The Bears could have drafted Deshaun Watson ahead of Mitchell Trubisky in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Now they might be willing to give up a lot of future draft picks to acquire Watson in 2021.
On Monday’s edition of ESPN’s “NFL Live,” analyst Dan Orlovsky suggested that Chicago should go “all in” to complete a trade with the Texans for Watson. Following that up, reporter Jeff Darlington explained that the Bears might be in enough of a desperate state at quarterback to make such a move.
The Bears had been mentioned as early suitors for Watson with Trubisky set to become a free agent who they won’t try to re-sign. They also don’t want to go back to starting Nick Foles, who still has two years left on his contract.
Since those initial Watson trade rumors, the Bears lost one key QB option when the Colts traded for the Eagles’ Carson Wentz. They also have seen the draft stock of Alabama’s Mac Jones continue to rise above their No. 20 overall first-round pick. For now, the 49ers also don’t look like they’re dealing Illinois native Jimmy Garoppolo.
That leaves the Bears, should they need to go the non-rookie route, with the least inspiring option, the Jets’ Sam Darnold, and the most unrealistic option, the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson. If Chicago doesn’t want to settle for reuniting Alex Smith (soon to be released by Washington) with Matt Nagy as a bridge QB, it should be prompted more to shoot for the moon with Watson.
The Bears would no doubt need to give up a ton to the Texans to make this happen. It starts with being able to carry Watson’s contract. They just became barely salary-compliant with the release of slot cornerback Buster Skrine and are now around $233,000 under the cap, according to OverTheCap.com.
But Watson’s current Texans deal comes with a $15.95 million cap hit for 2021. Although that’s reasonable for a QB, created by the big guarantees Watson got on his four-year, $156 million contract that tabled his biggest cap hits for the next three years, the Bears still need to make more cuts to make room for Watson.
The Bears can do that by moving on from defensive tackle Akiem Hicks and tight end Jimmy Graham. That’s $17.5 million in extra cap relief right there, and they could clear another $8 million by designating offensive tackle Bobby Massie a June 1 cut. Not only could the Bears afford Watson in the short term in that scenario, but they would be closer to keeping free-agent wide receiver Allen Robinson as his go-to guy, either on the franchise tag or, better, a long-term deal.
It would make little sense for the Bears to trade for Watson if they leave him only with Darnell Mooney, Anthony Miller and second-year tight end Cole Kmet as his best receivers. So forget the tag-and-trade scenario with Robinson. He has to stay to draw Watson, and Watson has to be on his way there so Robinson comes around on staying in Chicago.
The next part of the plan is figuring out compensation. The Texans need a lot of defensive help, but the Bears are limited in what they can offer. Edge rusher Khalil Mack has been mentioned, but despite him still being an elite player, it would be hard for Houston to take another massive contract for a 30-year-old.
Without a veteran in the mix, the Texans should be asking for three first-rounders from the Bears, minimum, No. 20 this year plus where they pick in 2022 and 2023. They also shouldn’t be shy in asking about this year’s second-rounder, No. 52 overall.
Houston needs to target Chicago above all teams now to get the biggest return. With no Robinson needing to be involved, the Bears shouldn’t mind giving it up whatever it takes draft-picks wise. Watson is only 25 and will give the Bears a shot at contending in the NFC every season, as long as they work to give him great offensive support and decent defensive help. Should the Texans take one fewer first-round rounder for Mack or another player or two of their choice, the Bears should be fine with that, too.
The Bears were an NFC playoff team in 2020, no matter how you try to knock their 8-8 record. They have a lot of positive elements around the QB, which positions them to win big now with the right QB. It would be a waste of time to think Darnold or Smith could do much better than what Trubisky and Foles gave them last season.
The Jets and Dolphins don’t need to force a Watson deal because they have other options with upside, BYU’s Zach Wilson at No. 2 overall and Tua Tagovailoa, respectively. The Panthers may have more reasons to balk at young veteran compensation (Christian McCaffrey? Brian Burns? Jeremy Chinn?) on top of picks in trying acquire Watson, and they should have their pick of Jones, Ohio State’s Justin Fields and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance staying put at No. 8 overall. The winds of desperation do swirl a lot more through Chicago.
The Bears are down with almost nothing to lose and everything to gain by going after Watson. They can either try to win big or go home earlier without a playoff berth in 2021.
Forget how much it will cost the Bears to make up for the 2017 draft mistake. They need to do their best to take advantage of a rare chance to correct it.