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How 49ers could acquire Deshaun Watson, who reportedly may request trade



© Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

They (probably) won’t.

This article could probably end right there, because Watson is a 25-year-old, top-five quarterback in his prime with five years remaining on his deal and on a team about to hire a new head coach (after hiring a new general manager in Nick Caserio) who will be hired, likely in large part due to his ability to build a team around him.

Watson is the Houston Texans. Let John McClain, longtime Houston area reporter tell you.

But, Watson is very clearly unhappy with the team right now.

The source of the rumors that Watson might leave stems from the disappointment of the 2020 Texans season, in which they went 4-12 after trading away Deandre Hopkins for… David Johnson, and conveyed that third overall pick to the Miami Dolphins. Watson and teammate J.J. Watt walked off the field dejected after the final game, and Watt apologized to Watson for wasting one of his years.

Watson then tweeted (and later deleted) cryptically on Tuesday night, about an hour after the Caserio hiring was announced, “some things never change….” The source of Thursday’s increased Watson speculation is a spurious report from ProFootballTalk, which states, all too cautiously:

“Rumors already are circulating, and we’ve already heard them from multiple different people, that Watson has quietly broached with teammates the possibility of requesting a trade. If that’s happening, it may just be a strategic effort to ensure his views are respected by ownership. Regardless, it raises the stakes and crosses a bridge and potentially sets the foundation for Watson eventually to decide that he’d like to continue his career elsewhere.”

Again, there’s no coach in place in Houston. But, let’s say Watson really does request a trade, and not just as a bargaining chip for the team to acquire assets and avoid, as Watt said, another wasted year. How would that work?

While Watson’s deal is rich, the cap hit for Houston for trading him would “only” be $21.6 million in his prorated bonus money in 2021. The rest of that money has later guarantee dates which the team trading for him would take on. Here’s what his deal looks like:

As far as a trade is concerned, he would only cost the acquiring team $10.54 million in 2021. That’s a ludicrously favorable figure. His cap number would drop by $5.4 million every year except in 2025 (no prorated guarantee) in a trade, meaning he’d cost the following to an acquiring team:

  • 2021: $10.54 million
  • 2022: $35 million
  • 2023: $37 million
  • 2024: $29.3 million
  • 2025: $32 million

That’s actually a shockingly reasonable deal. His cap hits would only be guaranteed through 2023. That doesn’t matter all that much because no team will cut him, but it is an easy avenue for later restructures and cap savings.

This is all to say, not only is Watson one of the league’s best quarterbacks, but his deal is surprisingly team-friendly to whoever acquires him.

What would it actually cost to acquire him? NFL reporter Benjamin Allbright seemed to suggest that he’d talked to someone within the Texans organization and that three first-rounders and three second-rounders with a player attached “might start the conversation.” It’s an entirely vague report, but that starting price sounds reasonable.

You’re not acquiring Watson with anything less than that. Three first-round and three second-round picks is a requirement, unless Caserio is fundamentally horrible at his job. Even in Houston, that would be a shock.

Still, the speculation is entertaining.

Tyrann Mathieu, who played with Watson in 2018, said the 49ers, as well as the Saints and Bears, should look into trading for Watson.

If he is indeed available, what is too much? For a 49ers team with a core that’s mostly set, and who would be acquiring a quarterback with a massively friendly contract figure in a projected down cap year in 2021, is three firsts and three seconds really that outrageous of a price?