While the Miami Dolphins have been the overwhelming focus of trade rumors for Deshaun Watson, it appears the Carolina Panthers are another potential strong suitor.
Jeremy Fowler of ESPN made an appearance Monday on SportsCenter and said Carolina's loss to the New York Giants on Sunday may have created a bidding war:
"With Carolina, things have changed after that ugly loss to the New York Giants. I've checked with multiple sources who acknowledge that things could heat up for Watson, largely because they need a franchise quarterback, and right now, the feeling is they might not have one. Now, Carolina was heavily involved in Watson's sweepstakes back in February-March time before the sexual assault allegations. I was told they were willing to outbid just about anybody at that time, so that's important to keep in mind. Now Miami, their talks could intensify because the feeling around the league is they didn't want to bid against themselves originally. But now, if Carolina or other teams are involved, they might not have to. Sitting at 1-6, though, [it's] still unclear how far they want to go to the finish line here. But I was told directly from a source, Deshaun Watson is willing to consider multiple options here. It is not 'Miami or bust' as has been sort of the perception league-wide. Multiple teams are going to be interested, and he's going to take all that into account."
The Panthers dropped their fourth straight game in a 25-3 loss to the Giants, with quarterback Sam Darnold being benched in the second half. Darnold has thrown seven interceptions over the course of the losing streak.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, dropped to 1-6 with a last-second loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Peter King of NBC Sports reported Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is "not pushing his football people" to make a deal for Watson, though it's possible that changes if the Panthers are interested. Miami has consistently expressed interest but reportedly did not want to bid against itself.
Teams have remained hesitant to meet the Texans' exorbitant asking price for Watson as he remains under investigation for sexual assault and misconduct. Twenty-two women have filed civil lawsuits, and several others spoke to Houston police regarding their allegations. The NFL is also conducting its own investigation.
The Texans have kept Watson inactive for each of their first seven games, allowing the NFL to avoid a decision on whether he'll be placed on the commissioner's exempt list. King reported the league has no plans to inform any potential suitor one way or another whether Watson will be eligible after a trade. Even if Watson is eligible for the remainder of this season, it's likely he will face a suspension next season under the NFL's personal conduct policy.
"I am trying to understand something," an executive told King. "We're not even sure if Watson would be able to play on opening day next year because of all these cases against him right now, and Houston thinks it'll get someone to pay three ones and two twos for him by the trading deadline this year? It's crazy to think anyone would do that. It's crazy for Houston to not wait till the offseason."
Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated reported one factor that could push the Texans to make a more immediate move is owner Cal McNair, who "just wants it to be over with." Watson has also reportedly handled the situation "professionally" behind the scenes.
The Dolphins arguably have more incentive to make an immediate trade for Watson because they traded their first-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles. That selection would be No. 2 or No. 3 if the season ended today. Adding Watson for the second half of the 2021 season—assuming he's eligible to play—might not make the Dolphins a playoff team, but they would likely win enough to wind up giving up a more palatable selection.
The Panthers could instantly have one of football's most dynamic offenses with Watson and a returning Christian McCaffrey. However, they may be more comfortable waiting until the quarterback's legal situation is sorted.