One of the most bizarre sagas in NFL history continues to loom as the 2021 NFL Trade Deadline nears. Prized but now embattled quarterback Deshaun Watson continues to be in trade rumors as the Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers flounder. With recent reporting that Carolina is on his approved short-list, the Panthers must be viewed as a viable landing spot.
But should the Panthers make the trade for Watson? Miami shouldn't, based on the fact they've mishandled Tua Tagovailoa so badly, but Carolina has shown more competency.
The Texans have been asking for the moon in return for the 26-year-old playmaker, according to ESPN. A package of high draft picks and players are the demanded price, and it makes sense as long as Watson’s legal situation plays out favorably for the former Clemson Tiger.
That legal situation being, of course, Watson is the subject of 22 civil suits that accuse him of coercive and lewd behavior. No criminal charges have been filed yet. The NFL has thus far opted against placing Watson on the commissioner’s exempt list, which would essentially serve as an administrative suspension until the league decides Watson is again eligible to play. There are multiple directions this saga could go depending on investigations and the NFL can serve punishment regardless of what happens in court.
It’s clear the Texans want a haul in return for Watson even if he misses time in 2021 after a trade or in 2022 after litigation. Locked into a new five-year, $156 million deal, Watson is considered a long-term asset. He’s one of the top-seven quarterbacks in the league and will change a franchise upon his arrival.
The Panthers are an especially intriguing fit because they have a young, athletic roster and solid coaching staff in place. This team is ripe for a playmaking passer and are good enough to justify giving up multiple future assets for Watson since they don't have to rebuild.
Sure, Carolina may have just moved a second-round pick and fifth-round pick for Sam Darnold, but the former No. 3 pick has given zero indication of long-term potential. Darnold came with numerous on-field issues that have not been improved thus far, including shoddy accuracy and questionable decision-making. His fit with ascending offensive coordinator Joe Brady never made sense considering Darnold's issues playing within structure and making pre-snap reads.
Darnold's first-half stats en route to his benching this past week tell the story of his struggles. He completed 63% of his passes for a paltry 85 yards and an interception. His inability to read defenders' leverage and anticipate their trajectory has tanked the passing game.
And it's an especially talented group of playmakers who are being wasted by inept QB play. That wouldn't be the issue with Watson under center, though.
Head coach Matt Rhule has a track record of success with a variety of passers throughout his career. Watson should be impressed with the coaching quality and the overall build of the roster.
Receivers D.J. Moore, Terrace Marshall Jr., and Robby Anderson complement running back Christian McCaffrey (when healthy) and tight ends Tommy Tremble and Ian Thomas on this young but well-suited offense. No team would boast the same athleticism except the Baltimore Ravens. The Panthers would be a matchup nightmare on a weekly basis.
Watson would immediately make the Panthers strong NFC contenders once they're healthy. He likely would have been traded already if not for the pending legal issues since the league office has been inconsistent with his situation. The timeframe for any movement, either in the legal system or by the league, makes everything more confusing.
Will Watson be placed on the commissioner's exempt list if he's activated to the gameday roster, or will the league simply wait for the legal system before making a move? Are criminal charges coming from the alleged victims, or will it continue to be a civil issue? The burden of proof must be met to elevate the charges.
Every team thus far has been hesitant to meet Houston's high price tag despite some reporting from the Texans' beat writers that things are heating up. Teams know the price, and Houston knows teams need clarity. That stare-down will only be resolved if Houston accepts some stipulations on draft picks or if the league can give some assurances about a possible suspension.
Barring a shocking contender like the Cleveland Browns getting involved, the Watson trade market should only include the Panthers and Broncos. Miami would be making a mistake mortgaging their shaky future for a great quarterback but not one who would fix all of their problems. The Panthers make the most sense considering their franchise makeup, his ties to nearby Georgia and Clemson, and ability to compete now and in the future.
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