The likelihood of the New Orleans Saints acquiring Deshaun Watson are slim to none, but it’s a fun thought experiment to think about what potential package the Saints could put together to try to bring Watson to the Bayou. If the Saints were to try to be a player in the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes, I think there’s really only one package that makes sense....and most Saints fans are not going to like it.
The Saints don’t have a high enough draft pick for a 2021 first round pick to be the highlight of a package for Watson, there’s no way around it. The Jacksonville Jaguars could theoretically dangle the #1 overall pick and a shot at Trevor Lawrence to the Texans front office, or - more realistically - the New York Jets could try to lure Watson to the Big Apple with a package built around the #2 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. This would obviously then give Houston their pick out of the other big-name college quarterback options, like Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, or Trey Lance. The Saints, drafting 28th overall, can’t use their first round pick as a centerpiece of hypothetical trade offer because none of the elite quarterback prospects are projected to still be on the board.
New Orleans could theoretically throw all of the draft picks at Houston to try to get Houston to bite, offering first and second rounds picks from both this year and next year’s draft, but it would probably take something closer to the Ricky Williams trade (all of the Saints 2021 picks, plus most of the 2022 picks) to match the other offers the Texans might be fielding. But remember: Deshaun Watson has a no trade clause, and as good as the Saints have been, and as great as the organization might be compared to what he’d be leaving behind, Watson might have reservations about joining a team that has no draft capital the next two years to help build around him.
So I think the Saints 28th overall pick in the first round this year is definitely on the table, and likely required in any potential trade, but the Saints’ offer couldn’t be build around that pick. Which means the centerpiece of a trade offer has to be a player.
Now put yourself in Houston’s shoes. What is the type of player you’d want in return? You need a superstar talent that could excite your fanbase, and no matter what you think about Taysom Hill, he’s not that guy. You’d want someone under contract for more than just a single season because you don’t want them to turn around and leave in a year. That rules out players like Marshon Lattimore or Ryan Ramczyk. You’d want someone young, who is still climbing in their career and projects to still be a contributor during a time where you’d be competing. That rules out older veterans like Cam Jordan or Demario Davis. We don’t have many options left.
But what do the Texans need? Do they need someone like Alvin Kamara, who’s under contract thru 2026? Maybe. But they just acquired David Johnson last year to pair with Duke Johnson, and both are under contract in 2021, so running back probably isn’t a priority. Could you convince them to take Andrus Peat since he’s under contract thru 2025? Probably not, because the Texans front office surely saw the same games we saw, and he’s not a big enough name to sell to the fans.
But there is one player who checks all of the boxes. One player, who has proven to be an NFL superstar-caliber player, under contract thru 2025, and at a position the Texans desperately need to address after trading DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals...and that’s 2019 Offensive Player of the Year Michael Thomas.
Now before you start pelting me with rocks, please remember that I’m by no means advocating for the Saints to trade Michael Thomas. My point is simply that if you want the Saints to make a competitive offer for Deshaun Watson, I think it has to start with Michael Thomas and the Saints’ first round pick in 2021.
Why the first round pick also? Because the Texans’ first selection in the 2021 draft before making any trades wouldn’t come until the third round after previous trades last season for Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills. The Texans need a draft pick in the first two rounds to help improve their team, and they still have a need at quarterback they will have to address.
Because of this, the Saints will likely also need to part with their 1st round pick in 2022 in order to give the Texans a little more draft capital to play with in 2021. They would then be able to trade either their 2022 1st round pick or the Saints (or both) to move up in the first round this year. The Saints 2021 3rd round pick likely is enough to complete the offer.
That means the trade would be something like Michael Thomas, 2021 1st, 2022 1st, and 2021 3rd for Deshaun Watson.
There’s no guarantee the Texans would pull the trigger on this type of deal, and they’d likely try to get even more out of the Saints in any potential trade, but I think you’d be looking at this type of package at minimum.
Would the Saints be willing to pay this kind of cost for Watson? If the Texans would realistically consider it, I think the Saints would be fools to not take it on their end. Yes, you’re giving up the primary wide receiver Watson could throw to in New Orleans and giving him a situation much like what he had last year in Houston without Hopkins. But Emmanuel Sanders is still productive even at this point in his career, and the Saints could package two or three compensatory third round picks (obtained after the losses of Terry Fontenot to the Atlanta Falcons to become their new general manager and Teddy Bridgewater signing with the Carolina Panthers last offseason) to move up from the 2nd round to draft a replacement for Thomas in what is one of the deepest wide receiver draft classes of recent memory.
Interestingly too, as much as you hear about the Saints salary cap situation, trading Thomas for Watson would actually decrease the Saints cap number by over $2 million in 2021. Then 2022 is a different story when Watson has a $40 million dollar cap hit, but the Saints could also add void years to the end of Watson’s deal - or extend him outright - to spread that number out in the future.
Again, I’m not pushing for the Saints to trade for Watson or to trade away Michael Thomas, but if you’re a proponent of the team being a player in the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes, understand you’re likely having to lose Michael Thomas in the process.
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