Detroit Lions Should Do Full Reset with Dan Campbell, Make Run at Deshaun Watson

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJanuary 21, 2021

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) rolls out as he looks to pass during an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Matt Patterson)
Matt Patterson/Associated Press

In the Houston Texans' 2019 season opener, quarterback Deshaun Watson generated four total touchdowns and posted a 114.3 passer rating in a heroic road performance against the juggernaut New Orleans Saints.

That memorable display, which was capped by an epic 37-yard go-ahead touchdown pass from Watson to Kenny Stills in the final minute, was witnessed firsthand by then-Saints assistant head coach Dan Campbell. 

On Wednesday, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Campbell officially became the new head coach of the Detroit Lions

Will new Lions head coach Dan Campbell chase Deshaun Watson?
Will new Lions head coach Dan Campbell chase Deshaun Watson?Uncredited/Associated Press

The first thing he and new Lions general manager Brad Holmes should do is call the Texans about acquiring the player who lit up the Saints that night and has been lighting up the league since 2017. 

While veteran Matthew Stafford wasn't the primary reason the Lions couldn't get it done under the previous regime, this is the time to attempt a thorough reset by replacing a so-called franchise quarterback who has carried the team to a grand total of zero playoff wins in 12 seasons. 

The energizing Campbell, in particular, should bring fresh vibes to the organization, but it'll be hard to truly refocus with a new look and feel with the face of the franchise remaining the same. Stafford turns 33 in February, he's won just 6.2 games per campaign in those 12 seasons, and—for the first time in years—the Lions can actually save money ($14 million, according to Spotrac) by parting ways with the one-time Pro Bowler. 

Plus, word is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL may be available at the age of 25, which creates an incredibly rare, if not unprecedented, opportunity. 

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A schism has clearly developed between Watson and the Texans, and ESPN's Adam Schefter reported this week that "there is a growing sense from people in and around the Texans' organization that [Watson] has played his last snap for the team."

The new regime in Detroit should do everything it can to make the perennial Pro Bowler a Lion, and Holmes and Campbell are actually well-positioned to make a run at the superstar quarterback.

Stafford himself might be a potential trade piece if Houston figures a change of scenery could also help the 2009 No. 1 overall pick take his career to the next level, but the Lions also possess the No. 7 overall pick in this year's draft. That could give them a clear advantage over other potential Watson suitors like the San Francisco 49ers (who pick 12th) or Chicago Bears (who pick 20th) and a small edge over the Carolina Panthers (who pick eighth) and Denver Broncos (who pick ninth). 

Lon Horwedel/Associated Press

The Texans would likely prefer to trade Watson far from the Lone Star State and even farther from the AFC, which could help Detroit's chances in comparison to the Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets

And while the No. 7 overall pick and a 2022 first-round pick might not get the job done based on past trades involving superstar veterans, Stafford's talent and experience could intrigue the Texans, as could the promise possessed by the Lions' 2020 No. 3 overall selection, Jeff Okudah. Opposing quarterbacks completed a league-high 69.7 percent of their passes against Houston's 30th-ranked defense last season, so a shiny new cornerback might be highly valued by the Texans in trade negotiations. 

The point is, the Lions can generate a multitude of potential packages for Houston to contemplate.  

Watson would cost the Lions—who are projected by Spotrac to enter the offseason with just $3.4 million in cap space—less than $11 million in 2021 before his salary skyrockets when his four-year, $156 million extension kicks in in 2022. In other words, they'd save $3 million in 2021 cap space by jumping from Stafford to Watson, which could make it easier for them to re-sign top wide receiver Kenny Golladay—an impending free agent.

Watson's contract could make it hard to splurge on free agents for several years to come, but the cap is also expected to rise substantially when new television deals come to fruition relatively soon.

Besides, if there was ever a time and place to mortgage the future, this might be it. The Lions are already paying their top pass-rusher (27-year-old Trey Flowers), their left tackle (27-year-old Taylor Decker) and their foremost defensive stalwart (31-year-old linebacker Jamie Collins Sr.) like superstars. Those key pieces are in their primes, and the team can't afford to rebuild while those guys age along with Golladay, center Frank Ragnow and highly paid offensive lineman Halapoulivaati Vaitai. 

Butch Dill/Associated Press

Quarterbacks of Watson's ilk and age simply do not become available.

Watson has a combined 121 passing and rushing touchdowns in 54 career games, which ranks behind only Dan Marino's total of 127 as the second-highest 54-game mark in modern league history. His 104.5 career passer rating is the second-highest qualified mark of all time, and in 2020, he was the NFL's second-highest-rated passer despite playing for a dysfunctional four-win team. He's clutch, often magical, and he led a total of 10 game-winning drives and eight fourth-quarter comebacks when the Texans were competitive in 2018 and 2019. 

Put simply, he's extremely special. 

Holmes is apparently forward-thinking and analytical. That's a sign he potentially won't get caught up in the Lions' past. He praised Stafford in his introductory press conference but did not make any commitments at quarterback, and owner Sheila Ford Hamp is leaving roster decisions to Holmes and Campbell. 

The Lions might still believe in Stafford, but they can't pass up on a chance to upgrade to a younger, already more accomplished player at the sport's most critical position.


Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter: @Brad_Gagnon.