Deshaun Watson has requested a trade from the Houston Texans. Despite signing a lucrative extension last year, he’s absolutely right in doing so.
The Houston Texans haven’t been smiling much this offseason. They were on Saturday night.
It was then the Los Angeles Rams and Detroit Lions executed a true blockbuster deal. Detroit sent 32-year-old quarterback Matthew Stafford to Los Angles. In return, the Rams relinquished first-round picks in 2022 and ’23, a third-round choice this April, and quarterback Jared Goff.
You thought the price for Deshaun Watson was high before? It’s even larger now.
Detroit secured three top-100 picks and a legitimate starting quarterback for Stafford, who while talented, isn’t anywhere near the value Watson is. Watson is 25 years old, a top-five quarterback by any measure, and he’s signed for five years (Stafford is only inked through 2022).
Hours before the Goff deal, I reached out to three current or former general managers (who are currently in personnel roles with different clubs) and asked a simple question: If they were in Texans GM Nick Caserio’s position, what would be the minimum offer for Watson to warrant their attention?
One source said three first-rounders, or a pair of firsts with a Day 2 pick and a good player. Another texted back he would need three first-rounders and a legitimate player. A third responded “A lot,” saying he wouldn’t need a trio of firsts but there would have to be a litany of assets in play.
Again, this was a few hours before Stafford was sent to Los Angeles. Suffice to say, the price has gone up.
Of course, while the Texans gained leverage over other teams in a potential Watson deal, they need to execute it.
One source who has spent decades in the league recently expressed his serious concern about the men running the football operation, and how Watson has been utilized to essentially prop up a flailing franchise.
“I know this, I’ve been in the league a long time. I don’t even know (Executive Vice President of Football Operations Jack) Easterby. He could walk in front of me and introduce himself on the street and I wouldn’t know him. Everyone I know says he’s not a football guy. He’s been put in a position he can not handle. and I guess this is who the owner leans on.
And Nick (Caserio) is a great guy but he’s not a public relations guy. He’s going to hold his cards close, so from that standpoint it’s a weird hire. Who’s the face of the organization? It has to be Watson, and that’s a bitch because he can’t be that guy during the regular season. He’s a football player.”
With Watson holding a no-trade clause and simultaneously scrubbing his social media accounts of anything Texans-related, it’s clear this won’t be a simple solution. Watson wants out and can dictate where he goes, but if the Texans aren’t getting enough from his preferred destinations, a protracted standoff appears in the offing.
Theoretically, Houston can hold onto him, as Caserio stated was his intention during head coach David Culley’s introduction, saying they “have zero interest in trading the player.” The Texans could dig in and basically tell Watson he’s signed for five years, and he’s either playing in Houston or nowhere.
Yet teams don’t like wasting assets, and they certainly don’t like being dragged through the muck by them. If Watson continues distancing himself and having his representation voice his displeasure through leaks, Caserio and Easterby may want to cut ties and start fresh, knowing both have significant leeway with ownership.
All told, Watson being dealt is still a labyrinth of decisions, offers and discourse from being done. But the haul secured by Detroit for Stafford drives up the price on Watson, giving the Texans a rare good moment in a brutal winter.
Top 10 teams by cap space entering 2021 season (based on $176M cap)
1. Jacksonville Jaguars ($73 million)
2. Indianapolis Colts ($64.9 million)
3. New York Jets ($63.9 million)
4. New England Patriots ($57.3 million)
5. Washington Football Team ($35 million)
6. Cincinnati Bengals ($32.4 million)
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($24.4 million)
8. Miami Dolphins ($23.7 million)
9. Los Angeles Chargers ($19.7 million)
10. Cleveland Browns ($17.9 million)
Few teams are in a tougher spot financially than the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger’s willingness to help the team is significant, although even with it, general manager Kevin Colbert will has a Herculean task ahead.
Colbert will attempt to improve despite negative cap space and a free-agent list including edge rusher Bud Dupree, corners Cam Sutton and Mike Sutton, left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, running back James Conner and nose tackle Tyson Alualu among others.
On Sunday, Tom Brady will be playing in his 10th Super Bowl. That’s as many appearances than the entire AFC South (4) and NFC South (6) combined to this point.
Info learned this week
1. Rams trade of Jared Goff continues troubling trend for Les Snead
Los Angeles Rams general manager Les Snead and head coach Sean McVay spoke to the media last week. On the subject of Goff, McVay said he’s the team’s quarterback “right now.”
In NFL speak, that translates to “until we can do better.” It didn’t even take a week.
Los Angeles was already over the cap prior to acquiring Stafford, and now sits $50 million above the projected threshold after eating $22 million in dead money for Goff. All this, and the Rams won’t be getting cheap, premium talent for the next three years after dealing away their 2022 and ’23 first-round picks (the ’21 pick belongs to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Jalen Ramsey).
Snead paid an obscene amount for Stafford because of his inability to pay correctly. Goff was signed to a then record-setting extension — $110 million guaranteed — after three seasons.
Two years later, Snead desperately wanted out of the pact and needed to give Detroit a bevy of choices to rid himself of the issue. This comes one year after releasing running back Todd Gurley and taking on $20 million in dead cap over this campaign and next, after he was also signed to a record extension three seasons into his career.
Los Angeles, barring a trade, won’t have a first-round pick for seven consecutive years. It is capped out with a good-but-not-great roster. Oh, and Stafford has two years left on his deal, and if the Rams don’t extend him, they’ve given up everything for what exactly? When the sides meet at the bargaining table, Stafford has ample leverage.
The Rams needlessly cornered themselves, and they paid — and will continue playing — dearly.
2. Bills have some tough decisions ahead, starting with Matt Milano
The Buffalo Bills had a dream season, cut short in the AFC title game. Now, the tough decisions.
General manager Brandon Beane has done a terrific job building a once-forgotten outpost into a contender, but this offseason poses tough questions. With star quarterback Josh Allen likely to get a mammoth extension some point before training camp, the Bills need to earmark a substantial amount of cap space, both this year and moving forward, to retain him.
With other big contracts on the books with corner Tre’Davious White, tackle Dion Dawkins, center Mitch Morse and receiver Stefon Diggs, Beane needs to be judicious. All this means come free agency, the Bills are in a tough spot with star linebacker Matt Milano.
Beane talked about his hopes of retaining Milano, all while maintaining a realistic perspective.
“We’d love to be able to get Matt back. He knows that. I shared that with him and I’m sure Sean has as well. The business side matters. He wants to and he’s earned the right to go to free agency and see what his market bears.
“We’ll do our best to retain him and as many guys as we can. We just don’t even know the numbers yet and what it’s going to be. There’s going to be some tough decisions unfortunately for us, whether it’s letting guys go on this roster or having to watch guys leave.”
Per source, Milano is looking for top-dollar at his position. Although he’s without Pro Bowl or All-Pro accolades, Milano has been a playmaker and culture-maker. The fourth-year man has racked up 101 tackles in 2019 and then 3.5 sacks and win hits in 2020, while providing quality coverage. He’ll have a strong market.
Beyond Milano, Buffalo has to look at three-time Pro Bowl returner Andre Roberts, veteran guard Jon Feliciano and right tackle Daryl Williams and assess what offers should be made.
Beane and the Bills have some very tough, important decisions to make in the coming weeks.
3. Chiefs could be rebuilding almost their entire offensive line in 2021
After the Super Bowl, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach has work to do.
Kansas City doesn’t have a litany of high-profile free agents, but the offensive line is a major question mark.
Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz has been sidelined with a back injury since Week 6, and there’s a real chance he retires once the season ends. Left tackle Eric Fisher tore his Achilles tendon in the AFC Championship Game, and the Chiefs save $12 million of much-needed cap space by releasing him before the final year of his current deal.
Finally, center Austin Reiter, tackle Mike Remmers and guards Kelechi Osemele and Stefen Wisniewski are free agents.
Veach does have guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and rookie tackle Lucas Niang coming back from the COVID-19 opt-out list. Beyond them, though, only starting guards Nick Allegretti and Andrew Wylie (RFA) are the notable returnees.
The Chiefs will be favorites to win Super Bowl LVI, but Patrick Mahomes’ wall needs attention.
4. Don’t listen to nonsense, Aaron Rodgers doesn’t want out of Green Bay
Green Bay Packers fans shouldn’t worry about Rodgers.
This season, the Packers were 13-3 and the NFC’s top seed before being upset in the conference title game. Rodgers had an MVP season. However, he did it with one receiving threat who kept opposing defensive coordinators up at night. Outside of Davante Adams, there’s little in the way of Pro Bowl-esque talent on the outside.
It’s easy to forget now, but last offseason was full of criticism for general manager Brian Gutekunst. The Packers could have drafted an elite receiving prospect, but traded up for backup quarterback Jordan Love. With no disrespect meant to Love, he’s likely sitting on the bench for the majority, if not entirety, of his rookie deal. It was, and remains, a bad use of resources.
Additionally, Rodgers had to be furious with not being given a chance on fourth down when trailing 31-23 with under three minutes remaining from the Tampa Bay 8-yard line. Regardless of analytics, it’s borderline indefensible to kick a field goal in that situation. Green Bay has one of the NFL’s generational talents under center, and took the ball out of his hands.
Rodgers being annoyed in his postgame presser was understandable. It wasn’t about getting out of Green Bay, as he reiterated on his weekly appearance of The Pat McAfee Show. Instead, it was realistically a frustrated 37-year-old knowing his best chance might have slipped away.
5. Ravens early moves point to continues run-first strategy in ’21
On Friday afternoon, the Baltimore Ravens and tight end Nick Boyle agreed on a two-year extension. Boyle, 27, is seen as the premiere blocker at his position by many in the league, and is now on his third contract despite having 120 receptions and four touchdowns for his entire career.
Baltimore general manager Eric DeCosta has spent resources in recent years on fortifying the run game and building a blitz-heavy personnel group defensively. While the future is uncertain for edge rushers Yannick Ngakoue and Matt Judon, the offense is already seeing an investment in Boyle and the retainment of coordinator Greg Roman, who installed RPO-laden scheme Lamar Jackson has thrived in.
After losing to the Bills in the AFC Divisional round, there’s been considerable talk about whether the Ravens need to open up their offense.
However, Jackson’s skill set doesn’t appear to be fit for a wide-open passing attack, and the continued commitment to Boyle and Roman suggest we won’t see an overhaul in the strategy ad structure of the offense.
Super Bowl LV. Kansas City is essentially on the road against Tampa Bay, and yet the Chiefs are 3.5-point favorites in most books.
Lay the points. Kansas City’s defense — specifically the secondary — is one of there underrated units in the league. Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will blitz freely, believing his corners and safeties can hold up without help.
While the Bucs’ defense can get pressure and slow Mahomes, is that enough? He’s 25-1 in his last 26 starts. It should be a very good game, but take Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Nelson Agholor has a point.
On Thursday night, The Athletic posted a story about the Las Vegas Raiders receiver going off in the postgame locker room following a stunning Week 16 loss to the Miami Dolphins, which finished off any postseason hopes.
Agholor reportedly exploded on his team, saying his teammates sucked while also labeling them quitters with no accountability being found in the building. This might have been directed at the players, but it starts with head coach Jon Gruden.
Gruden, not general manager Mike Mayock, runs the show in Vegas. He’s on a 10-year contract. He’s on the billboards. He’s the face of the franchise, and the one each player sees and hears from on a daily basis.
Over the last two seasons, the Raiders have started out well. In 2019, Oakland was 6-4 before going five of its last six to finish 7-9. This campaign saw a 6-3 mark, but again, five losses in six games spelled doom. Ultimately, the talent was good enough to make an early push, but the lack of consistency and focus led to ugly endings.
Agholor, a pending unrestricted free agent and Super Bowl champion with the Philadelphia Eagles, made his feelings known.
Now the Raiders must decide how Gruden — who isn’t going anywhere anytime soon — can fix it.
Inside the league
Technically, NFL free agency begins on March 17. In reality, it’s already underway.
Normally, the league calendar is made a farce of at the NFL Scouting Combine, which usually covers the end of February and start of March. Teams and agents talk in hotel rooms, steakhouses and bars to get a jump on free agency, exchanging numbers and promises.
However, neither side is waiting as long this year with the combine being cancelled. According to two sources, teams and agents are already calling each other regarding the upcoming free-agent class. Without a central meeting point, deals could take longer to come together, and so the conversations are beginning earlier this offseason.
Additionally, there’s the looming fear of a falling salary cap, which means the game of musical chairs becomes that much more important. After the initial surge of capital, teams will be hamstrung and good players will be forced into low-ball deals.
We’re still six weeks from the opening of free agency when the league year renews, but deals are already in the works.
As everyone undoubtedly knows by now, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the first Super Bowl team playing in their own stadium for the game. However, it’s quite questionable, considering COVID, if they have the biggest home-field advantage in Super Bowl history.
In Super Bowl XIV, the Rams played the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Rose Bowl, a quaint 21-mile drive from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum where they played home games. Five years later, the San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins played at Stanford Stadium, a venue only 36 miles down the road.
Considering both buildings were filled to capacity, and the other team had to stay all week in a hotel after flying across the country, it seems the Rams (who lost) and the 49ers (who won) had the biggest advantages.
Enjoy this Super Bowl.
In the age of social media and shade, it’s easy to get caught up in picking sides. Unless you cheer for Kansas City or Tampa Bay, relax, grab some chips and watch history.
This Sunday, we get Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes. We get legacies shaped in real time.
For Mahomes, a chance to go back-to-back before turning 26 years old. To beat the greatest quarterback of all time. To get within four rings and at least turn up the heat on whether, eventually, he can surpass Brady. The chase would be on.
For Brady, it’s about winning with another team. It’s about cementing his status as forever superior over Mahomes, having beaten him both in the AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl, both times as an underdog, while over the age of 40.
Yes, Super Bowl LV is about crowning a champion, and it’ll do that. But it’s also about a bigger picture, one we should all appreciate.