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Deshaun Watson trade: Should the Giants make a bid?

Why the Giants should throw their hat in, and why they probably won’t

Tennessee Titans v Houston Texans Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting that the Houston Texans have found their next head coach, but star quarterback Deshaun Watson is done with the Texans and has formally requested a trade.

So what does this have to do with the New York Giants? Why should they be interested? Well, I’m here to play apostate and say that there are very few teams in the NFL that shouldn’t be interested in Watson.

Why the Giants should be interested in Watson

Yes, the Giants reaffirmed their commitment to Daniel Jones after the 2020 season, but this is an opportunity to get one of the very best young quarterbacks in the entire NFL. While he hasn’t had the success he deserved, Watson’s play this year was on par with the only two passers still playing football.

It is difficult to put into words just how bad a position the Texans put Watson in over the last couple years. But with Bill O’Brien assuming power over the Texans roster and doing his best (worst) Bill Belichick impression, the Texans went from a play-off contender to a punch line. But despite Watson losing one of the very best receivers in the NFL (DeAndre Hopkins) and being saddled with the worst pass protecting offensive line in the NFL (9.5 percent adjusted sack rate per Football Outsiders), he was still just outside the top five quarterbacks in terms of EPA and and completion percentage over expected (CPOE).

Outside of garbage time (defined here as when your team has a less than 10 percent, or more than 90 percent win probability) Watson ranked sixth in the NFL in the EPA/CPOE composite, just 0.003 behind Tom Brady. He lead the league in completion percentage above expected with +6.5 percent above his expected completion percentage. Second is Aaron Rodgers at +6.0 percent, but Watson also averaged nearly 2 more air yards per target (9.1 to 7.3). With Nuk Hopkins on the Arizona Cardinals, Watson’s best receiver was the well-traveled Brandon Cooks with 1,150 yards per game and 6 touchdowns.

Jones came in at 25th of 26 quarterbacks with more than 330 plays outside of garbage time, with a composite of 0.036, an EPA per play of -0.039, a CPOE of -1.3 percent, and an average of 7.1 air yards per target.

The fact of the matter is that Watson has quietly been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and always has been.

Coming into the league, Watson averaged 8.5 yards per attempt 7.19 adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A, which accounts for touchdowns, sacks, and interceptions), and a QBR of 83.5. This past year, with that bad pass protection and no Hopkins, Watson completed 70.2 percent of his passes for 4,823 yards, 8.9 yards per attempt, 33 touchdowns to 9 interceptions, and an ANY/A of 7.64.

For comparison, Jones has averaged 6.6 yards per attempt in both of his seasons, with ANY/As of 5.5 in 2019 and 5.35 in 2020.

Why won’t the Giants make a bid?

So why won’t the Giants make a bid? Two reasons.

The first is that they’re the Giants. Big, bold actions like making a blockbuster trade for a quarterback like Watson simply isn’t in their D.N.A. They have always preferred the slow and steady consistency to splashy moves, even if fortune might favor the bold.

(It does bear mentioning that the last time they made a bold trade for a franchise quarterback, it was Eli Manning and netted them a pair of Super Bowl trophies)

The other reason is that they will probably look at what they have to offer, and believe that the price tag is too steep.

And yeah, Watson is not going to be cheap. Proven 25-year-old franchise quaterbacks can’t possibly be cheap. I’ve seen suggestions that it would take four (4!) first-round picks to get the deal done, and something like that could set the Giants back significantly and deny them the ability to build around Watson going forward.

Then there’s also the money aspect.

Watson signed a four-year, $156 million contract extension that gives him a $15.94 million cap hit in 2021 and a cap hit of over $40 million in each of 2022 and 2023. While the Giants have very few players under contract past 2021 and could absorb the cap hit in 2022 and beyond, they can’t absorb his 2021 cap hit.

As things stand now, the Giants have (approximately) 194.5 million in active contracts. The problem is that with the NFL’s salary cap set to contract this year, the Giants will likely have to shed contracts simply to sign their rookie class. The team could even find itself under water if the cap contracts as much as some fear — Spotrac estimates that the Giants’ adjusted salary cap could be as low as $179 million.

In that case, the Giants wouldn’t just have to release Nate Solder and Golden Tate, but also Kevin Zeitler to maybe make Watson’s contract work. And even then the economics would be tight.

So what could a trade look like? Well, here’s my guess:

  • 2021 first-round pick
  • 2022 first-round pick
  • 2022 second-round pick
  • Daniel Jones (former first rounder, and a QB to fill Houston’s void)
  • Saquon Barkley (former first-rounder, and another $4.9 million in cap savings)

That’s a hefty price tag, and one at which the Giants would likely balk. But what would you do? Could you try and talk the Texans down based on Watson’s contract? Is getting an MVP candidate quarterback worth that price tag?