Deshaun Watson isn’t short of suitors from the NFC South, including the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints. Both division rivals are on the list of teams said to be interested in trading for the Houston Texans quarterback.
If either the Falcons or Saints get Watson, it will ramp up the rivalry between the two. It’s a rivalry Sean Payton knows all about, and the former Saints head coach couldn’t resist taking a lighthearted jab at the Falcons when the possibility of the latter beating his former team to Watson was raised.
Watson’s immediate future has become a source of speculation after a Texas grand jury decided the 26-year-old won’t face criminal charges following accusations of sexual misconduct.
ALL the latest Falcons news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Falcons newsletter here!
Payton Plays Down ‘Rivalry’
There are more than a few overlapping connections between the Falcons and Saints. One tie that binds involves Saints’ general manager Mickey Loomis and his Falcons’ counterpart Terry Fontenot.
The Falcons GM spent 18 years in the scouting and personnel departments with the Saints. He learned from Loomis, and Jeff Duncan of The Times-Picayune suggested Fontenot beating his mentor for Watson would further stoke the fires of a rivalry.
Duncan’s suggestion prompted a sarcastic response from Payton:
Payton can afford to joke. He found himself on the winning side more often than not during his 15 seasons in charge of the Saints.
On Payton’s watch, the Saints went 21-9 against Atlanta, per Falcons Digital Managing Editor Scott Bair. Ironically, Payton’s successful tenure in New Orleans didn’t tip the balance of power firmly toward the Saints. Instead, the Falcons still own a 54-52 advantage in the series, according to The Football Database.
There was no movement during the 2021 NFL season after the teams split the series. The Falcons won 27-25 in New Orleans in Week 9, before the Saints returned the favor by leaving Atlanta with a 30-20 victory in Week 17.
Neither team made the playoffs, though, settling for falling short behind the Tom Brady-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Brady’s recent U-turn on retirement means the Bucs are still the team to beat in the division, something the Saints or Falcons could change if either franchise can strike a deal for Watson.
Saints Favorites, But Falcons Still in Play
The Saints appear to be leading any race for Watson. That’s according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, who reported the Saints “are in a very good position.”
Rapoport also noted how both the Saints and another division rival, the Carolina Panthers, have offers in for Watson. Trade packages that include in excess of three first-round picks.
The Falcons may struggle to compete with those offers, but there’s a more personal connection at play. It involves Watson playing his high-school football at Georgia’s Gainesville High, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen.
Schefter and Mortensen also went into detail about Watson’s affinity with Falcons’ ownership and one assistant coach: “a source said Blank is fond of Watson from the days when the former Gainesville (Georgia) High quarterback worked multiple years as a Falcons ball boy and developed a relationship with Blank’s family. Atlanta assistant T.J. Yates also has a connection to Watson, as Yates was an assistant quarterbacks coach in Houston.”
The Falcons may appear locked in with Matt Ryan for this year, but things could change. There have been plans to restructure Ryan’s contract, but The Athletic reported it’s “not yet been finalized.”
Ryan could still be cut, assuming he’s not offered in trade for Watson, but the timing would be crucial. Releasing Ryan after June 1 would reduce his cap hit to $24.9 million, according to Bleacher Report’s Alex Ballentine.
The Falcons could yet make some desperate moves to prevent one of their division rivals acquiring a top-tier quarterback.