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The 49ers Must Pursue Deshaun Watson

Brian Renick
Jan 10, 2021 at 12:40 PM6

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The smoke that began rising on Twitter earlier this week about Deshaun Watson being unhappy in Houston has consistently gotten thicker as the week has progressed. Typically, where there's smoke, there's fire. The 49ers absolutely must pursue all avenues available to them to bring Watson to Santa Clara. He would instantly transform this 49ers squad into a perennial Super Bowl contender.

Watson finished the 2020 season as the second-highest rated passer in the league behind likely MVP Aaron Rodgers. He accomplished this on a team that was relatively bereft of talent on the offensive side of the ball, and was mired in a terrible coaching situation (Bill O'Brien was fired after four straight losses to start the season).

Despite the dysfunction, Watson still led the league in passing yards with 4,823, and yards per attempt at 8.9. He completed 70.2% of his passes, had a 33 to 7 TD-INT ratio, a 112.4 QB rating, 69 completions of 20+ yards, and 11 completions of 40+ yards. Just imagine the types of numbers he could put up in Kyle Shanahan's offense.

What Would It Take?

Let's be perfectly clear here: there is no package that you could dream up that would give the Houston Texans equivalent value for Deshaun Watson. He is a 25-year-old superstar at the most important position in football, and is under contract through the 2025 season. This is precisely why many people are trying to throw water on the idea of him being traded.

However, Watson holds all the cards if he comes out and demands a trade. He has a full no-trade clause in his contract, which would force the hand of incoming GM Nick Caserio and turn this from an "all bidders" auction, to a small handful of predetermined teams.

Under the above scenario, the package to get Watson would still be incredibly steep, but not as earth-shattering as it would be if teams are competing against 10+ suitors.

The 49ers are in a unique position in that any package they offer the Texans can include Jimmy Garoppolo, an NFL starting QB with proven success in the league. Other teams could offer a starting QB in their packages, and there are already rumors that the Dolphins could throw their hat in the ring by offering second-year QB Tua Tagovailoa, but Garoppolo has a proven track record, whereas Tua does not.

The other connection that could make this a match between the Texans and 49ers is that Texans' GM Nick Caserio comes from New England and was part of that front office's decision to draft Jimmy Garoppolo in the 2nd round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Familiarity with Garoppolo, along with the draft picks that come along with him, could tilt the scales in the 49ers' favor.

Jimmy Garoppolo has a no-trade clause in his contract for the 2021 season, so that could muddy the waters a bit, but the 49ers could have the upper hand in that scenario as well by simply pointing out that Garoppolo could accept the trade and earn the $50+million remaining on his contract, or he can be released. Garoppolo would not garner anywhere near that type of money on the open market.

Proposed Trade:

Texans receive: Jimmy Garoppolo, 2021 1st- and 3rd-round picks (this assumes defensive coordinator Robert Saleh becomes a head coach this offseason and the 49ers receive 3rd-round picks in successive drafts as part of the NFL's new minority candidate proposal), 2022 1st- and 2nd-round picks, 2023 1st-round pick

49ers receive: Deshaun Watson, 2021 4th-round pick

Why This Is a No-Brainer for Lynch and Shanahan

You may read the above package and choke a bit at the draft compensation being sent to the Houston Texans. I get it. As fans we have been conditioned to value draft picks very highly, and for good reason. The draft is where teams find young, cheap, and cost-controlled players to fill out their rosters. But, the draft is also a crap-shoot that involves far more failure than success.

Here is a list of the 1st round picks in the Lynch/Shanahan era:

2017: Solomon Thomas (3), Reuben Foster (31)

2018: Mike McGlinchey (9)

2019: Nick Bosa (2)

2020: Javon Kinlaw (14), Brandon Aiyuk (25)

Nick Bosa is a superstar and Brandon Aiyuk was arguably the second best rookie WR this season behind the Vikings' Justin Jefferson, but the rest of that list includes busts or average to above average players (though Kinlaw showed significant potential in 2020). The other thing to consider is there are four top-15 picks in that group. With Watson at QB, the 49ers would likely be drafting late in every round of the draft. The value of the picks they'd be giving up goes down the more the team consistently wins.

The 49ers could likely offer a package similar to this (more than likely without the 2023 1st-round pick) to move up in the draft to snag one of the top QB prospects coming out this year, but none of them are guaranteed to be a franchise quarterback. Deshaun Watson is already established as a top-5 quarterback in this league. The team can give up a draft haul to take a chance on a young gunslinger, or it can give up a draft haul to get an established Pro Bowler.

Franchise quarterbacks are difficult to come by in the NFL. The Chicago Bears have gone 40+ years looking for one. Heck, the 49ers have been looking for one since Steve Young retired two decades ago. If you have the opportunity to acquire one, you have to go for it, no matter the cost.

What About Cap Space and Watson's Contract?

Watson signed a massive extension with the Houston Texans last offseason to the tune of 4 years and $156 million, and the 49ers are strapped for cap space going into the 2021 season. Not only that, but the team has 38 scheduled free agents this offseason. Financially speaking, it doesn't appear that the team could absorb Watson's contract and still field a competitive team.

However, the reality of Watson's contract situation would be advantageous for the 49ers in 2021. Watson will only count $15.9 million against the cap next season, which is roughly $12 million less than Jimmy Garoppolo. Trading for Watson would give the team the same level of cap relief as restructuring Garoppolo's contract.

Watson's big cap hit ($40.4 million) doesn't come until 2022, which is when the cap is expected to rise again and the team can better weather paying that type of money. This does not take into account the cap wizardry that chief contract negotiator Paraag Marathe could perform to alter this number, if necessary.

The 49ers have to pursue Deshaun Watson. Combining Watson and Shanahan in Santa Clara will give the 49ers a head coach/quarterback combo that rivals Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City and will put them on the path to multiple Super Bowl appearances.

John Lynch, go get Deshaun.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • Wild Bill
    Disagree, we have no DB backfield and trading all that for one player, even one as good as Watson. Not to mention 40 FA's. As for the draft, Aiyuk and Kinlaw came into a weird situation of no real off reason. Aiyuk did real good considering all the missing pieces on offense (many times no Deebo and Kittle or RB or QB etc etc.) Kinlaw did well and will only get better. Especially when the cast returns and and an off season. McG is a solid pick, not superstar, but solid. Only the first year was an abomination.
    Jan 23, 2021 at 3:39 AM
  • Frank
    Gotta disagree on this one. This kind of blockbuster trade only works if: 1) the Niners were at least $50M under the cap; 2) they had a bundle of picks they could afford to give up. Well, neither's the case, so notions they should pursue Watson just don't pass the common sense test, IMHO. Houston might be able to get a deal done w/Miami because they have the picks and Tua, whom they're not sold on at all. All of this is really pure speculation given the Texans haven't hired a new HC yet and they also have a new GM. Watson may be fed up with what's happened there in his first few seasons, but that could all change with the new leadership.
    Jan 11, 2021 at 11:34 PM
  • Tod
    From what I have heard, it might be the Texans who can't afford the salary cap hit of trading Watson and picking up JG's annual salary.
    Jan 11, 2021 at 4:08 AM
  • Lynchburg9er
    I think Texans might bite if the offer looks like 2021 (1st and 2nd), 2022 (1st and 3rd), Garappolo and KITTLE. The Niners are just bad at picking QBs in the drafts, but are pretty good at drafting WRs and TE. KITTLE was drafted in the 5th round. Easier to find another TE that might turn into another KITTLE than it is to find another QB that turns into another Deshaun Watson.
    Jan 10, 2021 at 9:00 PM
  • mbniner
    Garappolo AND 3 #1s plus some #2s and #3s is way too high. Yes Watson is a very good QB but the Niners would be strapped to retain their important Free Agents and, additionally, would cripple their chances at adding much needed talent via the draft for 3 years. This looks like the Texan's wish-trade. Maybe some other team will bite but, if we try for a trade, we should offer less, I think our FO is smart enough to keep the team, which they have patiently built, on the right growth track.
    Jan 10, 2021 at 3:20 PM
  • Jesse
    Great article. I completely agree. I had this exact argument with my father who believes we can't fit him under our salary cap, Deshaun is due 15.9 mil this coming season I believe and I also believe that the 2022 salary cap will skyrocket if covid is no longer an issue which in turn will help us keep our core. We have so much young talent and with an ELITE qb at the helm I believe we'll be competing for SuperBowls! Plural! Again, great article!
    Jan 10, 2021 at 3:04 PM

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