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Sources: Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson a Trade Target of Carolina Panthers

Sources: Panthers interested again in potential Deshaun Watson trade

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Carolina Panthers are emerging as a potentially strong suitor for embattled Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.

Nine days prior to the NFL trade deadline, sources emphasized that the Panthers and the Miami Dolphins are the two teams to watch in any potential Watson trade.

Watson would waive the no-trade clause in his $156 million contract to go to the Dolphins, his first choice throughout this rocky situation, according to sources. The former Clemson consensus All-American, national championship game winner and first-round draft pick respects the Panthers and would consider them as a potentially solid opportunity should a deal get close to being hammered out between the Texans and the NFC South franchise and he was asked to waive his no-trade clause to facilitate a deal.

The Texans still want at least three first-round draft picks and a package of premium selections and/or high-quality players in exchange for Watson, according to sources.

The Panthers are disappointed in starting quarterback Sam Darnold, benching him during a fourth loss in a row Sunday to the New York Giants and replacing him with backup and former Houston Roughnecks standout quarterback P.J. Walker. Although coach Matt Rhule emphasized that Darnold will regain his starting job, the Panthers’ interest, especially owner David Tepper, is piqued by Watson, a multidimensional three-time Pro Bowl selection who led the NFL in passing yards last season.

The Panthers had previously moved on from pursuing Watson, partially due to acquiring Darnold in a trade from the New York Jets, and partially because of Watson’s unresolved legal situation. There is still no clarity on whether Watson will be indicted by a grand jury empaneled in Harris County on 10 active criminal complaints alleging sexual assault and/or sexual misconduct with no charges filed by the Houston Police Department. Meanwhile, Watson's 22 civil lawsuits aren’t going to be settled at this time by the NFL player's attorney, Rusty Hardin, and Tony Buzbee, the plaintiffs’ attorney.

Through a social media post when he was initially sued by Buzbee and, later through Hardin, Watson has denied wrongdoing.

The NFL has not yet decided if it will place Watson on the commissioner-exempt list if he’s traded, even if he isn’t charged with a crime, according to sources. That lack of clarity gives teams pause as they try to ascertain whether the Georgia native will be available.

One potentially bad scenario for Watson and any team that trades for him to consider: Watson possibly being charged with a crime and then being placed on the commissioner-exempt list and not going to trial until late next year and then being unavailable in 2021 and 2022 and, depending on how a possible case is adjudicated, potentially being punished for an undetermined portion of the 2023 season.

The Texans and the Dolphins are continuing to hold trade discussions regarding Watson and are maintaining hope of hammering out a trade for the Pro Bowl quarterback in advance of the NFL trade deadline, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.

Watson, due a $35 million guaranteed base salary in 2022 and being paid a $10.54 million base salary by the Texans this year while not practicing or attending meetings, while working out at NRG Stadium with the strength and conditioning staff to comply with his contract and honor an agreement with team management, continues to stay in shape and is exercising and throwing just in case he’s called upon to play.

Another wrinkle in the trade talks is the potential involvement of another franchise and another possible trade, not involving Watson, according to league sources.

The 1-6 Texans, blowout losers Sunday at Arizona, are in rebuild mode. Other teams that previously expressed interest in Watson included the Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles, but they all moved on with their respective quarterbacks. Watson would not waive his no-trade clause for the Eagles, according to sources, and Philadelphia has moved forward with first-year starter and Channelview graduate Jalen Hurts.

Eagles general manager Howie Roseman had conducted a significant amount of due diligence on Watson, including contacting his legal team and sending an investigator to Houston to learn more about Watson’s legal situation.

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Recently, Texans chairman and CEO Cal McNair was noncommittal on the prospects of potentially trading Watson.

"We'll just wait and see," McNair said during the Texans' second annual Founder's Day at the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge in Houston. "It's a day-to-day thing. Nick is in charge of that, so we'll see how that works out."

When asked to rate the odds of Watson being traded by a Nov. 2 league deadline, McNair smiled and replied: "I have no idea."

Watson's discontent with the organization dates back to the controversial DeAndre Hopkins trade and discontent about a lack of communication with the team during the Texans' hiring process of general manager Nick Caserio and coach David Culley.

Before the legal problems surfaced, Culley was told by Watson that, no offense to him, but he was "intentional" about not playing another down for the Texans.

The Texans are 1-6 and are in a six-game losing streak. The Watson issue was inherited by Caserio and Culley.

"I think they've been put in a very tough spot, a spot that is not of their choosing and they've made the very best of it and sort of worked through it day to day," McNair said. "So, we'll see where it goes."

Watson reported to training camp to avoid incurring $50,000 daily fines.

The NFL issued a statement prior to training camp.

"The NFL’s review of the serious allegations against Deshaun Watson remains ongoing and active," the league said in an email. "We are working cooperatively with the Houston Police Department and ensuring that the NFL’s inquiry does not interfere with their investigation. As we continue to gather additional information and monitor law enforcement developments, we will make appropriate decisions consistent with the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the Personal Conduct Policy. At this time, there are no restrictions on Watson’s participation in club activities."

A source said that the NFL hasn't been given access to speak to many of the plaintiffs in the civil cases or third parties who may have relevant information. And the league hasn't been given access to evidence the police have gathered in their investigation.

Hardin, said during an August press conference that Watson has yet to speak to NFL investigators.

“The answer is no," Hardin said. "Here's the reason: The NFL regularly tries to not reach out to the defendant and his lawyers until the criminal investigation is over. They want to make sure they don’t interfere with the criminal investigation. Whenever the time is appropriate we will fully cooperate.”