Atlanta Falcons join division rivals in pursuit of Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson

The Atlanta Falcons have emerged as a sleeper team in pursuit of Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, league sources told ESPN.

The Falcons join the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns as teams that have met with or are interested in trading for Watson.

“All options are open, but it’s not going to be easy,” a Falcons source said regarding a potential Watson trade.

Another source described the Falcons as a “long shot” to land Watson. However, the team still has not met with Watson but could have the chance to persuade him in person.

The Falcons have been committed to veteran quarterback Matt Ryan, but owner Arthur Blank has talked about eventually finding his successor and resetting the franchise’s future. That task has been given to second-year general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith. But 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 TJ Yates also has a connection to Watson, as Yates was an assistant quarterbacks coach in Houston.

The Falcons were said to have restructured Ryan’s contract — trimming his salary cap hit this year from $48.7 million to $36.7 million. However, there is still no official agreement and nothing has been turned in to the NFL. If the Falcons trade Ryan after June 1, they could free up $8.75 million worth of salary-cap space. If Atlanta acquires Watson, it could seek to ship out Ryan, who has a no-trade clause, according to sources.

Watson already has met with other teams and is said to be impressed with the Panthers, Saints and Browns. Every team that has been in discussions with Watson also has been in simultaneous talks with the Texans. Trade compensation is not expected to hold up any potential trade, as parameters of any trade that would involve the quarterback are already in place, league sources said.

The last piece of any potential trade would be Watson agreeing to waive his no-trade clause so that he could be dealt to another team and resume his NFL career. Watson did not play at all last season following an offseason request to be traded and the emergence of 22 lawsuits against Watson alleging sexual assault and inappropriate conduct during massage sessions. A grand jury in Texas on Friday declined to pursue criminal charges against Watson.

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