The answer to “What team should try to trade for Deshaun Watson?” is pretty much every team that doesn’t already have one of the NFL’s few elite quarterbacks.
File the 49ers near the top of the list.
Even though Jimmy Garoppolo has been highly effective when healthy the past three sesons, there’s a good chance San Francisco is seeking an upgrade to get to the next level of Kyle Shanahan’s dynamic offense. Watson, still only 25, would offer just that — and it would be hard for Watson to find a team with a better offensive system that also isn’t too far away from winning the Super Bowl.
The 49ers are positioned to get out of Garoppolo’s contract before paying him again in 2021, especially coming off a season derailed by a high ankle sprain. Whether he’s released or traded after the new league year starts in March, the 49ers would save $23.4 million toward the salary cap while eating only $2.8 million in dead money.
As it stands,the 49ers have around $9 million in cap space. Assuming Watson would replace Garoppolo, there would plenty of room to fit in Watson’s salary, as his current Texans cap hit stands at $15.9 million.
The 49ers, after missing the playoffs following an NFC championship run in 2019, hold the No. 12 overall NFL draft pick in April. They should have at least 10 picks total to give them some flexibility behind it.
Knowing all that, here’s looking at how the 49ers can swing for the fences — and the Watson deal with the Texans:
The 49ers are a desirable destination in the NFC
There are several AFC teams such as the Dolphins and Jets interested n acquiring Watson. But the Texans would be smarter to trade him to a team in the other conference or risk being haunted by the deal often. Watson has a no-trade clause in his contract so he would need to agree he’s going to a team that gives him a good chance for greater passing, running and winning success.
San Francisco checks all those boxes. It also helps they can give the Texans a potential long-term starter in return.
There’s a Jimmy Garoppolo connection that can help him OK the Texans
Garoppolo is only 29 and can provide several seasons as an above-average starter in the NFL in San Francisco or elsewhere. Garoppolo also has a no-trade clause in his contract, so he, like Watson, would need to approve any move. The new Texans general manager, Nick Caserio, worked closely with Bill Belichick to both take Garoppolo in the second round of the 2014 draft and flip him for a 49ers second-round pick in ’18.
Houston can feel comfortable with Garoppolo as a replacement because of his versatile offensive experience from Shanahan and Josh McDaniels. He’s a likeable established leader who can help the Texans move on from Watson as well as possible with the right scheme and supporting cast. Other than Chicago, the team that can bring him back to his home state of Illinois, there might not be a better non-San Francisco spot for Garoppolo.
The 49ers will be fine giving up their first-rounder, Garoppolo and another player
There’s no doubt 49ers general manager John Lynch is aggressive. He traded out of the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft with the Bears and got good return. He made the blockbuster trade for Garoppolo during that year’s Halloween. Last year, he boldly moved star defensive tackle DeForest Bucker for a first-rounder for cap reasons and got immediate return from rookie replacement Javon Kinlaw.
With the 49ers thinking about moving on from Garoppolo and then needing to consider a top rookie prospect at No. 12, there should be no sweat in giving up both assets as part of a package for Watson. The issue will be, what else would Houston want?
It’s ridiculous to think the 49ers would need to give up young defensive stud Nick Bosa, too. The Texans are the ones in a bind with Watson and the 49ers have options to walk away if it’s Bosa must be included or it’s bust for Houston.
The only other untouchable is tight end George Kittle, because of how much he means to the offense as a receiver and blocker — and would be a critical attraction for Watson to go to San Francisco in the first place.
The 49ers could definitely give up breakout inside linebacker Fred Warner, who becomes a free agent after the 2021 season, in a Buckner-like lookahead move. Warner was a great third-round pick in 2018, to help the team recover from taking Reuben Foster as a late first-round pick in 2017.
Lynch and San Francisco should feel confident, much like landing Kinlaw for Bucker, can find another replacement, as high as the second round. For the Texans, Warner and Zach Cunningham would form a strong second-level backbone for whatever defensive direction they go.
The 49ers also could part with one of their highly-skilled young wide receivers, Deebo Samuel or Brandon Aiyuk. They are similarly styled pass-catchers with their toughness and quickness after the catch. As the older player closer to his second contract, Samuel would be the one to move. With Kittle and Aiyuk still there along with other playmakers, the Samuel-less 49ers would also still look pretty good to Watson in relation to the Texans.
Really, Garoppolo, No. 12 and a top starting player who isn’t Bosa or Kittle should be reasonable compensation as the Texans are near a point of no return with Watson. With the Dolphins and Jets potential moves for Watson having some snags, Lynch and the 49ers can swoop in and mine for rare open-market QB gold.
The bottom line is Watson is worth a lot. He gives any semi-functional organization that isn’t the Texans an immediate high floor of winning games for many seasons. Whatever offensive and defensive lumps the 49ers endure in some places, Watson pushing the team’s ceiling higher will overcompensate.
Don’t be surprised if the stars eventually align here so that Watson can become a bigger superstar in San Francisco.