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Enough already: Why the Cardinals won’t—and shouldn’t—make a Deshaun Watson trade

The Deshaun Watson rumor mill is a-turnin’—and some have suggested that the Cardinals are a potential landing spot. Here’s why that suggestion is nonsense.

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Tennessee Titans v Houston Texans
Deshaun Watson is likely on his way out of Texas. But don’t count on him moving west to Arizona.
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

I can’t believe I actually have to write this.

No, the Cardinals should not trade Kyler Murray for Deshaun Watson. Not straight up, and especially—ESPECIALLY—not packaged with any other assets. Unless the Texans are the ones willing to add other picks and/or players, Cardinals GM Steve Keim should laugh and hang up the phone if they come calling. And he certainly shouldn’t be the one making the call himself.

Look, I get it. Quarterbacks like Watson—a 25-year-old franchise cornerstone—NEVER become available on the trade market. And of course there’s the DeAndre Hopkins connection. If you squint hard enough, I suppose there are some dots to connect, which leads to articles like this. Dan Bickley mentioned the possibility on 98.7 in his Bickley Blast on Monday as well.

Maybe in Madden franchise mode a trade like this would make sense, but here in the real world, it just doesn’t. ESPN’s Bill Barnwell labeled such a trade “impractical.” I’ll go farther and say it’s just nonsense. Here’s why.

The Salary Cap

The cap hits for Kyler and Watson are actually comparable in 2021—about $10M for Kyler and about $16M for Watson. Were a trade to go down, the Cardinals—currently with somewhere in the neighborhood of $10M in cap space—could make it work. But then Watson’s 4-year/$156M extension kicks in in 2022 and his cap his skyrockets to about $40M/yr for the next 4 years. Of course, the Cardinals will probably eventually have to pay Kyler that kind of money, but a Pro Bowl QB still on his rookie contract is the most valuable assets in the NFL, and giving up 2-3 years of that financial flexibility (for a QB who might not even be a strict upgrade!) would be salary cap suicide…

We Have Other Needs

…because the team has a plethora of other needs elsewhere on the roster. The Cardinals need significant help at WR, possibly a new RB, multiple interior O-linemen, multiple D-linemen, probably two CBs, etc., etc. How is Keim going to plug all those holes if he adds $6M of payroll this year and $30M next year? Our salary cap situation is already pretty tight as it is, and exchanging Kyler’s rookie deal for Watson’s big-money extension just doesn’t make sense. Yes, there is room for flexibility (restructures, extensions, etc.), but you’d better be sure you’re making your team significantly better with Watson rather than Kyler under center…

Is Watson Really an Upgrade?

…and we don’t know whether that’s really the case. Now, I think it’s safe to say that Watson is a better passer at this point than Kyler—something backed up pretty convincingly by the numbers. Last season, Watson passed for 4,823 yards (8.9 YPA—#1 in the league) with a 33:7 TD:INT ratio, good for a 112.4 QB rating (#2 in the league). Kyler’s numbers were 3,971 yards (7.1 YPA) with a 26:12 TD:INT ratio, resulting in a 94.3 QB rating (#18 in the league). But those numbers don’t tell the whole story—Kyler played in a much run-heavier offense and was a far better runner himself: 819 yards and 11 TDs, compared to 444 yards and 3 TDs for Watson. When you look at QBR, which takes into account rushing production, the two QBs are much closer: Watson was #12 in the league at 70.5, with Kyler a couple ticks behind at #14 with 68.9. (The gap is a little wider over at PFF: 92.5 for Watson, 82.8 for Kyler.) Then when you consider that Kyler is two years younger and might not even be close to his ceiling—and that this might be Watson’s ceiling, or close to it—and you have to question whether Watson will actually be the better QB next year… or two or three years from now. Especially when…

Different Play Styles

…they have such different play styles. Watson is much more of a dropback passer than Kyler. Although he’s definitely not a statue in the pocket like a Brady or a Brees (see: those 444 rushing yards), he’s also not even close to Kyler’s level as a runner/scrambler. And he did take 49 sacks, second-most in the league, compared to just 27 for Kyler. Some of that is on the Texans’ below-average line, but some of that is on Watson. All that said, I wonder how his play style would transfer to the desert and Kliff Kingsbury’s system. One number from above keeps jumping out to me: Watson’s 8.9 YPA last year. Would he even be able to come close to replicating that in Kingsbury’s often-frustrating offensive ecosystem—even with his well-developed rapport with Hopkins? This is another reason why I question whether Watson would be an upgrade—it’s still going to be Kliff “Let’s Try Another WR Screen” Kingsbury calling plays here in 2021. Thus far, he’s been unable to design a consistently productive passing offense around Kyler. What evidence is there that he’d be able to design one around Watson? And would our running game be nearly as effective without Kyler’s superior mobility forcing opposing defenders to account for him as a runner?

Final Thoughts

As much as I like and respect Deshaun Watson, I just don’t think it makes any sense for the Cardinals to pursue him. Taking on his contract would complicate our salary cap situation at a time when we’re still trying to assemble a complete roster, and his age and play style differences with Kyler mean he might not be the strict upgrade some assume he’d be. A Watson/Kyler swap would make more sense in fantasy football or video games than reality.

But… is there a scenario where I’d actually consider such a swap? Perhaps. If Keim got word that San Francisco was about to land Watson, I *might* reconsider my stance. Then it would come down to what other pieces were involved. I might be able to get behind a straight-up swap, but I’d be hanging up the phone if Houston asked for any draft picks or young players. But I really don’t want to have to play Watson twice a year for the next decade…

Your turn, Cardinals fans. Where are you at with these Watson “rumors”/pipe dreams? Are you with me that it’s nuts? Or if you’re all for trading Kyler for the Texans’ QB, make your best case in the comments.