The Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Rams got a head start Saturday on what figures to be a frenetic 2021 quarterback market, swapping Matthew Stafford and Jared Goff in a blockbuster deal that also included two first-round draft picks. While there’s a case to be made that both the Lions and Rams are winners of the trade, with L.A. upgrading under center and Detroit loading up for a rebuild, plenty are curious about what this mega-deal means for another potential QB trade — specifically, of Deshaun Watson.
Despite Texans management expressing “zero interest” in dealing its young star QB, more than half the NFL has reportedly inquired about Watson in the wake of the Pro Bowler’s apparent trade request. The expected price tag for Watson, who’s fresh off a career year and just turned 25 before the 2020 season, was already high, if not unprecedented. But now that Stafford, who’s seven years older and openly shopped himself with Detroit’s help, is set to net two firsts and a third-rounder as part of the Goff deal, has Watson’s market value drastically changed? Will the Texans’ demands go up?
This our answer, plain and simple: Yes, but not necessarily as much as you’d think.
Let’s start by dispelling the notion that the Stafford deal is completely incomparable. Some will argue that Detroit only got three picks, including two first-rounders, for the 32-year-old Stafford because it agreed to absorb the remainder of Goff’s $134 million contract — an obvious and all but publicly condemned burden for the Rams. That’s partially true. The Lions’ big haul had as much, if not more, to do with the Rams’ erasure of Goff’s lofty price tag than the Rams’ eye for Stafford. But that doesn’t mean anything to the public eye. The transaction wire does not specify which picks were “dedicated” to unloading Goff and which ones were compensating Stafford’s value.
In other words, even if the Rams would’ve given up just one single first-round pick for Stafford had Goff’s salary dump not been included, the reality is they paid two firsts and a third. And so, justified or not, the Texans can (and, if they’re smart, absolutely will) wave these trade terms in front of anyone calling about Watson. They already had reason to hold out for monster offers for Watson. Now, the surface-level optics of the Stafford trade give them even more reason to do so.
Still, how much more leverage does this give Houston? That’s a tricky question, because, frankly, the Texans still hold all the leverage here. As much as they’ve become a central source of ridicule for NFL fans and media alike, they own their star QB’s rights through 2025. From a public relations standpoint, they’re already derided for their dysfunctional journey to this point. From a financial and team-building perspective, they have no reason to jump at either Watson’s trade request or any trade offers. This is a 25-year-old QB, drafted 12th overall four years ago, coming off a nearly 5,000-yard, 33-touchdown season. He may not be Patrick Mahomes, but he’s not someone for whom you entertain offers, let alone dangle to other teams, even if he doesn’t like your front-office decisions.
But let’s play Watson’s game, because, ultimately, the PR perspective tends to win out in these circumstances. Should he eventually threaten to retire, for example, or go more public with his displeasure, the Texans will inevitably play ball in trade talks. And now we’re back to the question at hand: How much does Stafford’s deal help them? It’s hard to specifically quantify, but we’d venture to say they can milk at least an additional mid-round pick out of another team because of the Lions and Rams swap.
As for what the Texans will demand in general, the Houston Chronicle‘s John McClain suggests the team will want at least two firsts, two seconds and two young defensive starters for Watson. Few teams would likely be willing to go so far, with the New York Jets among the most speculated landing spots, but that price tag sounds about right. In our estimation, it’s most likely that Houston would simply ask for more first-rounders — between three and four, to start — as the base compensation. They wouldn’t have settled for less than a pair of firsts (and plenty of secondary assets) before the Stafford deal, and now, they most definitely won’t.