From the moment the news dropped on Friday afternoon that the Harris County, TX, grand jury was not handing down any indictments against Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, the trade rumors were finally fully unleashed.
Virtually every team with even the most tenuous need for a starting quarterback has been linked to a trade possibility involving Watson, who hasn’t played since allegations of improper sexual conduct began the criminal probe than ended Friday.
Even though civil lawsuits are still working their way through the court system, teams no longer fear a major disruption of Watson’s playing career, and the Texans are bracing for formal offers from several teams in the very near future.
One of those teams expected to make a formal offer is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team looking to find a replacement for the greatest quarterback of all time, Tom Brady. But can the Buccaneers make the right deal to get Watson and the Texans to pull the trigger?
The Buccaneers, Saints and Panthers are expected to make the first formal offers
According to Pro Football Network, three NFC South teams, all in search of a starting quarterback, are expected to be the first teams to make formal offers to the Texans for Watson. Complicating the matter for any prospective suitor is that Watson has a full no-trade clause in his contract, so any team willing to submit an offer will also have to negotiate directly with the quarterback to judge his willingness to join their organization.
While the Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers are the first teams expected to make formal offers, the Texans have also fielded interest from the Seattle Seahawks, who just traded away Russell Wilson, Minnesota Vikings, and the Cleveland Browns, who might be willing to move on from Baker Mayfield.
The Buccaneers lack the cap space and trade chips enjoyed by some of their competitors for Watson, but they are hoping the no-trade clause actually works in their favor.
Watson reportedly has the Buccaneers on a short list of options a month ago
Of all the teams reportedly in the running to land Watson, only the Buccaneers are a legitimate Super Bowl contender, just two seasons removed from winning Super Bowl 55 and coming within a Cooper Kupp catch on the game’s final drive against the Los Angeles Rams of reaching the NFC Championship Game in January.
Brady’s retirement obviously changed the calculus for the Buccaneers, but a player of Watson’s talent and experience would immediately put the Buccaneers back among the top Super Bowl contenders in the NFC.
That may have been why Watson reportedly had the Buccaneers on his short list of trade options back in February. While the Buccaneers might not have the best package of players and picks to offer the Texans, they might benefit from Watson’s desire to go to a proven winner, leaving the Buccaneers at the head of the field.
Arians has not been shy about brining in star players with a galaxy of off-field troubles
While the criminal case against Watson is over, the civil lawsuits could still result in guilty verdicts against Watson, and regardless of outcome, the league could choose to put Watson on the exempt list as a form of administrative suspension.
That could be enough to deter teams unwilling to absorb the potential for games missed and fan backlash. But Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians demonstrated his willingness to take on the baggage of talented players if they can help the team win.
The Buccaneers brought in Antonio Brown in 2021 after his release by New England Patriots in 2019 and subsequent league suspension. Brown was instrumental in helping the Buccaneers win the Super Bowl in 2021 and could have made a difference in the 2022 postseason if he had not famously melted down late in the season and was cut by the Bucs.
If Arians is satisfied Watson isn’t likely to create any further issues and Watson make the Buccaneers his preference, a trade to Tampa would almost be assured.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference