Last Friday, a grand jury ruled that Deshaun Watson would not be criminally charged for the sexual misconduct lawsuits brought against him by over 20 women. This does not clear Watson of any wrongdoing but assures none of the suits will be heard as criminal cases. Watson will not face jail time and any suspension levied by the NFL onto Watson will take the ruling into account.
The news has reinvigorated trade talks for Watson. Any potential trade partner will still face numerous questions about their decision to bring Watson aboard despite the civil suits still in progress, but apparently the grand jury ruling was enough to get the ball rolling again. Watson has a no-trade clause and thus still plays a significant role in deciding where he'll play next. His camp will meet with interested teams in the near future and a trade before this year's draft feels more likely than ever.
Watson still has all four years of his $156 million contract left, and his on-field talent is enticing enough to draw the interest of any team without a starting-caliber QB despite the off-field issues. The price to acquire him likely remains the same-- as many as three first-round picks and additional assets in the form of quality talent. Here are three possible destinations for the quarterback.
New Orleans Saints
Watson's camp plans to meet with New Orleans soon and the reasons why the Saints are interested are obvious. Jameis Winston is a free agent coming off a torn ACL, Sean Payton retired and with him went any belief that Taysom Hill can be a starter for a playoff team, and Tom Brady's return means the division once again belongs to the Bucs until further notice. New Orleans is entering a new era and don't have a quarterback on the roster to lead it. It's not a good spot to be in.
The biggest obstacle for any trade here is the Saints' cap situation, which is once again very bad and will require a lot of maneuvering before the team can even legally sign their draft picks. But every year we wonder how they'll do it and then they do it, so it probably isn't a legitimate worry. If the Saints strike a deal for Watson, they'll figure out the money. The roster is ready to win games at a steady clip with a good QB under center, assuming Michael Thomas is ready to go and can boost a pretty bad WR room. Watson could be the final piece.
The Panthers are the other team Watson and his people will meet with soon. They've long been a popular landing spot for the Pro Bowl quarterback, and for good reason. Watson played his college ball in the region. The Panthers' QB struggles were the main storyline for the team last year. Matt Rhule knows as well as anybody that he has to show results this year otherwise he'll be shown the door. Carolina is desperate enough to give up anything the Texans want and have enough young talent to put together a very competitive package.
The big question is if they can convince Watson to waive his trade clause. The Panthers have not been good in a half-decade. Their offensive line is terrible and Rhule has not exactly shown signs that he can coach a competitive team to contention. The roster is already pretty weak across the board before taking into consideration who the Panthers would have to trade to get Watson and the opportunity cost of giving up a load of draft picks. If Watson agrees, it's probably a no-brainer for the franchise. But it's a bigger if for the Panthers than anybody else in the running for Watson.
The Seahawks just landed four high draft picks, two good young players, and Drew Lock in exchange for Russell Wilson. They could use those assets to rebuild what is currently a pretty bad roster. Or! They could pivot to using them to acquire Watson. Pete Carroll is 70 years-old and doesn't have time for a prolonged rebuild. The receiving corps is probably the strongest position group in the building, which will undoubtedly be appealing for any potential QB. As Wilson has proved over the last few years, the formula in Seattle is simple-- if a star QB is under center, Carroll can coach up the rest of the roster to playoff contention. If not, they are a bad team.
It's a tried-and-true formula, but it also demonstrates why it might be tough to sell Watson on Seattle. The team's success will ride entirely on him. They are in a very competitive division with the reigning Super Bowl champs and two other playoff teams. The Seahawks may also struggle to muster up an enticing package for the Texans if Houston isn't in love with the assets acquired from Denver. The Seahawks have a more recent history of established success and better stability than the other two teams on the list, but aren't going to be capable of putting together a better offer than those other two teams.