The New Orleans Saints met with Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson for the second time Wednesday night.
They are working hard to try to convince him to waive his no-trade clause to facilitate a trade to the NFC South franchise, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
The decision is expected to come down to the Saints and the Falcons, whom sources are characterized as the leaders for Watson.
Watson has not made a decision and is still weighing his options as he weighs this major decision on which team to waive no-trade clause for, according to a league source.
Deshaun Watson met with Saints and Falcons
Watson met with Saints owner Gayle Benson and other team officials in Atlanta after meeting with the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta, according to sources.
Multiple sources predict that Watson will ultimately choose between the Saints and the Falcons. The Cleveland Browns have been informed they’re no longer under consideration for Watson and, meanwhile, Baker Mayfield has requested a trade and informed that the team will not grant that request, per league sources.
Saints general manager Mickey Loomis has been characterized by league sources as “determined” and “aggressive” in his efforts to land Watson. The Saints simultaneously cleared enough salary cap space to acquire Watson’s four-year, $156 million contract that includes a $35 million guaranteed salary this year. New Orleans would likely convert Watson’s salary into a signing bonus to create additional salary cap space.
Saints players, including wide receiver Michael Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara, are actively recruiting Watson to get him to come to New Orleans. Thomas’ downfield presence could be akin to the connection Watson had with former Texans All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins before the Arizona Cardinals traded for him.
When might the deal go down?
No trade is imminent at this time, per league sources, and Watson will have to waive his no-trade clause before a deal can be struck. It could all happen fast, though.
Watson, 26, led the NFL in passing yards two seasons ago before not playing for the Texans last year while being paid a $10.54 million base salary. Now that a grand jury in Houston didn’t indict him on any charges after allegations of sexual misconduct led to 10 criminal complaints, the pathway is clear for him to be traded.
In particular, the Saints are an attractive destination with the presence of Michael Thomas, running back Alvin Kamara, and a solid offensive line. Many sources have characterized the Saints as a leading candidate for Watson.
One trade proposal that could unfold, if a deal is worked out with the Saints, would be three first-round draft picks, other draft capital, and potentially a player. One player that could be part of a Watson trade that league sources characterized as a potentially strong fit is offensive guard Cesar Ruiz, a former first-round draft pick from Michigan.
Another player that sources predict would be part of a potential Saints trade is offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk. Defensive end Marcus Davenport, defensive tackle David Onyemata, and center Erik McCoy are also 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 more draft capital.
Details of the Falcons’ meeting with Watson
The Falcons rolled out the proverbial “red carpet” for the Georgia native at their Flowery Branch headquarters, making an impressive presentation about their vision for him as their potential franchise quarterback.
It’s a powerful draw for Watson — playing near his hometown of Gainesville, Ga. for the franchise he grew up working for as a ball boy and idolizing his friend and mentor, former star quarterback Michael Vick.
Whether Watson ultimately chooses the Falcons or opts for the team regarded as a leader for his services — the New Orleans Saints — remains the biggest plotline of the NFL offseason. Watson is one of the most dynamic players in the game regardless of position and is the top player available via a trade in the league.
The Falcons’ meeting followed previous meetings and trade proposals from the Browns, Saints, and Carolina Panthers with the three previous ones conducted in Houston, according to league sources.
Insight into the Falcons’ trade interest
The Texans want three first-round draft picks, additional draft capital, and perhaps a player or two. The Falcons hold the eighth overall pick of the first round in addition to a pair of second-round selections: No. 43 overall and No. 58 overall. One player league sources theorize that could be part of a prospective trade with the Texans is Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell, a tall outside corner.
The Falcons entered the Watson sweepstakes a bit late. But they 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. Falcons senior director of football administration Chris Olsen was with the Texans when former general manager Rick Smith orchestrated a trade to land the former Clemson star. The presence of tight end Kyle Pitts is also among the pluses of the Falcons’ roster.
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.
Besides the Falcons and Saints, what other teams are in the Watson sweepstakes?
There is now an offseason NFC South competition between the Saints, Panthers, and Falcons to try to acquire Watson, the NFL’s passing yardage leader from two seasons ago.
The Texans wouldn’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 didn’t want to waive his no-trade clause if he didn’t like the team Houston was negotiating with. Thus, it all amounts to a collaborative process.
Coming into the process, Watson was 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.
The Panthers 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. He 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 seven 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 sixth overall 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 D.J. Moore and running back Christian McCaffrey.
The Cleveland Browns were eliminated from consideration after meeting with Watson previously in Houston, according to league sources.
Sources say that the Browns aren’t sold on Mayfield as their starter and now they will have to either move on from him or repair their relationship.
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.”