It's not likely, but here are 3 ways Bears could trade for Deshaun Watson
Let's start with this: The Bears are not well positioned to trade for Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson. Many other teams across the league are better positioned to acquire the 25-year-old three-time Pro Bowl quarterback.
It's increasingly likely Watson wants out of Houston after reports surfaced that he's fed up with the Texans' ownership and front office. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Watson might have played his last game in Houston.
Sports Illustrated reported over the weekend Watson was unhappy with Houston's hiring of Nick Caserio as general manager and the team's search for a new head coach.
With Watson coming off a season in which he threw for 4,823 yards and 33 touchdowns, despite playing on a four-win team, the storyline isn't going away and it's likely to dominate the NFL offseason. Watson signed a $156 million contract extension in September, keeping him under contract through 2025. Watson has a full no-trade clause, so he can veto any potential trade destination he doesn't like.
Why it's not likely
Off the bat, it's worth wondering if coach Matt Nagy's Bears are even desirable for Watson. Nagy's offense was not impressive in 2019 or for much of 2020. If the Bears can find a way to keep receiver Allen Robinson, Watson might be persuaded, but it's a tall task.
Persuading Watson wouldn't even be the biggest hurdle. Persuading the Texans' front office is. A deal must involve numerous draft picks. The Bears hold the 20th overall pick in this year's draft, which already puts them behind the competition. Houston traded away its first-round pick (No. 3 overall). Any Watson trade is probably going to send the Texans back into the first round in 2021. It would likely cost at least a 2022 first-round pick as well, plus a combination of lower-round picks. Three first-round picks is not out of the question.
Three teams could offer two first-round picks in 2021. Miami has the third pick, which formerly belonged to Houston, plus the 18th pick and a young quarterback in rookie Tua Tagovailoa. Jacksonville has two first-round picks, including the No. 1-overall pick, not to mention a plethora of lower-round picks. The New York Jets hold the second pick and the 23rd, and could also offer up 23-year-old quarterback Sam Darnold.
Already those pieces sound better than anything the Bears could offer. The Bears don't have a young quarterback and they don't have a draft pick high enough to grab a top quarterback in the draft.
But for the sake of the argument, let's look at three scenarios that might work. If these deals seem unlikely, that's because, well, they are.
The superstar deal
Aside from the fact that the Bears' first-round pick is a mediocre trade chip, they would also have the not-so-easy task of needing to free up cap space for Watson's $15.9 million cap hit in 2021, which jumps to a whopping $40.4 million in 2022, according to Spotrac.
The easiest way to do that would be to include Pro Bowl outside linebacker Khalil Mack in the deal. With four years remaining on his contract, he is scheduled to produce a cap hit of at least $23 million in each of the next four years. From a cap-creating perspective, it makes sense to unload Mack.
From a football perspective, not so much. It would be hard to see the Bears part ways with Mack. Yes, he had only 17.5 sacks in the past two seasons, but sacks are an imprecise science and that's still more than a lot of NFL pass rushers. Even if he's not sacking the quarterback, he draws so much attention from offensive lines that it frees up space for his teammates. Mack's as much a factor in the run game as he is in pass rush too.
Mack dealt with a shoulder injury that general manager Ryan Pace characterized as not insignificant this season. He'll be 30 years old next season and the Texans already have one aging pass rusher in 31-year-old J.J. Watt. They probably don't want another.
The young playmakers
If the Texans are trading Watson and embarking on what is essentially a rebuild, they are probably going to want younger talent than Mack. With Robinson potentially on his way out, receiver Darnell Mooney should be a nonstarter for the Bears. Cole Kmet appears to be the future at tight end, with Jimmy Graham a potential cap cut. The Bears can afford to lose a piece or two on defense more than they can afford to lose a young offensive player.
Cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson and Kyle Fuller could be targets. At 29 next season, Fuller isn't young, but he's in his prime and he's on the books for $20 million next year. Maybe they can include Anthony Miller in a package, if they don't cut him first.
The player Houston would definitely want is inside linebacker Roquan Smith. That would be a tough one to swallow in Chicago. Smith's on his team-friendly rookie deal, and the Bears will almost certainly exercise the fifth-year option this offseason that will keep him under contract through 2022. He is the face of the Bears' defense right now and for the immediate future.
Again, not saying these are good ideas. But if you want to trade for a superstar quarterback, you have to part with good players. If Watson is on the table, maybe it makes sense to part with a Kyle Fuller or a Roquan Smith.
The QB exchange
Try not to laugh. What if the Bears sent a package that included quarterback Nick Foles, maybe a younger player or two, and a bunch of draft picks?
According to Sports Illustrated's report, Texans owner Cal McNair strongly identifies with right-hand man Jack Easterby because of their shared Christian faith. Foles, a devout Christian, would fit right in, and he could give Houston a bridge quarterback if they were to draft someone younger. Foles went to Westlake High School outside Austin, Texas. The storylines are insatiable.
But storylines are only worth so much, and Foles' play this season (the Bears went 2-5 in his seven starts) isn't likely to excite Texans fans.
It might be more realistic to find a third trade partner. Three-team trades are not as common in the NFL as they are in the NBA and MLB, but they do happen. What if the Bears and Texans could swing a deal with, say, the Jets to send quarterback Sam Darnold to Houston? Or the Eagles to send Carson Wentz to Houston in a deal that could send Foles back to Philadelphia? Those teams, of course, would need more in return. Frankly, there's not much in it for the Jets who, as mentioned earlier, have enough assets to go out and grab Watson for themselves.
Which brings us back to the original point: Other teams have better trade chips than the Bears. Watson to Chicago feels like a pipe dream.
But a Bears fan can dream.