Even if the Texans have not let it be known they are serious about trading Deshaun Watson, there will be a number of teams who show interest in the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback. Count the Panthers as one of them.
The rebuilding NFC South squad is planning to make an “aggressive” pursuit for Watson, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes (video link). Carolina joins Miami and the Jets as teams closely connected to a potential run at Watson, though it is not yet known if the Panthers would appeal to Watson.
Watson holds a no-trade clause and is believed to be interested in both AFC East destinations. Both the Jets and Dolphins hold two 2021 first-round picks, which will increase their respective abilities to put together trade packages. The Panthers have, however, been mentioned as a suitor recently. Watson’s long-rumored trade request became fully known Thursday.
Regional appeal could seemingly be in play regarding a Watson-Carolina fit. The franchise quarterback is a Georgia native who played four seasons at Clemson in South Carolina. The NFL’s North Carolina-based franchise has a low-end franchise-QB salary on its books, after it signed Teddy Bridgewater to a three-year deal worth $63MM, but Bridgewater presumably would not impede the Matt Rhule-run squad from going after Watson.
When asked about Watson recently, new Panthers GM Scott Fitterer said the team will “be in on every deal,” per ESPN.com’s David Newton (on Twitter). The Panthers being an NFC team may have appeal to the Texans, who would surely prefer — if they were to trade Watson — to make a deal with an out-of-conference franchise rather than be forced to see Watson frequently in the coming years.
The Panthers reside in the middle of the pack when it comes to cap space, and thanks to Bridgewater’s $33MM in full guarantees, they would take a bit of a dead-money hit if they released or traded him. A player of Watson’s caliber would certainly supersede any near-future dead-money concerns for a franchise that recently gave HC Matt Rhule a seven-year contract. Watson’s $39MM-per-year deal runs through the 2025 season.
The team also has talented skill-position cogs Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson under contract for at least two more seasons — assuming Moore’s fifth-year option is picked up come May. Carolina will also be connected to quarterback prospects with its No. 8 overall pick. That selection, the Panthers’ 2022 first-rounder and likely more would be required in an offer for Watson.