The Atlanta Falcons have emerged as a ‘sleeper team’ to acquire Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, per a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The Falcons have emerged as a sleeper team to acquire Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, league sources tell @mortreport and me. The Falcons join the Panthers, Saints and Browns as teams that have met with, or are interested in, trading for Watson. More to come on ESPN.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 15, 2022
Schefter recounts the connection Watson has to the franchise as a former ballboy and says that he’s “developed a relationship” with Blank’s family.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank is fond of Deshaun Watson from the days when the former Gainesville (Ga) High quarterback worked multiple years as a Falcons’ ball boy and developed a relationship with Blank's family. https://t.co/EypxrnF9ma— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 15, 2022
In addition, ESPN’s Diana Russini says that Watson seems interested in playing for the Falcons.
I’m told QB Deshaun Watson has interest in the Atlanta Falcons and has even reached out to the franchise personally, per source. https://t.co/wdQfgaXGjR— Dianna Russini (@diannaESPN) March 15, 2022
“All options are open ... but it’s not going to be easy,” Schefter was told by a source with the Falcons about the potential for a Watson move. Another source said it’d be a “longshot.”
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport says that the Falcons will meet with Watson Wednesday, with a decision possible to come that same day. He said the Falcons making the move would be “extremely complicated” and that it would, of course, necesitate trading franchise quarterback Matt Ryan.
From Free Agency Frenzy: #Texans QB Deshaun Watson meets with the #Browns today, the #Falcons are slated for tomorrow, and he met with the #Saints and #Panthers yesterday. Potentially a decision coming Wednesday. pic.twitter.com/0bqTphy1S5— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 15, 2022
The news comes on the heels of Watson being linked to division rivals the New Orleans Saints and the Carolina Panthers, as well as the AFC Cleveland Browns.
The cost for a Watson trade is reportedly three first-round picks plus assets, per multiple reports. Watson has a no-trade clause on his four-year, $156 million deal and can effectively choose where he ultimately plays.
Watson’s trade market has sped up in recent days after he learned he wouldn’t face criminal charges stemming from 22 accusations of inappropriate behavior and sexual assault alleged by massage therapists.
While interest doesn’t mean the team is actively preparing a package to send to Houston, the report alone shows that the Falcons are at least open to the idea of acquiring Watson and replacing Ryan as the team’s franchise face. It would support news from The Athletic that Ryan’s reported contract restructure wasn’t complete yet. Schefter confirmed that Ryan’s contract restructure had not been officially agreed to and that nothing had been turned into the league office as of yet, as did 92.9 The Game’s Mike Conti.
Watson’s not out of the woods yet, with 22 civil suits against him still pending and an investigation by the NFL still ongoing that could result in suspension. For an organization that has prided itself on ethics and character, it’d be a staggering abandonment of principle for the Falcons organization to levy its future to acquire someone with this much baggage and ongoing legal concerns.
The move feels very much not like what Blank has championed in his ownership of the Falcons, and it’d be a backbreaking move for a portion of the fan base who couldn’t support the Falcons if it meant supporting a player with 22 accusations of sexual harassment and assault on its roster.
Though, as CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora notes, some rival general managers aren’t buying Atlanta as a legitimate contender and that this could be part of a process to drive the price up on an eventual Watson trade.
Rival GM's are not buying Atlanta as a legit suitor for Deshaun Watson but perhaps will prove em wrong. Watson been available for a year Atlanta told teams would not trade Matt Ryan then reworked deal again. With NO and CAR in deep, industry reading this as attempt to drive price— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 15, 2022
This could all be smoke, or it could be the sign of the organization plotting a franchise-altering move that will no doubt be the most shocking thing to come out of Falconland since 28-3. We’ll be monitoring, of course, and hoping and praying that level heads come forth and that Watson is elsewhere in 2022. Being a long-shot contender is already a step too far for this franchise to make. Being a piece in a process to drive up the trade value is manageable.