Peter King’s five mock trade proposals for Deshaun Watson

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Over the weekend, two common themes emerged about Houston’s near future. One: The Texans have one untouchable player, Watson, as of now. Two: Houston is not only not interested in trading Watson but also not interested in listening to offers for him. At least two teams have given offers to Houston and gotten zero feedback. Like, no reaction, no “We’ll get back to you.” Nothing.

Surely rookie GM Nick Caserio is gathering said offers in a Stickie on his desktop, or in some encrypted Word file. He knows one day he might have to act on one of them. I’m told he’s categorically opposed to trading Watson, period—either in the next nine weeks before the draft (when he’d clearly get the best deal to start the Texans’ post-Watson lives) or ever. It’s easy to say that, of course, when the deadline is far away. It’s easy to say that too, when you know that trading a 25-year-old franchise quarterback is crazy, and when fresh in the memory of all Houston fans is the warm-and-fuzzy press conference just 24 weeks ago when a grateful and emotional Watson was so thrilled to sign a $156-million contract extension with the Texans.

No one knows who will fold, who will stay strong. Caserio and owner Cal McNair have never been in the eye of a storm like this one. Watson, the friendly and guileless great player, has never had to make a decision as weighty as sitting out an offseason and maybe a season.

I think Caserio is playing it right, at least for now. The message is out there: Houston’s not even listening to offers. Maybe they’re serious about sitting on Watson. But Caserio also has to be cognizant of asking 53 players he doesn’t know—perhaps prepping for the season in the same virtual and fairly impersonal world that 2020 was—to take the field in 2021 with the worst team in the league, perhaps quarterbacked by an A.J. McCarron type. The results would be disastrous and could rip the team asunder even worse than it is now. J.J. Watt’s already jumped ship. Who would be next? Who, I should say, of any value?

So if Watson continues to say he won’t play for the Texans, Caserio would be able to make his best deal in the days before the April 29 first round. Below are the best candidates, keeping in mind teams cannot trade draft picks beyond 2023 right now, and keeping in mind how draft-poor the Texans are. Houston has no first-round or second-round pick this year, and isn’t scheduled to pick till number 67 in round three.

• CAROLINA PANTHERS. I’d be surprised if the Panthers hadn’t made an offer by now, quite frankly. This is a fit in many ways. Very aggressive new owner (David Tepper), who would move mountains for a franchise QB. It’s not in the AFC, meaning Houston wouldn’t have to see Watson in the playoffs till the Super Bowl. (That would be a Belichick factor.) Because the Panthers are not flush with draft capital, I think they’d have to include a quarterback with some value and at least two very good veteran players. By the way: Cal McNair, I’m sure, would also love the fact that, if the NFL’s scheduling formula stays the same, Watson as a Panther would not play in Houston till the 2027 regular season. Cross-conference matchups happen every four years, meaning Carolina, which played at Houston in 2019, would host the Texans in 2023 and play at Houston in 2027. But that’s pretty low in the pecking order of factors in this trade. Very low.

Peter King Proposal: A 7-for-1 deal. Running back Christian McCaffrey, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, receiver Robbie Anderson and first-round and second-round picks in 2021 (eighth and 39th overall), a first-round pick in 2022 and third-round pick in 2023 in exchange for Watson. Houston might push for the inclusion of 22-year-old pass-rusher Brian Burns as a vital part of any deal, which would be a tough giveaway for coach Matt Rhule. Of course, McCaffrey would be tough too.

• NEW YORK JETS. GM Joe Douglas is a big home-grown advocate, and I believe New York would chafe at doing a mega-pick deal for Watson because too many dyed-in-the-wool scouts there believe in building the team through the draft. But so many of the ingredients are there. The Jets would be able to jettison a quarterback with some interesting value, along with the second overall pick plus a trove of draft currency.

Peter King Proposal: A 6-for-1 deal. Quarterback Sam Darnold, defensive lineman Quinnen Williams, first-round picks in 2021 (second overall) and 2022 (the higher of New York’s two first-round picks), plus second-round picks in 2021 (34th overall) and 2023 in exchange for Watson. Caserio could turn the second overall pick this year into another ransom. But I’m just skeptical that Douglas would make this move. Obviously, he’d be thrilled to get Watson. But he knows he has a crummy overall roster and denuding his looming drafts I believe is too much for him to accept. One other factor here: With Houston in some cap trouble and the Jets with a monstrous $68 million in cap space per Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap, the Texans could ask the Jets to take the guaranteed $10.5-million 2020 contract of fading edge rusher Whitney Mercilus.

• SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS. San Francisco would be okay with entering 2021 with Jimmy Garoppolo as its starter. But no matter what Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch say, they can’t be totally comfortable with it. Garoppolo has missed 23 of the last 48 regular-season games with injuries. (Tom Brady has missed 15 games due to injury in 20 seasons.) And I’ll always wonder if the 49ers have the tiniest bit of buyer’s remorse for not putting the trigger on a deal with Brady last March. We’ll know when Brady (or Lynch or Shanahan) write a book in 15 years how close that came. But if the Niners could convince Garoppolo to waive his no-trade clause, I could see San Francisco being all in here, even though the Niners clearly would have to part with some major assets, perhaps including the young nerve center of their defense. Linebacker Fred Warner is such a rising star, however, that his re-signing in San Francisco in the next 12 months might affect the franchise’s ability to keep other great young players (Nick Bosa?) in house.

Peter King Proposal: Seven-for-1. Garoppolo, linebacker Fred Warner (that really hurts), tackle Mike McGlinchey, first-round picks in 2021 (12th overall) and 2022, plus a second-round pick in 2021 and third-round pick in 2022 for Watson. It’s a lot for the Niners to pay; of all the players in all the deals I’m proposing, Warner would be the most coveted one in my book. But he’s here because he is entering the final year of his rookie contract and would want a new deal. (McGlinchey is in exact same position, too.) Houston could view them as cornerstones for the rebuild.

Or . . .

• SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS/MINNESOTA VIKINGS. This is centered on the premise that San Francisco would not want to rip apart a team and a future, and might be willing to take a lesser deal for a quarterback Shanahan has long admired. And also that Caserio, in the heart of the draft room in 2014 when the Patriots made Garoppolo a second-round pick, would want to try again with Jimmy G. It’s a wing and a prayer, but fascinating to me.

Peter King Proposal: The Vikings send quarterback Kirk Cousins to San Francisco. The Niners send Garoppolo to Houston, if, of course, he’d waive his no-trade. The Texans send Watson to Minnesota. In return: the Niners send their first-round pick in 2021 (12th overall) to Houston, and they’re out. (So San Francisco would be trading Garoppolo and a one to Houston and getting Cousins with two years left on his contract.) The Vikings would send linebacker Anthony Barr and running back Alexander Mattison plus their first-round picks in 2021 (14th overall) and 2023, and second-round picks in 2022 and 2023 in exchange for Watson. Houston’s haul: Garoppolo, two ones this year, a one in 2023, and two second-round picks.

• MIAMI DOLPHINS. You’d hear a big, loud, “We’re not trading Tua if the Dolphins weren’t at least pondering Watson.” Why wouldn’t they be? It’s extremely hard, after seeing one year of Tua Tagovailoa, to think his mega-upside would equal the 2021 Watson. It’s logical to at least look into it.

Peter King Proposal: Miami trades defensive end Christian Wilkins, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, first-round picks in 2021 (third overall) and 2023, and second-round picks in 2021 and 2022 for Watson. In essence, Miami is trading the 13th overall pick in 2019 (Wilkins) and the fifth overall pick in 2020 (Tagovailoa), plus two ones and two twos for Watson. Advantage for Miami is the deal would leave the Dolphins with first-round and second-round picks this year and their first next year while giving them a quarterback to play on equal footing with Josh Allen in the AFC East for the next decade.

• THE OTHERS: Denver does have the ninth pick plus some good young pieces (Garett Bolles?) to offer, and a quarterback with minimal value in Drew Lock, so don’t count new GM George Paton out . . . Chicago would certainly be interested, but drafting 20th this year is a big negative, with no QB other than Nick Foles to deal; the lack of significant young talent to package is a negative too . . . Washington is intriguing because of its strong young defense, but WFT might have to trade off too much of what makes it an attractive future team—Chase Young and another promising youngster—a well as its three or four very high picks. Not impossible, but a major challenge, and I bet Houston would have better offers.

I can hear many of you now: Price tag’s too steep! You’re crazy! I’m not. If Watson gets traded, it’s going to have to include a gigantic package, maybe the highest price ever paid for a player in league history. It’s justified. Twenty-five-year-old franchise quarterbacks never come on the market. But the price isn’t for everyone. It may not be for the Jets.

If I’m Caserio, calming the waters now is the best plan. Over the next two months, you want to try every way you think might work to rebuild a bridge with Watson. But if it gets to the point that you can’t by late April, that’s when the best offers will be out there. Carolina might be the best option, willing to do the most to get Watson. The Tepper factor tells me that. After the draft, if the Texans still have Watson, there’s a danger of sitting on him and having a nightmare cloud over the franchise’s head—as if there’s not already one there.

Read more from Peter King’s Football Morning in America column here.

NFL Week 12 key takeaways: Josh Jacobs is extraordinary

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This Josh Jacobs is a fabulous player. We’ve got 15 more pennant-racy things to talk about today than the 4-7 Raiders—the 49ers haven’t allowed a second-half point in five weeks, no one wants to win the NFC South, here comes Deshaun Watson, here come the Dolphins, Jalen Hurts could seriously challenge Patrick Mahomes for MVP, the NFL can’t be serious in keeping Denver on Sunday night in two weeks, Washington could dump the Giants into last place in the NFC East next week, what should we think of the North Little Rock Jerry Jones?—and I will get to every one, and more. But what happened in Decibelville Sunday, that 40-34 overtime win for the Raiders in Seattle, was extraordinary.

“It all started before the game,” Jacobs, the hero of Week 12 in the NFL, told me from the Raiders’ giddy locker room in Seattle. “This fan, when we came out of the tunnel, held up a sign: ‘3-7. NOT BAD FOR A TEAM WITH NO TALENT.’ And he was screaming at us, all this bad stuff. I just looked up at him and said, ‘Thank you for that. I needed that today. You turnt me up.’”

Jacobs needed it because he entered the game with a sore calf, and the Raiders didn’t know how long he’d last. Oh, he lasted. Never in his college or pro career had he touched the ball 39 times in a game. Never had he gained 303 scrimmage yards in a game. Never had he rushed for a touchdown as long as 86 yards. He did all of those things Sunday, the final winning one on his last touch of the day in overtime.

But there were losses for Jacobs too. This was a gnarly, feisty game. You think when a guy rushes for 229 yards and walks off in triumph that it was a game of joy with few trials. Not so. Seattle’s got a puncher’s defense, a physical Joe Frazier-type of D that makes you earn every inch. Jacobs was waaaay down when he failed to convert a fourth-and-one run with nine minutes left, leaving Seattle a short field; that touchdown gave the Seahawks a 34-27 lead. But the Raiders came back to force OT. And on the first play of the Raiders’ second overtime drive, the call was a Jacobs burst over right guard.

“We were running outside zone a lot, and I saw the linebackers pointing outside. So we ended up running inside zone, and I knew if I got through the line, it was a foot race after that,” Jacobs told me.

I asked Jacobs if he thought he was the best running back in football, and he demurred, saying he loved watching and learning from Nick Chubb and Derrick Henry. Let’s compare the three men who lead the NFL in rushing entering December:

Jacobs: 1,159 yards, 5.4 per rush, nine touchdowns.

Henry: 1,048 yards, 4.2 per rush, 10 touchdowns

Chubb: 1,039 yards, 5.2 per rush, 12 touchdowns.

Yes, Jacobs has a 111-yard lead for the rushing title with six games left. On Sunday, he cared more about the win. He also cared about the fan with the sign.

“He’s the first one I wanted to find after we won,” Jacobs said. “I went over to him and said, ‘Thank you.’”


The 10 stories in the NFL that interest me the most entering the home stretch of the regular season:

The NFL’s Denver problem. With the Broncos locked into one high-profile stinker in a standalone Christmas-afternoon game at the equally moribund Rams, the league has till tomorrow to flex out of the Week-14 Sunday nighter, KC at Denver.

Should Jerry Jones be publicly flogged for a 65-year-old photo? Jones, thanks to some digging by The Washington Post, is smack dab in the middle of a story of race and culture and the NFL’s bad head-coach hiring practices.

Did Odell Beckham wreck his chances to be a rare late-season playoff vaccine for a contender with his weird Florida airplane story Sunday? Probably not. The Cowboys, Bills and Giants will be the judges of that.

Doug Pederson and Brandon Staley made ballsy calls to go for two instead of playing for OT Sunday—or did they? Our sporting society is so messed up. Pederson and Staley are geniuses for going for two and converting and winning Sunday. If they’d failed? My guess is Stephen A. Smith and the Mad Dog would have them on the public grill today for bad calls.

Mike White did Robert Saleh a solid. In seven days, the Jets’ coach went from saying he wasn’t even thinking about a quarterback change from Zach Wilson, to benching Wilson for White, to watching White play the best-quarterbacked game by a Jet this season. Controversy over. There really never was one.

Well now, Jordan Love. With Aaron Rodgers sidelined by thumb and oblique injuries, and the 4-8 Packers out of any realistic playoff contention, the more-than-encouraging performance by Love should earn him a start next week at Chicago. And perhaps four more after that.

Lord, San Francisco’s defense over the past month looks like something out of the Noll days. The Niners had the league’s fourth shutout of the season Sunday. How great a clash of styles would it be to see the Niners against Dallas or Philly or the Vikes in the playoffs?

Matt Rhule’s coaching Nebraska. Mike Rozier’s not walking through that door. But the King of the Reclamation Project should have a chance to make the ‘Huskers competitive. If you can win at Temple, you can win in Lincoln.

Deshaun Watson’s back. With his mates off Monday and Tuesday after the Browns stunned Tampa Sunday, Watson will be in the facility digesting and contributing to the gameplan for next Sunday’s game in Houston. Weird and somehow fitting: Watson’s first NFL game in 700 days will come in NRG Stadium Sunday at high noon CT.

Justin Jefferson cracks my MVP top five. Part of the reason is what he does without the ball.

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column

What Deshaun Watson return means for Cleveland Browns

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The Browns are 4-7. They’ve lost six of the last eight, but the return of Deshaun Watson gives them a prayer that, if he hits the ground running (certainly no sure thing), they could be a factor in the playoff race. Cool thing that coach Kevin Stefanski gave Jacoby Brissett, who has kept the seat warm for Watson, a game ball for engineering the comeback to beat Tom Brady and the Bucs in overtime.

Brissett’s been an excellent leader and okay player, and 4-7 is about what the public thought the Browns would be when Watson returned. “Y’all feel like I’m about to die or something,” Brissett told reporters Sunday. “I still have a job to do.” But that job now morphs into helping Watson win six games down the stretch. I still think asking Watson to play great after 23 months out of the saddle is a huge ask, but we’ll see. Who sits for two years, then has to play the most important position in the game for the six most important games of the season, and can do it at a winning level week after week?

The players are off till Wednesday. Watson will be in the building Monday and Tuesday working out and getting a start on the gameplan. He’ll take over the offense Wednesday in a 10:45 a.m. walkthrough practice, then a real practice at 1:15 that afternoon. Will the circus be around for the game in Houston—protests or vociferous booing? Likely. And with Cleveland being on the road for four of its last six games (also at Cincinnati, Washington and Pittsburgh), Watson can expect road crowds to remember exactly why he was suspended for 11 weeks in the first place.

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column