Deshaun Watson

Trade Notes: Harris, Texans, Geno, Browns

After trading Yannick Ngakoue, the Vikings appear to be reopening the door to dealing their franchise player. Anthony Harris is again available, per Albert Breer of SI.com. The Vikings discussed at least one tag-and-trade deal involving the 2019 breakout player-turned-tag recipient this offseason but moved forward with Harris as a starter for the third season. The price was believed to be a Day 2 pick at that point. Harris has more than half of his $11.4MM tag salary due. Harris joins safety mate Harrison Smith, tight end Kyle Rudolph and left tackle Riley Reiff as available Viking veterans.

Here is more from the trade market, with five days to go until the deadline:

  • We have heard trade rumors surrounding the bulk of the Texans‘ receiving corps. The Packers, among others, inquired about Will Fuller; Randall Cobb and Brandin Cooks have also come up in talks. The Texans are prepared to part with any of their wideouts — for the right offer, of course. Every Texan except Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt, Laremy Tunsil and right tackle Tytus Howard is available, Breer adds. Fuller and Kenny Stills are on expiring contracts; Cobb is signed through 2022; Cooks through ’23.
  • NFL INT leader Xavien Howard has surfaced as a name to watch ahead of the deadline. While the Dolphins have fielded calls on the fifth-year cornerback, they have not received a firm offer, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald notes. The Dolphins also appear dead-set against dealing Howard, with Jackson adding that it would likely take multiple first-round picks (an unrealistic ask) for Miami to consider a deal. Howard is in the first season of a five-year, $75MM contract.
  • The Bengals traded all-time sack leader Carlos Dunlap to the Seahawks, and teams are wondering if the franchise’s No. 2 all-time sacker (Geno Atkins) is available. Teams have contacted the Bengals on the 11th-year defensive tackle but have been told he is not being traded, Breer notes. Atkins is signed through 2022, and although he has voiced frustration about his role, the Bengals will hang onto the perennial Pro Bowler.
  • In the thick of the AFC playoff race at 5-2, the Browns may still be dangling Olivier Vernon. Although the veteran defensive end came off Cleveland’s trade block this summer, the Browns shopped him for a while. They may be doing so again, with Breer indicating the 30-year-old edge rusher is being viewed as available. However, the Browns would move to replace the veteran opposite Myles Garrett. They were in on the first Nkagoue sweepstakes in August but lost out to the Vikings. In the final year of his contract, Vernon does not have a sack this season.
  • Entering their Week 8 game, the Panthers may be straddling the buyer-seller line at 3-4. However, they are still in a rebuilding phase in Matt Rhule‘s first season. Any buyer’s deal Carolina makes would be for a player controllable beyond this season rather than a rental who could help the team secure a wild-card spot, Joe Person of The Athletic writes (subscription required).
  • Prior to signing Mohamed Sanu as injury insurance this year, the 49ers finished second to the Patriots for Sanu at last year’s deadline. The 49ers offered the Falcons a third-round pick for Sanu, Breer notes, but the Pats gave up a second-round pick. San Francisco’s subsequent Emmanuel Sanders addition ended up being more impactful, and Sanu is currently training for his next opportunity.

Latest On Texans’ GM, HC Search

With Bill O’Brien gone, the Texans find themselves with an interim GM in Jack Easterby and an interim HC in Romeo Crennel. Earlier this week, team owner Cal McNair said that internal conversations as to how the team will permanently fill those roles had yet to begin, but it seems that has changed.

Per Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, McNair has hired Jed Hughes, the vice chairman of the search firm Korn Ferry, to assist him. The club will reportedly wait until after the season to hire a new head coach and general manager, but obviously McNair wants to start the process as soon as possible. Interestingly, Hughes also played a key role in helping the Texans identify and hire O’Brien back in 2014.

According to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, Patriots exec Nick Caserio is once again under consideration for the Houston GM job. As many of our readers probably remember, the Texans made a play for Caserio in June 2019, only to back out when the Pats threatened to file tampering charges.

Caserio is widely considered to be a top GM candidate, and though he did sign a two-year extension with New England in February, La Canfora says that the new deal prohibits the Pats from interfering with Caserio’s pursuit of a GM job. JLC adds that McNair remains high on Caserio.

Meanwhile, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who has been a hot head coaching candidate in recent years, was one of the first names to surface in speculation after O’Brien’s dismissal. And La Canfora says Bieniemy has a fan in Texans QB Deshaun Watson, whose opinion and feedback will be valued by McNair. Indeed, Watson has already advocated for Bienemy, who may have several options but who will unlikely find an HC-needy team with a signal-caller as good as Watson.

McNair is said to be seeking a QB guru, so Patriots OC Josh McDaniels and Bills OC Brian Daboll will also be under consideration.

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Dabo Swinney: I’m Not Thinking About Texans Job

Could the Texans replace Bill O’Brien with Deshaun Watson’s former mentor, Dabo Swinney? According to the Clemson head coach, the answer is no. At least, for now. 

[RELATED: Texans Fire Bill O’Brien]

I have not heard from Deshaun and that is not even anything that I want to even have to think about,” the two-time national champ said, via Matt Young of The Houston Chronicle. “You would be the one to ask that question out of all the questions. You don’t want to ask anything about Miami? Next question.”

Swinney was connected to the Texans job immediately following word of O’Brien’s firing. The speculation made — and still makes — lots of sense. The Tigers head coach isn’t just close with Watson, he also has a good relationship with executive Jack Easterby, who is currently in charge of operations.

Swinney famously compared Watson to Michael Jordan in the buildup to the 2017 draft, where the Texans landed him at No. 12 overall. Even with a football MJ under center, the Texans started 0-4, leading to O’Brien’s surprise dismissal.

If the Texans do go after Swinney, it’ll cost them — he currently ranks as the highest-paid college football coach in the nation with a salary of $9.3MM per year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Contract Details: Watson, Hopkins, Heyward

Here is the latest from some of the high-profile contracts signed around the league, beginning with the Texans’ former Pro Bowl connection:

  • Deshaun Watson, Texans: Four years, $177.4MM. Watson will receive $73.7MM in full guarantees, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports tweets. The deal includes fully guaranteed salaries of $1.177MM (2020), $10.54MM (2021) and $35MM (2022). This places the Pro Bowl passer third among QBs. Watson’s 2023 salary ($20MM) is guaranteed for injury at signing and becomes fully guaranteed on Day 4 of the 2022 league year, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reports. Watson’s $32MM salaries in 2024 and ’25 are non-guaranteed. Watson’s contract also contains a no-trade clause, per Wilson.
  • DeAndre Hopkins, Cardinals: Two years, $54.5MM. Hopkins received $42.75MM guaranteed at signing, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. A $27.5MM signing bonus represents part of that guarantee, Rapoport adds (on Twitter). Hopkins received a no trade clause and a no-franchise tag clause, Rapoport tweets.
  • Cameron Heyward, Steelers: Four years, $71.4MM. Heyward’s second Steelers re-up includes a $17.5MM signing bonus, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweets. The Steelers will pay Heyward a $2.5MM roster bonus Friday.
  • Stephen Gostkowski, Titans. Gostkowski’s one-year Tennessee pact is worth $2.75MM, Rapoport tweets. The 15th-year veteran can make up to $3.25MM based on his 2020 field goal make rate.

Texans Sign QB Deshaun Watson To Four-Year Extension

The Texans have locked up quarterback Deshaun Watson through 2025. Mark Berman of FOX 26 News reports (via Twitter) that the Pro Bowler has signed a four-year extension that’s worth $39MM annually. The deal also includes a $27MM signing bonus. The deal will be tacked on to the two remaining years of Watson’s current contract. ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweets that the deal is worth a total of $177.54MM with nearly $111MM in guaranteed money.

Watson’s contract comes almost exactly two months after Patrick Mahomes signed his monster extension with the Chiefs. Mahomes still paces the position with an AAV of $45MM, but Watson’s $39MM AAV now ranks second above the likes of Russell Wilson ($35MM), Ben Roethlisberger ($34MM), Aaron Rodgers ($33.5MM), and Jared Goff ($33.5MM).

Of course, it’s not particularly surprising that Watson was able to garner such a deal. Since being selected with the 12th-overall pick in the 2017 draft, the Clemson product has emerged as one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the NFL. Despite tearing his ACL during his rookie campaign, Watson has managed to appear in 31 of the Texans’ 32 regular season games. Over that span, the 24-year-old has completed 67.8-percent of his passes for an average of 4008.5 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, and 10.5 interceptions per season. He’s also continued to be dynamic running the ball, as he’s averaged 482 rushing yards and six scores per season between 2018 and 2019.

Perhaps most importantly, Watson has led the Texans to a 21-10 regular-season record over the past two seasons. Following a disappointing playoff loss to the Colts in 2018, the quarterback earned his first career postseason victory by beating the Bills in the 2019 Wild Card Round. He lost to the eventual champs in the second round, but he still tossed two touchdowns and scored another on the ground.

We learned earlier this week that the Texans were pushing to extend Watson prior to the start of the season, although negotiations were described as “not close.” Watson had made it clear that he wasn’t seeking a deal that was similar in length to Mahomes’ contract. One report indicated that the quarterback wanted a three-year deal, and there were rumblings that he was seeking around $40MM per year.

With Watson signing his new deal, we can now turn our extension-focused eyes to a pair of other signal callers. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson should both be in line for lucrative deals, especially following the recent quarterback extensions.

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Latest On Texans, Deshaun Watson

The Texans may well be striving to have their Pro Bowl quarterback signed by the time they open the NFL season against the Chiefs a week from Thursday. The team and Deshaun Watson are working hard on an extension, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.

Watson’s side, however, is not looking to emulate Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs managed to sign their superstar passer through the 2031 season. Watson is barely looking to have his next deal run into the mid-2020s, with Mike Florio of Pro Football talk tweeting the Houston standout wants a three-year deal. With Watson’s rookie contract going through 2021, this would put him under Texans control only through 2024.

It is not certain how close the sides are to making this happen. The parties are not believed to be too close on terms, per ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler (video link). Regarding per-year salary, Watson has been connected to a $40MM-plus-AAV price point. While Mahomes received $45MM per year, it took him committing into the 2030s to do so. Russell Wilson‘s $35MM deal, for normal contract structures, still resides atop the market.

Houston gave Laremy Tunsil a three-year deal, one that tops the market by a monstrous margin. With Watson residing as the Texans’ unquestioned franchise centerpiece, it would seem he could push for the same type of contract. Watson, 24, is on track to make $1.2MM this season on his rookie deal.

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Latest On Texans, Deshaun Watson

Predictably, Deshaun Watson‘s desire to stay with the Texans has not wavered. However, there’s nothing imminent in extension talks between the team and the star quarterback. 

I’m here,” Watson said. “I love the organization. I love the McNairs. I love the city. I love the fan base. I’m a Houston Texan. I’m locked in on being a Texan.”

The fourth-year pro is said to be seeking a short-term deal, one that would allow him to cash in again while he’s still in his prime. The Texans, meanwhile, would like him to be “locked in” for a longer period. Obviously, it’s much more complicated than that. Between the economic climate and the $503MM contract recently inked by Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes, there’s a bit of a bridge to gap.

Watson’s camp won’t seek to top Mahomes’ deal, but the ceiling has been raised, and that should bode well for Watson. For now, Watson is set to make just $1.177MM in base salary for 2020. Ultimately, the 24-year-old (25 in September) should top Russell Wilson‘s $35MM AAV – the league-leader before Mahomes inked his mega-deal.

The Texans don’t necessarily have to rush things. In April, they made the slam dunk decision to pick up Watson’s fifth-year option, which will pay upwards of $17MM in 2021. That’s still a bargain basement rate, roughly half of what the MVP contender could command.

Over the past two years, Watson has made 31 starts, connecting on 67.8% of his passes. In that span, he’s averaged 4,008 passing yards and 26 touchdowns against 10.5 interceptions. He’s also continued to be productive on the ground, rushing for 12 touchdowns between 2018 and 2019.

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Latest On Chiefs’ Extensions

Although the Rams once cut Kurt Warner less than three years after he won the second of his two MVP awards, the notion of the Chiefs releasing Patrick Mahomes down the road sounds insane. But the contract categorized by some as team-friendly offers Mahomes extensive protection against a release for the foreseeable future.

The 10-year, $450MM deal — which ties Mahomes to the Chiefs through 2031 — contains lucrative buyout numbers, with Albert Breer of SI.com relaying that even as late as 2024, it would cost the Chiefs an astounding $78.4MM to get out of the contract. A year later, the buyout number still comes in north of $40MM — at $41.95MM, per Breer.

While Mahomes’ record re-up does not lead the league in fully guaranteed money, these buyout numbers and the roster bonus structure do not put the 24-year-old superstar in much danger of missing out on money owed — as long as he’s attached to this extension.

Mahomes may have set the market, but Ian Rapoport notes that Deshaun Watson is expected to seek a shorter-term deal in order to maximize his value (video link). A four-year deal would give the Texans quarterback a good chance to sign another extension before he turns 30. Although Mahomes’ contract features unprecedented security on the back end of his deal, Joel Corry of CBS Sports envisions the lower-end (by franchise-QB standards) payouts early in the contract will not make other passers want to sign similarly structured extensions. Both Jared Goff ($84MM) and Carson Wentz ($81MM) will out-earn Mahomes ($63MM) over the first three years of their respective deals.

Mahomes’ 10-year agreement undoubtedly helped the Chiefs extend Chris Jones on Tuesday. Kansas City’s dominant defensive tackle signed a four-year, $80MM pact, with negotiations ramping up after Mahomes’ deal was finalized. Jones received $37.6MM fully guaranteed; that will be due by March 2021. Through two years of the deal, Jones will have pocketed $55.75MM, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes. The $5MM in incentives are $1.25MM-per-year, sack-based escalators, Florio adds.

Kansas City became the first team to give two defensive linemen — Jones and Frank Clark — $20MM-AAV deals. Of the Chiefs’ three $20MM-per-year players, Jones was the only one to negotiate a four-year contract. This would make him eligible to hit the market before he turns 30.

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Latest On Texans, Deshaun Watson

The Texans are still in the “extremely preliminary” stage of talks with Deshaun Watson, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. Things are still on track and positive, sources say, but there’s no rush on either side. 

For a while, we’ve heard that Watson could land a deal worth roughly $40MM per year. Not long ago, that was the jaw-dropping projection for Patrick Mahomes. If Watson signs his deal before Mahomes, buckle up – the KC star could command something closer to the $50MM/year mark, plus potential clauses that would change the business, such as salary cap escalators.

For now, Watson is set to make just $1.177MM in base salary for 2020. After watching Laremy Tunsil land a three-year, $66MM extension, he feels confident that his big payday is just around the corner.

It’s definitely good,” Watson said of the Texans’ willingness to take care fo their own. “It’s exciting for all of us. Only time will tell, but we’re going to do everything we can to make sure it’s on the right track. We’re going to win a lot of games and championships while we continue to figure out that side of the business, too.”

If/when Watson inks his deal, it would be a surprise if he didn’t top Russell Wilson‘s league-leading $35MM AAV. If Watson, Mahomes, and Dak Prescott all sign new contracts in the next few months, Wilson could be No. 4 on the list by the time the season starts.

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South Notes: Saints, Texans, Colts

Taysom Hill is expected to be “the guy” at quarterback for the Saints whenever Drew Brees decides to retire, as Jay Glazer of The Athletic writes. Brees has already signed a post-career deal with NBC Sports, and the 2020 season may or may not be his final year in the NFL, so Hill could be in line to become New Orleans’ starter as soon as next year. The drawbacks on Hill are apparent: he’ll be 31 years old when the 2021 campaign gets underway, and he’s only attempted 13 passes over the course of his career. But the Saints have nothing but shower with him praise in addition to extending him on a two-year pact that includes nearly $17.5MM in guaranteed money and a $16.1MM cap charge in 2021. Per Glazer, New Orleans isn’t attempting a “smokescreen” — the club is comfortable will Hill under center if Brees hangs up his cleats.

Here’s more from the NFL’s two South divisions: