Deshaun Watson open to trade destinations besides Miami Dolphins as Carolina Panthers emerge as option

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has a no-trade clause in his contract, is willing to consider multiple options for a new team as the trade deadline looms, a source told ESPN.

Multiple teams are interested in Watson, and although his interest in joining the Dolphins has become a worst-kept secret of sorts in league circles, the source disputed the notion that it’s simply Miami or bust.

The Dolphins remain a strong contender to land Watson in a trade, but he will consider potential options as they come because his primary goal is to get out of Houston, according to sources. The Texans also want to maximize Watson’s trade value with prospective teams.

One emerging option is the Carolina Panthers, who are evaluating their pursuit of a franchise quarterback after Sunday’s ugly 25-3 loss to the New York Giants, sources have confirmed to ESPN.

The growing expectation is Carolina could reignite Watson talks soon. Carolina was a serious suitor early in the 2021 offseason before sexual assault allegations against Watson surfaced, but Houston general manager Nick Caserio wasn’t engaging with teams at that time, sources say.

The Athletic first reported the Panthers’ renewed interest in Watson. The NFL trade deadline is Nov. 2 at 4 p.m. ET.

The Panthers traded second-, fourth- and sixth-round draft picks to the New York Jets this past April for Sam Darnold, who has struggled mightily in recent weeks.

Darnold was benched early in the fourth quarter Sunday but will remain Carolina’s starter “going forward,” according to coach Matt Rhule, who said he made the quarterback switch against the Giants because the Panthers “needed somewhat of a spark.”

The benching came three days after Darnold was given a vote of confidence by Rhule, who was asked about the possibility of the Panthers pursuing Watson in a trade. Rhule told reporters Thursday that Darnold “is going to be a great quarterback for the Carolina Panthers” and that he is “not looking anywhere else,” regarding Watson.

One league source told ESPN that the belief is the last-place Dolphins, who fell to 1-6 with Sunday’s loss to the Falcons, do not want to bid against themselves for Watson. Tua Tagovailoa, who likely would be a part of any Watson trade involving the Dolphins, threw a career-high four touchdown passes against Atlanta, but Miami lost its sixth straight game.

Dolphins coach Brian Flores reiterated his support for Tagovailoa last week amid the Watson trade speculation, emphasizing that “Tua is our quarterback.”

The Broncos also have been considered a wild-card contender for Watson, but Denver hasn’t made a major move at this point, according to sources.

Watson, 26, initially requested a trade from the Texans this past January, but his NFL future is uncertain. The three-time Pro Bowler is facing allegations of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior in 22 active lawsuits and has been inactive for Houston’s first seven games this season.