Opinion: Saints would be better off passing on Deshaun Watson trade
The New Orleans Saints have been making an all-out push to make Deshaun Watson their next quarterback.
They are one of four teams in the running to acquire Watson in a trade with the Houston Texans. The others are fellow NFC South members Atlanta and Carolina as well as Cleveland.
Watson reportedly has met with representatives of all four teams this week and a trade could happen at any moment – as soon as the quarterback chooses which destination he prefers.
It would be better for the Saints if Watson chooses to go elsewhere.
The presumed asking price includes three first-round draft choices, other draft assets and one or more starting players. The precise cost could be somewhat different from that but still too steep.
Watson is a very good player. So is Jameis Winston.
He has spent two years learning the Saints offense and won the starting job over Taysom Hill last season. Winston played quite well as the Saints started 5-2, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the seventh game.
The Saints nearly made the playoffs without him, but clearly the offense was better with him than without him.
Quarterback is not a position of need this offseason – as long as the Saints re-sign Winston, whose contract expired Wednesday.
The trade for Watson as projected in media reports just doesn’t add up for New Orleans .
Sometimes organizations are forced to make trades in which they receive less value than they relinquish.
If a star player insists that he will leave in free agency if he is not traded, the organization, trying to get something in return while it can, sometimes will have to accept less than it relinquishes because potential trade partners believe they can get a bargain from a highly motivated seller.
Other times an organization will be in a cost-cutting mode and will accept less value than it relinquishes because its primary goal is to save money.
But if the Saints make this trade it will be for neither of those reasons. They have been proactive in these talks and would be making this trade because they are convinced that it will make them a better team than they are, perhaps even a strong Super Bowl contender.
It will be because they believe Watson is a superior player to Winston by a margin that exceeds the cumulative value of all that stuff they’d be giving up.
I don’t buy it.
It might be tempting to look at Tom Brady arriving in Tampa Bay two years ago and leading the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl title and seeing Matthew Stafford arriving in Los Angeles a year ago and leading the Rams to a Super Bowl title and believe Watson can do the same for the Saints, who have already have a playoff-caliber roster.
I’ll go along with Watson being a marginally better quarterback than Winston, but I don’t believe the Saints will be better positioned in 2022 and beyond with Watson – and without all those assets – than they would be with Winston – and with all those assets.
There’s more, of course.
The Saints wouldn’t be acquiring just Watson, they would also be acquiring significant baggage that will accompany him wherever he goes.
Watson faces 22 civil lawsuits regarding allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault. It was announced last week that Watson will not face criminal charges, which triggered the sudden surge in offers from potential trade partners after Watson did not play last season and Houston barely got a nibble for any trades.
This isn’t about Watson’s innocence or guilt because we don’t know whether he is innocent or guilty.
We do know that he will not be criminally charged – which isn’t necessarily the same as innocence – and we also know that he faces a whole lot of civil litigation – which isn’t necessarily the same as guilt.
What’s most relevant to the Saints is that much of their success – especially since 2017 – has been due to their ability to stack their roster with very good players who almost without exception have very high character.
Through his attorney, Watson has strongly denied any wrongdoing.
But the understandable suspicion that all that smoke must be coming from some sort of fire invites concern about the strength of Watson’s character.
More to the point, though, is the practical consideration of how the locker room would react to a well-respected teammate and team leader (Winston) being replaced by an outsider facing so much suspicion – as well as the inevitable distractions that the ongoing litigation would bring.
Saints executive vice president of football operations Mickey Loomis and rookie head coach Dennis Allen are trying to escape the long shadow of Sean Payton, who ran the football operation and took it to unprecedented heights during the last 16 years before resigning less than two months ago.
They might feel a need to do something bold, to add a potentially great young quarterback in order continue the level of success that the Saints enjoyed under Payton.
But a better approach would be to recognize that Payton left them an awful lot to work with.
And this trade – while bringing aboard a dynamic quarterback – would also jeopardize the quarterback’s supporting cast and the health of the locker room.
A better deal would be to re-sign and embrace Jameis Winston instead.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…