A team interested in trading for Watson is taking a risk. The market for his services was all but closed while the grand jury was meeting. Its decision not to prosecute means he won’t go to jail. It won’t make the civil suits go away. In 2010, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Ben Roethlisberger for six games – later reduced to four – although his case for sexual assault in a Milledgeville nightclub was dismissed.
It’s clear NFL teams view Watson in a different light than they did a week ago. He’s a real possibility for clubs in need of a quarterback. The Falcons were described by a Schefter/Mortensen source as a “long shot,” but the team knows Watson well. He served as a Falcons ball boy. He grew up in Gainesville, in a Habitat for Humanity house that former Falcons running back Warrick Dunn helped furnish.
More than 20 women claim the adult Watson harmed them. We can’t unsee that image. But Michael Vick played quarterback in the NFL, albeit not for the Falcons, after he’d gone to federal prison for dogfighting. Roethlisberger played 12 more seasons after being docked those four games. Until the grand jury declined to prosecute, we weren’t sure Watson would play another NFL game. We’re pretty sure he will now.
For the sake of discussion, let’s say the Falcons become more than a long shot. Let’s say they move to trade for Watson. That would mean they’d have to dump Ryan, not necessarily to the Texans but to somewhere. After restructuring Ryan’s contract, his cap hit for 2022 is $36.6 million. Watson’s is $40.4M. These two salaries cannot exist on one roster.
Watson is under contract through 2025, when he’ll be 30. Ryan’s contract lapses after the 2023 season, though the latest restructuring added voidable years from 2024 through 2026. At the end of the 2023 season, Ryan will be 38.
For Braves fans wondering how the club could agree to pay the just-acquired Matt Olson $168 million over eight seasons after balking at a sixth season for Freddie Freeman, the same principle applies. Olson will be 35 in October 2029. Freeman will be 40. We say again: In big-time sports, age matters more than dollars.
Back to football: Watson’s skill set differs from Ryan’s. Watson has rushed for 1,677 yards in four NFL seasons; Ryan has rushed for 1,469 yards in his 14-year pro career. The Falcons with Watson would look much different from the Falcons with Ryan. Maybe that wouldn’t be a good thing – or maybe it would.
If nothing more comes of a Falcons’ audience with Watson beyond pleasant conversation, such a meeting still would mark a line of demarcation. Not since drafting Ryan have the Falcons hinted at any interest in another quarterback. This would be more than a hint. This would be an admission.