Watson and Wilson Should Be Infuriated by Their Idle Teams in Free AgencyMarch 17, 2021
This offseason, two of the four highest-rated qualified passers in NFL history have unequivocally stated their displeasure with the teams that have made them two of the five highest-paid players in league history.
The pressure has been cranked up on the Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks to either trade Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson, respectively, or do more to make them happy.
Nearly 48 hours into the unofficial free-agent signing window, neither team has done anything to indicate it's prepared to assertively add support for its franchise quarterback.
Most of the league's top free agents have agreed to terms with teams on the open market, and none of the impact players on said market will be living in Southeast Texas or Washington's King County in 2021.
The Texans have parted ways with franchise legend J.J. Watt, and their highest-profile additions have been curious fit Marcus Cannon at offensive tackle, Shaq Lawson (who cost them Benardrick McKinney in a trade) and cheap quasi-replacement-level veterans Terrance Mitchell and Christian Kirksey.
There's been no indication they'll retain top wide receiver Will Fuller V, even though Watson said in December it's "very important" Fuller return.
"Will's my brother," Watson told reporters. "The whole organization knows that too. And you know, make sure that we get him back for next year, especially in this organization."
The Texans have insisted they won't trade Watson, and you'd think re-signing Fuller would represent an olive branch. Instead, mainly crickets.
They did sign a veteran offensive player with a Pro Bowl on his resume at a potential position of need. Too bad he's a quarterback.
Meanwhile, Wilson said he's "frustrated at getting hit too much," which makes sense considering he's been sacked 394 times since coming into the NFL in 2012—a stretch during which no other quarterback has taken more than 325 sacks.
But so far in free agency, the Seahawks have downgraded at cornerback by swapping out Shaquill Griffin for Ahkello Witherspoon and have lost offensive role player Carlos Hyde to the Jacksonville Jaguars. That's essentially it.
Both organizations are constrained by the salary cap in a difficult offseason for the entire league, but free-agent pools at premium positions like wide receiver, offensive tackle and guard are deeper than ever as a result of the reduced cap. Teams like the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints have remained active on the market despite being in even worse cap shape.
With a multitude of contract restructures and some cuts, the Saints have once again established this month how pliable the salary cap can be, and how easy it can be to raise cap space.
Knowing the cap is likely to skyrocket with COVID-19 (hopefully) in the past and the impact of new television deals expected to kick in beyond the 2021 season, the Texans and Seahawks should have spent recent weeks reworking existing contracts to position themselves to improve immensely for their franchise quarterbacks.
The Texans did that with receiver Brandin Cooks, but they did nothing about left tackle Laremy Tunsil's $19.4 million 2021 cap number, or about the $12 million hit that belongs to linebacker Whitney Mercilus, or the $10.3 million charge on cornerback Bradley Roby's deal.
Had they aggressively restructured or extended those contracts, they might have been able to lock up Fuller and add a blue-chip offensive player like guard Joe Thuney or tight end Jonnu Smith to convince Watson they're serious about getting this right.
The Seahawks extended key defensive cog Poona Ford, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, but that early deal cost them money against the 2021 cap in comparison to Ford's tender price. Why was that considered a priority? Elsewhere on the roster, they did nothing about linebacker Bobby Wagner's $17.2 million 2021 cap hit, and they didn't extend stalwart left tackle Duane Brown or starting receiver Tyler Lockett ahead of walk years worth a combined $26.8 million.
It's easy to imagine that Watson and/or Wilson might view those dynamics as teams sitting on their hands. While it's always more complicated than that, these front offices had to get bold and take chances on behalf of their stars, and it hasn't happened.
The offseason is just getting underway, but the heart of free agency is over, and both have failed. The highly accomplished and highly paid faces of these franchises have every reason to be furious.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter, @Brad_Gagnon.