On March 11th, Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson cleared a very big hurdle as he seeks to get back on an NFL field. A grand jury elected to not indict Watson of sexual misconduct criminal charges stemming from nine complaints. Watson is still facing civil lawsuits from 22 women who have accused him of various sexual misconduct and sexual assault.
Additionally, the NFL is investigating Watson for violations of its personal conduct policy in connection with the civil and criminal complaints. The criminal charges represented the largest hurdle for Watson to return to action. Now that they have concluded, it is expected there will be renewed interest in the signal-caller in his quest to be traded from Houston.
Understanding what a team may be getting in Watson is a complicated and intricate matter. Bucs Twitter is currently bursting with debates over whether the young quarterback is a possibility for a team looking for the heir apparent to Tom Brady. While there are several factors to consider, most notably whether Tampa Bay can afford his contract.
The answer to that question is most certainly yes, they can afford it. Watson is set to enter year one of a four-year extension he signed prior to 2020. His salary cap hits over these four years are as follows:
2022 $40.4 million
2023 $42.4 million
2024 $37.4 million
2025 $32.0 million
However, these figures do not represent the cap hit to the team that may acquire him via trade. Those cap hits include a total of $21.2 million in signing bonus. These cap charges will remain with Houston in the event of a trade. So for an acquiring team Watson’s cap charges will look like this:
2022 $35.0 million
2023 $37.0 million
2024 $32.0 million
2025 $32.0 million
Moves To Fit Watson Under The Cap
“But this is still a very large cap hit and last I heard the Bucs were over the salary cap!”
Both of these statements are true! But that does not mean they can’t afford to take on Watson’s contract. It will require two things, but it is possible.
The first and easiest step for the Bucs to become cap-compliant while adding Watson to the roster is by restructuring his contract. With a simple max restructure, the team can reduce Watson’s base salary from the $35 million he is owed this season to the $1.035 million minimum salary for a 6th-year player and convert the $33.965 million reduction to a restructure bonus that will be prorated over the four years left on his deal. This move would change his cap charges to the following:
All of a sudden, that 2022 cap charge does not look like a significant barrier to acquiring Watson. Now, how can the bucs fit this $9.5 million charge under the cap? That will come down to restructuring the contracts of veteran players already on their roster.
Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
As of this writing Tampa Bay sits $10,848,779 over the salary cap per OverTheCap.com. Adding Watson’s potentially reduced number would bring that number up to $20,375,029. Tom Brady’s retirement, which will be processed on June 2nd, will reduce that overage by $12,270,588. Then the team would most likely look to Mike Evans, Shaq Barrett, Donovan Smith and Vita Vea for some combination of simple restructures or extensions to reduce their 2022 cap hit. Combined, these four players could account for up to $39,434,335 in 2022 cap savings.
Are you keeping up with the math? If the Bucs executed all of these moves, they are now sitting $31,329,894 under the cap. The team could also restructure the contracts of Lavonte David and Cameron Brate. And don’t forget, coming to terms with Chris Godwin on a long-term contract that would reduce his 2022 cap hit from its current $19.18 million position.
Long-Term Impact On Bucs Cap
Bucs NT Vita Vea – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
All of these moves do come with long-term ramifications. In restructuring the contracts of Evans, Barrett, Smith and Vea, the team defers the accounting of those numbers to later years. Also, the charges become guaranteed. But as Pewter Report’s own JC Allen pointed out on Twitter earlier today, the team has very few financial commitments past the year 2023. Plus, the cap will go up exponentially the next two years.
The proposition of trading for Deshaun Watson will certainly carry with it many possible barriers. Obstacles such as trade cost, public relations and ethical questions, one thing that will not prevent the Bucs from pulling the trigger will be whether they can afford his contract.
*Author’s note–This piece will touch on an individual who has been accused of sexual assault and sexual misconduct. It is not my intention to cast judgment or to insinuate that I condone the actions this person has been accused of. If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual assault I encourage you to reach out to the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673*