With Deshaun Watson still dealing with a serious legal situation involving allegations of sexual misconduct, it shouldn’t be a total surprise that he has yet to take the field for the Houston Texans this season. However, there’s no doubt first-year general manager Nick Caserio must make a decision at some point about what to do with the team’s most talented player.
What does the future hold for Watson?
While much of that depends on the court system, his time with the Texans could soon come to an end if a troubling trend continues in Carolina.
Matt Rhule is dealing with a troubling trend in Carolina
The Panthers took a plunge in the quarterback rehabilitation pool this spring by trading for New York Jets flameout Sam Darnold. Pairing the No. 3 overall pick from the 2018 NFL Draft with rising offensive coordinator Joe Brady seemed like a sound strategy for a team in desperate need of a long-term answer at the most important position in sports. And through the first three weeks of the season, the experiment could not have gone much better.
Showcasing solid accuracy and improved ball security, Darnold helped the Panthers get off to a 3-0 start in the second year of the Matt Rhule era. However, after playing mostly mistake-free football in September, the 24-year-old quarterback has quickly reminded everyone why the Jets moved in a different direction this offseason.
Darnold may have thrown for 301 yards and racked up four total touchdowns against the Dallas Cowboys, but he also committed two costly turnovers and got sacked five times in the 36-28 defeat. Carolina’s first-year signal-caller threw picks on back-to-back drives in the the third quarter that allowed Dak Prescott and Co. to take a commanding three-score lead with less than 15 minutes to play.
To make matters worse, Darnold followed up with easily his worst performance as a Panther. Facing a Philadelphia Eagles defense no one would describe as elite, he completed a season-low 56.8% of his passes for 177 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions. His final giveaway came with 2:38 remaining, which essentially sealed the win for Nick Sirianni’s squad.
Whether Darnold can snap out of his funk remains up for debate. Given his penchant for turning the ball over (he’s totaled 45 interceptions and 24 fumbles in 43 starts), it would not be a shock if he keeps trending in the wrong direction.
If that occurs, though, could Carolina go shopping for an upgrade?
Deshaun Watson’s time with the Texans could come to an end if Sam Darnold’s struggles continue
The Panthers can’t afford to have Darnold handing extra possessions to opponents. And by looking like the Jets version of himself lately, he’s raised legitimate questions about his ability to become the guy in Carolina for years to come.
According to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, that could lead to owner David Tepper getting what he wants: a true franchise quarterback.
Of course, it’s no secret the Panthers have expressed interest in acquiring the 26-year-old Watson. Considering he played at Clemson before he took his talents to the NFL, it would certainly seem fitting for him to come back to the Carolina area. Plus, from a pure football perspective, the three-time Pro Bowler would give Rhule a substantial upgrade at quarterback.
As for the feasibility of a Watson trade?
“With Darnold having his struggles, and Tepper wildly driven to win and accustomed to having a Hall of Fame quarterback (as a minority owner in Pittsburgh he was there for Ben Roethlisberger’s rise), and the trade deadline now just a few weeks away, it’s a prospect worth monitoring,” La Canfora wrote. “For all of the talk about the Dolphins and Watson, Tepper isn’t used to not getting his man, and if he were to set his sights on Watson I wouldn’t bet against him doing what it takes to secure the deal.”
Could another NFL team spoil the Panthers’ dream of building around Watson?
Landing Watson would definitely give the Panthers much better odds of winning the NFC South. Insert him into a lineup that features dynamic skill players like Christian McCaffrey, DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, and up-and-coming wideout Terrace Marshall Jr. and you have the makings of a potentially elite offense.
However, the dynamic quarterback may not end up in Carolina if another NFL team entices Houston with a superior offer.
Could the Miami Dolphins win the bidding war for Watson? Although they drafted Tua Tagovailoa fifth overall just two years ago, it’s safe to say he has fallen short of expectations. Still, the former Alabama star has intriguing tools, so a trade package that also includes a few first-round picks could convince the Texans to make a deal.
Don’t discount the Eagles, either. Like the Dolphins, they bet big on a young quarterback’s upside. But even though Jalen Hurts has shown flashes of brilliance, there’s no doubt he’s an inferior option to Watson. General manager Howie Roseman has never been afraid to take big swings, and trading for a top-five quarterback would ignite a Philadelphia fan base that’s watched the franchise go from winning a Super Bowl title in 2017 to finishing 4-11-1 a year ago.
Ultimately, the Texans should have at least a few choices of where to send Deshaun Watson. But if Sam Darnold continues to turn the ball over like he has the last two weeks, don’t be shocked if the Panthers execute a franchise-altering move to set themselves up for long-term success.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.