We have rarely, if ever, seen a situation in NFL lore like the one unfolding in Houston between the Texans and Deshaun Watson. Watson is not only a young and extremely talented player at the most important position in football, he also signed a gigantic extension less than a year ago that would theoretically keep him in Houston through 2025. Teams bend over backward to keep a player like Watson happy. People lose jobs for their inability to do so. Why the Texans are not doing that and how they got to this spot is still confusing to everyone.
While there hasn't been much movement on that front over the last few days, a trade still remains a likely possibility. Watson is mad, the team knows he's mad, and internal discussions are taking place about what a trade might look like. If a trade does go down, the haul will be massive. It has to be. Watson will transform any team he joins into a perennial playoff contender and become the face of that franchise. That quality of player does not go for cheap, and Houston would rather have an unhappy Watson than anything less than an offer of the highest order.
Initially, I took this as a literal statement, and disagreed. A Watson trade would definitely be titanic and bigger than any trade in recent NFL history, but Ricky Williams was once traded for literally an entire draft's worth of picks and then some. In terms of the sheer quantity, a potential trade partner would not be willing to give up nine (as the Saints did for Williams) or more draft picks. They would try to settle for something like three or four and add actual players into the mix, which the Texans could find tenable should the players be good enough.
But what Greenberg means is that it will be the biggest in every other sense of the word, a monumental shift in the landscape that has never happened like this before. He may very well be right. The biggest contender to Greenberg's argument is probably the Herschel Walker trade.
The Walker trade is defined as the biggest in NFL history with a combined 18 players and draft picks changing hands between the Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys, and San Diego Chargers. At the end of the day, the Cowboys got four players and eight draft picks (including three first-rounders) for Walker. Dallas also gave up a pair of third-round picks and a 10th-round pick, which apparently still existed in 1990.
Walker was good but never brought the Vikings a Super Bowl. The Cowboys used all those draft picks to build a dynasty that dominated the decade. With those picks, Dallas engineered trades to select Emmitt Smith, Darren Woodson, Kevin Smith, and Russell Maryland. Emmitt Smith would go on to lead those Super Bowl teams and go down as one of the greatest running backs in NFL history, while the other three were cornerstone pieces during the franchise's dynastic run to three Super Bowl titles.
That trade sent the Cowboys into the stratosphere of NFL lore. It will be a while before we learn if the Watson trade will have a similar impact. It will take years for the Texans to use all the picks they would be likely to receive. But a dynasty could be kick-started on the other side of the deal, depending on where Watson wound up. He's good enough to overcome whatever shortcomings a trade would cause for his incoming team.
But until any of that happens, the Walker trade will go down as the biggest in NFL history. It paved the road for one of the NFL's great dynasties to rise from the ashes. Unless that happens, the Watson trade will be certainly one of the biggest and most game-changing transactions in football history. But not the biggest.