast-forward the rebuild in Philadelphia and help them climb back into relevance within the next two years.
Without these picks, Deshaun Watson leads a team with a mediocre-at-best defense and an offense with questionable talent at multiple skill positions. Neither the team nor the quarterback win in the long or short term if the Eagles pull the trigger on a Watson deal.
Additionally, Deshaun Watson is among the highest paid players at his position. While he is only set to make $10.5 million in 2021, his salary skyrockets to $35 million in 2022. Having one player take up such a massive percentage of a team’s salary cap is a clear disadvantage.
It is no secret that teams make a strong push to build a winner while their star quarterbacks sit on a rookie deal. This allowed the Kansas City Chiefs to build a juggernaut during Patrick Mahomes’ early years. The same was true of the Seahawks, who could afford to construct the “Legion of Boom” while Russel Wilson took home less than $1 per season in salary.
The Eagles are currently in a perfect situation to follow that same template for success. Second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts is set to make a base salary of just $883,871 in 2021, $1,082,744 in 2022, and $1,331,616 in 2023. This gives the Eagles a huge level of financial flexibility to build around Hurts, should he continue to develop into their franchise quarterback.
Without this flexibility, should they take on Watson’s massive contract, the Eagles will struggle to surround Watson with anything more than a mid-level supporting cast. Just look at the Seahawks, who despite Russel Wilson turning into a top-5 quarterback himself, have been unable to replicate their past success since he received his well-deserved pay bump.
Tom Brady has become the winningest quarterback of all-time with seven Super Bowl rings in large part due to his willingness to sign team-friendly deals. The Patriots (and now Buccaneers) have had the financial flexibility to build winning rosters around their star quarterback, while other teams have not.
The Eagles therefore have significantly higher potential of building a true winning team with the young quarterback they have in-house than they would by bringing in Deshaun Watson.
The Legal Situation
Lastly, there is far too much risk involved with acquiring Deshaun Watson at this time due to his ongoing legal case. There is no clear answer at this point as to how much time Watson will face in terms of suspensions. However, it is entirely possible that Watson miss time into 2023.
There are rising concerns that Watson could be placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List for the 2021 season, as his civil cases aren’t expected to go to trial until after next year’s Super Bowl. This would essentially suspend him for the season with pay.
Then, should Watson be found guilty by the courts, he would face his formal suspension, which could potentially take him out of football into 2023.
While this may be a worst-case scenario, it is still far too risky a situation for the Eagles to pursue. The Eagles, nor any other team, should invest their future in a player who could miss the next two seasons (or worse). The Eagles would be sacrificing multiple drafts for a player that may never even see the field in Philly.
Additionally, this is all focusing on the potential on-field damage done by this deal. It goes without saying that, if Deshaun Watson is found guilty of sexual misconduct, there is a deep moral dilemma involved. Is this the man you want as the face of your franchise and the leader in your locker room?
While it is not fair to assign guilt to the man until the civil cases play out, it is fair to include Watson’s legal woes and apparent questionable decision making when weighing the pros and cons of acquiring the player.
The Eagles should stay put and keep out of the Watson sweepstakes. They have a talented young quarterback in Jalen Hurts who has already shown the poise and leadership ability to lead this team through their current rebuild. He is a low-risk, high-reward player who gives the Eagles the flexibility to build a winning team around him.
Giving up their next several drafts for a player in Deshaun Watson’s current situation would be franchise suicide for an organization coming out of their most dysfunctional year on record.
I say stay away, Eagles. Stay far away.
More to come from Philadelphia.