If the latest media reports are true, Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson has demanded a trade this offseason. In doing so, that single transaction will shift the balance of power in the AFC by quite a bit.
It’s easy for Kansas City Chiefs fans to think that their favorite team will remain the class of the NFL. That’s certainly true for the 2019 season and again in 2020, where they are competing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for bragging rights as Super Bowl champs (once again). But beyond that, a new NFL season will reset the calendar and expectations for fan bases around the league—and for good reason.
While the Chiefs would certainly be the odds-on favorites to repeat as AFC champions once again in ’21 and likely for the next few years beyond that, NFL history shows just how difficult it can be to sustain that top note in a conference indefinitely. From year to year, Chiefs fans are likely to see Andy Reid and his talented roster fall from grace from time to time. After all, Tom Brady has played in an incredible 10 Super Bowls, including this year’s affair, but that also means that there were 11 seasons in which his team was not the league’s best team.
The NFL’s salary cap has created some decent parity over the last 20 years, and while the Chiefs might be well-stocked for the foreseeable future, history tells us that other teams will occasionally upset such expectations.
A Deshaun Watson trade would radically shift the balance of power in the AFC.
Chiefs fans should know as well as anyone just how much having an elite quarterback changes the outcome in a game. Just last year, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs were on the ropes in three consecutive postseason games by double digits and came back to win every single one of them for the game’s biggest prize. The ability of a quarterback like Mahomes to deliver a win even when pinned against the wall is the single most valuable asset in the entire game.
While Mahomes is one-of-a-kind, he’s not the only quarterback capable of such heroics during a game. But even then, that next tier of quarterbacks is very, very small. It’s the reason why quarterbacks like that aren’t made available and why they’re also the highest-paid players in the entire game. Watson is undoubtedly one of those quarterbacks. Along with Aaron Rodgers and maybe Russell Wilson, the number of elite quarterbacks in the NFL is very small.
Hence, it’s almost insane that the Texans would even think of giving in to Watson’s trade request. It’s simply the one asset you do not part with, no matter how dramatic the present moment feels. Emotions fade over time and circumstances can change minds. Then again, we’re talking about the Houston Texans, who part with draft assets like they’re Halloween candy and traded DeAndre Hopkins for pennies on the dollar just last year. Dysfunction has become synonymous with the franchise, all the way up to the owner, so if there’s a single team who would give in and trade such a player like Deshaun Watson, it would be the Texans.
Given the planetary alignment in the NFL’s galaxy right now, every single general manager should be scrambling to put together a package that would provide the best overall return to the Texans. Every year, unexpected players rise to the surface at myriad positions to provide greater value than the level of investment in them, but that almost never happens at the quarterback spot. Tom Brady is the ultimate example there, but there are 100 (or more) Aaron Murrays for every such success story.
Watson is such a gifted quarterback, and what’s even more amazing is that he’s still only 25 years old. Last year, he led the league in passing yards with 4,.823 in the year after he lost Hopkins as a target. He’s taken an incredible 174 sacks in only four seasons under center in Houston and has lived to tell the tale, having not missed a single game in any of the last three seasons. Behind a porous line, Watson has put up marvelous numbers and shocking performances, including having the Chiefs on the ropes just one year ago in the postseason, down by 24 points. In his career, he has 104 touchdowns to only 36 interceptions, and there’s every reason to believe his best is yet to come.
The Texans had won the AFC South over the last two seasons with Watson before bottoming out this year. Without Watson, Houston would be the basement-dweller next season for sure in the South and likely for the next couple years. But a trade of Watson could also boost a club to the very top of their respective division if the deal was right. The New York Jets are watching the Patriots hand the torch to the Bills in the AFC East, but if they could secure Watson, the AFC East is suddenly a very competitive race.
Any team that secures Watson is likely going to be team that will face the Chiefs in the postseason many more times in the coming years. His presence at the game’s most important position will elevate whatever franchise is lucky enough to grab him into the postseason each year, and from there, it’s about talent, coaching and also health. Watson is one of those rare assets who gives a team that chance, year in and year out.
It’s silly that the Texans are in this position, but they absolutely did it to themselves. No one would fault Watson for wanting out of a toxic situation. While the Chiefs should remain favorites to reach the Super Bowl each season with Mahomes under center, Watson’s presence on another will make them among the more favored teams as well, even if that franchise is currently an also ran for now. A trade of a player of this magnitude will shift the balance of power and every interested team should be working overtime to make it work in their favor.