Leading up to the start of NFL free agency, NESN.com will break down the New England Patriots’ top potential veteran quarterback options. Next up: Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson.
2021 status: under contract with Texans
2020 stats: 382-of-544, 4,823 yards, 8.9 yards per attempt, 70.2% completion percentage, 33 passing touchdowns, seven interceptions, 112.4 passer rating, 70.5 QBR, 90 carries, 444 rushing yards, three rushing touchdowns
Pros: He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and signal-callers of Watson’s caliber absolutely never come available.
You wouldn’t know it from the Texans’ 4-12 record, but Watson was unbelievable in 2020. He ranked third in completion percentage, first in passing yards, seventh in touchdowns, fourth in interception rate, first in yards per attempt, second in passer rating and 12th in QBR. Beyond that, he was fifth in EPA + CPOE (expected points added plus completion percentage over expected), seventh in EPA per play, fifth in success rate, second in CPOE and third in air yards.
Watson has had a passer rating over 100 in three of his four NFL seasons. He’s mobile. He’s young (25 years old). He’s the kind of guy Bill Belichick would want at quarterback. Don’t believe it? He said it.
“Watson is as good as anybody we face,” Belichick said in November. “He does a good job at everything. He can make all the throws. He’s very, very good with his decisiveness, makes good reads, uses his outlet receivers, gets to his second and third option. He’s obviously mobile. He’s a hard guy to bring down in the pocket. He’s strong. His legs get him some third down conversions and touchdowns, but they also buy him some time to work down the field. But, he can stand in the pocket and throw and read coverages and make good decisions and put the ball accurately on receivers as well as anybody.
“He doesn’t give the defenses very many chances to get the ball. He doesn’t turn it over much. So, his decision-making and ball security is good, in addition to having a lot of production. So, when you combine those two elements with a quarterback, that makes him hard to defend and they don’t have many bad plays that ever hurt their team. So, that’s really the kind of guy you want playing that position.”
Cons: Cost. Since the Patriots are picking in the middle of the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, they’d likely have to give up four first-round picks or the equivalent of that compensation package to get Watson. The question, at that point, is whether the Patriots could put together a competitive team around Watson to actually make themselves contenders and make the deal worth it without the benefit of first-round picks for the near future.
It really helps that Watson only would carry a $10.5 million cap hit in 2021. The Patriots have over $60 million in cap space, and trading for Watson could make the Patriots contenders to build a super team full of players on one-year deals betting on themselves to win a Super Bowl in a year with a lower salary cap in hopes of cashing in next offseason. Watson only counting for 17.5 percent of the Patriots’ available cap space and 5.3 percent of New England’s total cap is another major benefit to acquiring him.
Watson’s cap hits rise moving forward to $35 million in 2022, $37 million in 2023, $32 million in 2024 and $32 million in 2025.
The Texans are probably hesitant to trade Watson to New England for two reasons, however: 1. They’re in the same conference. 2. New general manager Nick Caserio won’t want to look like he’s doing his old team any favors. The optics of Caserio leaving his long-time post as Patriots director of player personnel and immediately trading Houston’s franchise player to New England would not be great.
That being said, the Patriots would probably have to overpay for Watson, and if they can put together an uber-competitive team in 2021, it might be worth it. It also might not be in Belichick’s blood. The Patriots could hinder their chances of staying contenders in the future if they agree to give up numerous first-round picks and also take on $30-plus million cap hits from 2022 to 2025. At the same time, they would have their quarterback situation settled without paying out an extravagant signing bonus.
If the Texans would be willing to trade Watson at all, and if they’d be willing to deal him to the Patriots, and if acquiring Watson would inspire other free agents to come to New England, then a deal very well could be worth it. But it’s probably not worth getting your hopes up given all of the dominoes that would have to fall.
Patriots’ chances: Slim. Very, very slim.