There is no real comparison across all major sports to the value of a franchise quarterback. As the NFL has become increasingly passing-oriented, it has become virtually impossible for a top quarterback, especially a young one, to be available via trade or free agency. Deshaun Watson is an invaluable player any team would be lucky to have.
After having one of the greatest college careers in recent history, Watson departed from Clemson for the NFL draft in 2017. When some questioned whether Watson’s game would translate to the NFL, his college head coach, Dabo Swinney, gave him illustrious praise, stating if teams “pass on Deshaun Watson, they’re passing on Michael Jordan.” As the twelfth overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, almost every team (except for Kansas City) likely regrets not heeding Swinney’s advice.
Within just a few years of being in the NFL, Watson has established himself as one of the league’s best players. With 4823 passing yards, 36 total touchdowns, a 70.2% completion percentage, and just seven interceptions, Watson continuously lit up defenses this past season.
Watson is one of just two quarterbacks in NFL history to ever throw more than 4500 yards at a completion percentage over 70% in a single season, joining Drew Brees in 2011. Dozens of other statistics could be added here, but the point remains the same: Deshaun Watson, at only 25, is an elite quarterback.
Not only did Watson have one of the best seasons in NFL history in 2020, but he did so without much help. His best receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, was traded in the offseason to the Arizona Cardinals in what is already regarded as a horrible trade for Houston. Finishing at 4-12, it is scary to imagine how bad Houston would have been if not for Watson’s heroics, but equally frightening for opposing fans to imagine what Watson could do with better pieces around him.
Now, with Watson seeking a trade, the question becomes how much teams should be willing to give up for Watson. Obviously, teams will not completely tear their rosters apart, but the real answer should be basically whatever, and whoever, Houston wants. You can likely count the players on one hand who are more valuable than Deshaun Watson, excluding Patrick Mahomes.
Many teams will cling to their first-round draft picks and miss out on Watson, but first-round picks are never a sure thing. Of the 22 quarterbacks selected in the first round between 2009 and 2016, only one remains with the team who drafted him. Furthermore, that quarterback, Carson Wentz, was benched late last season and is expected to be traded imminently.
In 2017, Kansas City and Houston found tremendous value in the first round with Watson and Mahomes, but they could have just as easily ended up with a player like Mitchell Trubisky, who was selected before either of the two stars by the Chicago Bears.
Trubisky was also benched this season and was expected to be replaced by Wentz or another quarterback in the offseason. Think of first-round quarterbacks like the mystery box in Family Guy: they could be anything — they could even be Deshaun Watson! Recent history, however, demonstrates first-round quarterbacks are likely to falter in the league, and it would be miraculous to find one close to Watson’s ability.
Trading for Watson locks in the quarterback position of any franchise for the next 10-15 years; all other needs can be filled in from there, but arguably the most important piece will be completed.
Say a team sells the farm for Watson. Even without any number of draft picks, they would now be in a prime position to contend for titles for over a decade. That team’s coaching position, if not already satisfactorily filled, will immediately become one of the most attractive in the NFL, as the incoming coach would not have to worry about suffering from subpar quarterback play.
Additionally, the rest of the roster can then be filled out with the knowledge of who will play quarterback. The value of having your franchise quarterback secured cannot be overstated; it makes the salary cap far easier to figure out and gives the GM a clearer picture of how long he has to form a championship-caliber roster. Watson immediately gives any team a massive title window.
Conversely, Houston has indescribably failed as an organization and looks to be the laughing stock of the league for years to come as Watson thrives elsewhere and they continue to look for a new quarterback. Whichever GM has the guts to go get Watson will be making the best decision of his career, regardless of the price.
Austin Barish is a sophomore in the College. The Armchair Analyst appears online every week.