What will a Deshaun Watson trade cost the Saints?

Deshaun Watson #4 of the Houston Texans. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Deshaun Watson #4 of the Houston Texans. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) /

Moral quandaries aside, the New Orleans Saints trading for Deshaun Watson would alter the franchise’s future for the foreseeable future.

After being cleared of criminal charges, Watson still faces 22 civil lawsuits and potential suspension from the league, but the Houston Texans quarterback has generated buzz as a coveted target for QB-needy teams. The Saints recently made an offer for Watson and will reportedly meet with him in the next few days; their NFC South rivals, the Carolina Panthers, have also expressed interest in recruiting Watson.

Watson’s no-trade clause gives him the most power in these negotiations as he’ll be looking for a team that fits his needs best. What would a trade between Houston and New Orleans possibly look like?

For one, the Saints would need to clear enough cap space to absorb Watson’s projected $146 million dollar contract. Watson is under contract with the Texans until 2025, and currently his contract has him earning $35 million in guaranteed money in 2022. NOLA can restructure Watson’s contract for cap relief down the road, but the team would still need the room to execute a trade.

It should also be noted that an NFL suspension would completely void Watson’s guaranteed money.

As for details of the trade itself, Houston hasn’t budged on its asking price: at least three first-round picks, along with additional assets.

New Orleans Saints would need to give up significant draft capital for Deshaun Watson

The Russell Wilson trade set a standard for how much elite quarterbacks can go for, and despite the controversy surrounding Watson’s character, he has proven to be one of the highest-performing quarterbacks in the league. At 26 years old, Watson remains in his prime, and trading those first-rounders seems like a fair transaction.

The deal could get messy, though, depending on how much more Houston wants in terms of other trade compensation and players.

Along with giving up their 2022, 2023, and 2024 first-round picks, the Saints may also have to put later round picks (say, a second-rounder in 2022) on the table. That would increase the total draft haul to potentially four or five high picks, three of them first-rounders, and leave New Orleans with very little draft capital for the future.

The Texans may also have their eyes on certain Saints players, as one does not merely trade a franchise quarterback for draft picks alone. In the Wilson trade, Denver also sent three players to Seattle, and the Saints may have to follow precedence.

Rumors swirled around Ryan Ramczyk being included in a trade package, but we highly doubt the Saints will part ways with their only reliable starting tackle. Michael Thomas should also be off-limits. The other options, then, include a variety of players on both sides of the ball: Cesar Ruiz, Zack Baun, Taysom Hill, Adam Trautman, maybe even giving back Bradley Roby. Houston has needs at virtually every position, and New Orleans could potentially help patch up those holes.

At the end of the day, we’re looking at a massive trade in which the Saints receive their quarterback of the future and the Texans receive three first-rounders, a few later round picks, and some starting-caliber but non-essential players.

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Who would end up winning that trade?