Where will Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson land? How sportsbooks set the odds
By Sam Panayotovich
FOX Sports Betting Analyst
One of the fastest growing markets in the American betting space is the odds on where big-name stars will land next.
Right now, in the NFL, you can bet on which team a certain player will play for in the 2021 season. FOX Bet has live markets for Sam Darnold, Chris Godwin, Kenny Golladay, Aaron Jones, Von Miller, Dak Prescott, Allen Robinson, JuJu Smith-Schuster and, of course, Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson.
"The 'next-team' markets have been popular for the past few years," FOX Bet content integration specialist Jacob Blangsted-Barnor told me. "Up until this season, however, we were only allowed to do free agents. Now that we are live in Colorado, we’re able to do all players there. We have much more freedom to post odds for interesting markets such as Deshaun Watson or Russell Wilson, players who are still under contract.
"What really drives this market is being able to decipher the difference between real reports and smoke screens," JBB said. "That’s not always easy to do. These are things that come down to sources and credibility of the report. If it’s from Adam Schefter or Ian Rapoport or somebody like that, we’re going to listen the same way the bettor is going to listen."
These next-team markets are extremely fluid, and there are serious swings in prices. It’s fascinating to watch them move. The day of the Carson Wentz trade, FOX Bet had the Indianapolis Colts at -110 to land Wentz early in the morning. That price skyrocketed all the way to Colts -1200 a few hours later, and eventually, Wentz was officially dealt to Indianapolis.
When word got out that Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has a list of four teams that he'd be willing to play for, FOX Bet’s trading room immediately shifted Seattle’s odds, then shortened the price on the other four.
How drastic was the shift? Seattle was adjusted from -2500 to -1200 to have Wilson at the beginning of next season based on a tweet. Now you have to risk $1,200 to win $100, instead of the $2,500 you had to lay just a few days ago – if you think he's staying put.
"We have to protect ourselves," JBB admitted. "Whether Wilson is -2500 or -1200 to take his next snap in Seattle, most people aren’t going to bet that price because it’s not worth it.
"We needed to protect ourselves on those four teams that Wilson’s camp mentioned as possible destinations. We shortened the Raiders to +300. The Cowboys moved from +1700 to +650. The Bears weren’t even in the betting; now, they’re +800. We pushed teams like the Jaguars way out. It comes down to the tweets and reports and then, of course, the bets we’re seeing as well.
"We don’t think Wilson is going anywhere. That -1200 still gives you a 92 or 93% chance that he stays. But compared to what I thought a week ago, it feels more likely now. The fact that teams are being name-dropped is a big deal. I do think they’ll find a way to keep him, and he’s obviously got that no-trade clause."
The more JBB spoke, the more I realized that making and maneuvering these next-team markets is more art than science.
"With this type of market, these prices are moving constantly," JBB explained. "So many different reports and bets are coming in. It’s not a market that we can stand behind and say, ‘Oh, I’m really confident in that price.’ We’re not modeling it. There’s no statistical model that tells you when Russell Wilson will leave and where he’s going to go. We’re just reacting. It’s hard for us on the outside to sit here and act like we know what the Seahawks are going to do. Because we don’t.
"It’s about reading between the lines. Ultimately, it’s a market that we hope drives content. These are conversations that people are having. It’s a fun market to get people interacting. We’re trying to give football bettors something extra in the offseason. At the end of the day, these markets come down to pure opinion."
A quick glance at all the bettable player options tells you that almost all of the players are favored to stay with their current teams. The only outliers are Jones and Smith-Schuster, who are both free agents. Jones is favored to sign with the Miami Dolphins, and Smith-Schuster is favored to relocate to Las Vegas.
"It all comes down to how much they’re favored, though," JBB said. "Let’s say a player is a +300 favorite to stay. We’re still saying there’s a better chance that he leaves. Trying to predict the exact team is the hard part. But if you were to pit that +300 against the field, the math is actually saying the player is favored to leave."
The wildest situation in the NFL is the marriage between the Houston Texans and their quarterback, Watson. Every time you flip on the television or read a column, there’s a new drama-filled wrinkle between the two sides. People magazine couldn’t make half this stuff up.
Watson was favored at +188 to remain in Houston last week, but FOX Bet recently changed those odds to +100 or even money. Bets will be paid out based on whatever roster the player is on by Week 1 this coming September, so if Watson refuses to play and holds out, FOX Bet will still have Houston as the winner.
"It’s such a tough one," JBB said. "Every time you hear the Texans organization speak, they say he’s not going anywhere. Every other report is Deshaun saying that he won’t play, and he’ll hold out. Who knows? We think the Texans are going to dig their heels in. They could just be waiting for a huge haul, but as time goes on, more and more of these QB openings are getting filled. The trading room is of the opinion that the Texans are going to be as stubborn as possible, and he stays."
I can’t be the only one who thinks it’s laughable to imagine a professional bookmaker reacting to a passive-aggressive tweet and moving a betting line.
"I don’t even know what to think anymore," JBB said before a belly laugh. "It’s hilarious to me what moves these markets at this point. Deshaun clearly has no interest in the Texans organization. The more this goes on, the more both sides are going to dig their heels in. I’m here for it."
It’s clear that the next-team betting markets are popular and here to stay. They might be a pain to monitor behind the counter, but the interest is real.
I would expect to see a lot more markets like this across the American sports landscape as legalized betting becomes more and more kosher around the country.
Count me in.
Sam Panayotovich is a sports betting analyst for FOX Sports and NESN. He previously worked for WGN Radio, NBC Sports and VSiN. He'll probably pick against your favorite team. Follow him on Twitter @spshoot.