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Armando Salguero: Deshaun Watson Trade Drama Takes A Toll On Quarterbacks Around The NFL

Deshaun Watson is a lot of things: great NFL quarterback, trade bait for the Houston Texans, shrewd businessman, and, yes, defendant.

But Watson is also something else:

He’s a destroyer of quarterback worlds.

That’s because as he’s sitting on the sideline, waiting to be traded, he is also unwittingly wrecking the will to live of several NFL quarterbacks. And if that description takes poetic license a bit far, well then, we’ll say Watson is definitely affecting the careers of several other quarterbacks.

Let’s take inventory because, so far, Watson and his behemoth shadow of a trade possibility has affected:

Tua Tagovailoa.

Baker Mayfield.

Matt Ryan.

Jameis Winston.

Sam Darnold.

All of those guys have taken strays while their teams have fired their best shot at trading for Watson in the past six months.

All those guys have been relegated to unrequited lover status while their teams have not just flirted with the idea of trading for Watson but have actually gone on dates with Watson.

It’s true.

The latest example of this is Mayfield, who spent Tuesday fully aware his club was meeting with Watson in Houston, trying to get him to agree to a trade.

Mayfield was at home at FirstEnergy Stadium, just like in those commercials, and between visits with Alice Cooper and perhaps polishing up the Dawg Pound, he penned a letter sharing his feelings.

He made that letter public late Tuesday night.

“I have no clue what happens next,” Mayfield said. “…I can only control what I can, which is trusting God’s plan throughout this process. I have given this franchise everything I have.

“That’s something I’ve always done at every stage, and at every level. And that will not change wherever I take my next snaps. Whatever happens.”

What’s happening is the Cleveland Browns basically announced to Mayfield that they prefer someone else. Indeed, they announced that Mayfield has failed them in his four years as their starter after being the No. 1 overall selection of the 2018 draft.

The meeting, which the Browns knew would become public, sent a message to the entire Earth that the Browns are looking for a better quarterback and they’re not committed to their current one. Mayfield obviously got the message.

It’s not the first time this has happened.

And it won’t be the last. In fact, it’s going to repeat on Wednesday. More on that in a minute.

Mayfield isn’t the first incumbent quarterback who’s woken up to the fact his team wants Watson over him. Tagovailoa lived months of that during the 2021 season.

Even after Miami Dolphins general manager Chris Grier announced in January of 2021 that Tagovailoa was Miami’s starter, the team went to great lengths to try to trade for Watson.

For several weeks in late September and October, the Watson rumors made headlines daily and were even openly discussed among multiple Dolphins players, per a source. It got to the point where then-coach Brian Flores began meeting with Tagovailoa to update him on the situation.

And after a last-minute phone call to Watson from club owner Stephen Ross didn’t go exactly right and caused the Dolphins to back away from a deal, that club turned back to Tagovailoa and basically told him how much they loved him.

Did that affect Tagovailoa?

He had one game before the trade deadline in which his rating was over 100 and three in which it was under 80.

But after the trade deadline passed and the Watson cloud with it, Tagovailoa delivered four games with ratings over 100 and two in which it was under 80.

A few weeks ago, the Dolphins announced they had shut the door on a renewed effort to trade for Watson. But the Carolina Panthers, who coveted him last year, didn’t.

Sorry, Sam Darnold.

And the Atlanta Falcons, who have a quarterback who took them to the Super Bowl, didn’t.

The Falcons are reportedly trying to meet with Watson on Wednesday. Watson, a Georgia native, wanted the meeting and the Falcons accepted.

Wonder how that makes Matt Ryan feel?

Well, if he’s clear-eyed, he sees that after 14 seasons as the face of that franchise, the franchise is taking steps to move on. Ryan now understands the big contract and strong bond he shares with the Falcons is moot if the Falcons can acquire Watson.

Simple as that.

Bye, Matt.

But that’s not the big problem. Football players are tough guys and they recognize they’re in a competitive business. So if someone better comes along, they generally understand they can get replaced.

But football players are also human. And they can hold a grudge.

So what happens if the Browns don’t land Watson? What they have back home is a possible problem because Mayfield now knows exactly how the team really feels.

Same with Ryan. How does he react if the Falcons fail to land Watson?

Can his professionalism easily rise above Wednesday’s serious attempt to replace him? Or does this leave a bitter taste? And does it eventually show in his performances?

There is, of course, Winston, too.

He’s an unrestricted free agent and is hoping, if not expecting, to get a chance to start for his next team. He threw 14 TD passes and only 3 interceptions for the Saints last season before he got injured.

Winston felt comfortable in New Orleans. It felt something like home and he was expecting the Saints to offer him a chance to return as their starter.

But now they’ve met with Watson first. That’s their priority. That’s the priority for a lot of teams.

And that’s turned Deshaun Watson into an unwitting destroyer of quarterback worlds.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990 for the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and ESPN. He was a 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 columnist. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and AP All-Pro team voter.

6 Comments

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  1. “great nfl QB” AS says man are you sure you’ve covered NFL since 1990 I am still waiting for you to provide some proof of your constant glowing tributes of this really pathetic person what has he won I say not a thing any playoff wins or even made playoffs these comments of yours are just sounding really ignorant and dumb so give me something that elevates him to “great” status so far nada

  2. Quarterbacks is not the only thing that Watson has destroyed. If you believe the Miami leaks, Flores pretty much destroyed his career by lobbying for Watson one season after Tua was drafted. For a QB whose record is barely above 500 Watson has created quite a stir.

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