The Cleveland Browns finished their meeting Tuesday with Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson as the leadership team of the AFC North franchise made their recruiting pitch to the three-time Pro Bowl passer, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
The Browns’ leadership team attempted to convince Watson that he should waive the no-trade clause in his $156 million contract for them one day after he met with the New Orleans Saints and the Carolina Panthers, according to sources.
Browns finish meeting with Deshaun Watson, Falcons up next on Wednesday
This marked Watson’s third meeting this week and followed the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers traveling to Houston to meet with him on Monday, per sources. And the Atlanta Falcons, the team Watson used to be a ball boy for as a teenager growing up in Gainesville, Georgia, are set to meet with him Wednesday, per league sources.
The Falcons entered the Watson sweepstakes a bit late but are an intriguing option given their proximity to family in his hometown and the presence of assistant coach T.J. Yates, who played and coached for the Texans.
The Falcons’ situation is complicated due to the presence of veteran quarterback Matt Ryan. Ryan’s contract has been agreed upon for a restructure to lower his salary cap figure from $48.7 million to $36.7 million, but it hasn’t been processed with the league. Ryan could be traded, but he does have a no-trade clause, so it could get dicey.
There is now an offseason NFC South competition between the Saints, Panthers, and Falcons to try to land one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the NFL and the top player available in the league on the trade market.
Who will ultimately acquire Deshaun Watson?
The Texans won’t grant permission for any team to meet with Deshaun Watson unless they’ve submitted a trade proposal. That’s so time isn’t wasted in case Watson waives his no-trade clause.
The Texans want three first-round draft picks, a package of other draft capital, and, potentially, players in exchange for Watson. Houston has exchanged contract proposals with the Saints and Panthers and will see which teams Watson waives the no-trade clause for in his $156 million contract, per sources. It amounts to a collaborative process.
Watson is expected to prioritize teams that are best positioned to win a Super Bowl, share his vision for how to orchestrate an offense, have talented personnel, and are a culture fit, according to league sources. Watson is expected to conduct his due diligence, just as the teams are with him.
New Orleans Saints
In particular, the Saints are an attractive destination with the presence of wide receiver Michael Thomas, running back Alvin Kamara, and a solid offensive line. Many sources have characterized the Saints as a leading candidate for Watson, with others calling it a wide-open process.
One player that sources predict would be part of a potential Saints trade is offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk. Offensive guard Cesar Ruiz is another player that sources indicate could be part of a trade. Defensive end Marcus Davenport, defensive tackle David Onyemata, and center Erik McCoy are other logical players that bear watching in a potential trade, sources said.
Because the Saints’ first-round draft pick in 2022 is 18th overall, the Texans would want that selection along with 2023 and 2024 first-round picks in addition to second-rounders.
The Panthers remain firmly in the mix and have made aggressive trade offers, per sources. The Panthers are in desperate need of a quarterback upgrade. Panthers owner David Tepper has done significant work personally on this situation and is “all-in” on Watson, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
The Panthers have been enamored with Watson, who passed for a league-high 4,833 yards with 33 touchdowns and 7 interceptions in 2020, for over a year. Tepper even hired an investigator to come to Houston to do a thorough look into his legal issues, per sources.
Other than the Eagles, whose general manager, Howie Roseman, contacted Watson’s attorney Rusty Hardin last year and sent an investigator to Houston before moving on from the situation when it became known that Watson wasn’t inclined to waive his no-trade clause for the NFC East franchise, no NFL team has conducted as much due diligence as the Panthers.
The Panthers have the No. 6 pick in 2022, and the Texans own the third overall selection. Sources say the Panthers would be unlikely to trade Brian Burns or Jeremy Chinn, but other players that could be involved in a potential Watson deal are wide receiver DJ Moore and running back Christian McCaffrey.
If the Texans traded Watson to the Browns, which isn’t regarded as the most likely scenario, sources said they wouldn’t want Cleveland starting quarterback Baker Mayfield as part of the deal.
The Browns aren’t sold on Mayfield as their starter and could look to trade him to another team even if they don’t acquire Watson. According to PFN Insider Tony Pauline, that team could be one in the AFC South if Mayfield has his way.
Grand jury decision has increased trade talks
Since Watson’s legal victory last Friday when a grand jury declined to charge him after nine criminal complaints alleging sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior during his massage therapy sessions, his trade market has skyrocketed.
That legal clarity set a fast pathway for Watson to move on with his career in another NFL city. In return, the Texans will gain the necessary draft capital and players to accelerate their rebuilding efforts.
“A total game-changer,” a source said. “It’s a victory for Deshaun. It’s a win for the Texans, and it’s a win for the NFL teams that want him. This is huge. There are a ton of teams interested.”