CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, rivals in the NFC South, will meet with Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson over the next 48 hours, league sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter on Monday.
The Texans, however, declined the Indianapolis Colts' attempt to speak with Watson, a source told Schefter as Houston isn't comfortable dealing the quarterback within the AFC South.
Watson would be a big upgrade for both the Panthers and Saints. The Panthers aren't committed to Sam Darnold -- who had a 4-7 record in 2021 -- as their starter for the 2022 season even though they are locked into him for about $18.9 million because of his fifth-year option.
The Saints still are trying to find a long-term replacement for Drew Brees, who retired after the 2020 season. They used four quarterbacks last season: Jameis Winston (5-2 before he tore an ACL), Taysom Hill (4-1), Trevor Siemian (0-4) and Ian Book (0-1).
Only Hill and Book remain under contract.
Several other teams reportedly are interested in Watson, a three-time Pro Bowl selection who did not play last season while facing 22 civil suits and 10 criminal complaints alleging sexual assault and inappropriate conduct. Watson is expected to sit for a deposition regarding the civil suits on Tuesday.
The number of teams pursuing Watson reportedly grew on Friday when a grand jury in Houston declined to indict Watson on the criminal charges, leaving the civil suits with accusations of sexual assault and inappropriate conduct during massage sessions against the former Clemson star.
Houston can agree to a trade at any time, but it could not be made official until the new league year starts at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
The Panthers have been interested in Watson for over a year and were ready to make an "aggressive'' offer after Friday's grand jury proceedings, according to a league source.
They attempted to trade for Watson, 26, early last offseason before reports surfaced of the allegations against Watson. The Panthers backed off after that.
The NFL still could suspend Watson for violating the league's personal code of conduct.
General manager Scott Fitterer recently said at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis last month that upgrading at quarterback is a priority, noting the position is "open.''
The Saints have made it clear that quarterback is their top priority this offseason, whether that means re-signing Winston or seeking another proven veteran. They have repeatedly stressed that they aren't planning to rebuild their roster under new coach Dennis Allen and are hoping to contend in a wide-open NFC South.
"We're approaching [the quarterback position] with a sense of urgency, that's for sure," Saints general manager Mickey Loomis told reporters during the scouting combine, while adding that it would be difficult to count on landing the quarterback they want in the NFL draft with the 18th pick.
"Hopefully we can get something done with one of the guys that's available," Loomis said. "And Jameis is certainly an option for us, and hopefully we're an option for him as well."
The Saints finished last in the NFL in passing yards in 2021 (187.4 per game), their first season following Brees' retirement. However, that was largely because of major injuries to Winston and receiver Michael Thomas. Winston tore the ACL in his left knee in Week 8, and Thomas missed the entire season because of an ankle injury.
The Panthers ranked 30th in total offense last season with Darnold and Cam Newton as their starters.
The Texans reportedly have asked for three first-round picks, other draft picks and at least one player for Watson. The Panthers are prepared to make a pitch that they don't believe will mortgage the future, the source said.
The only untradable player for Carolina appears to be cornerback Jaycee Horn because of dead money and his contract.
Of the teams interested in Watson, Carolina has the highest first-round pick (No. 6 overall) in this year's draft. Seattle selects ninth with Denver's pick, acquired in the Wilson trade. Cleveland has the 13th pick; Philadelphia has the 15th, 16th and 19th picks; New Orleans has the 18th and Pittsburgh has the 20th.
The Colts don't have a first-round pick in 2022.
Houston already owns the No. 3 pick.
Whoever acquires Watson would pick up a $35 million salary cap number for 2022. The Panthers, with only about $31 million in cap space and about $13 million to use toward free agency, can create enough space to make that work.
Although the Saints began the offseason about $75 million over the salary cap, they can make enough room for Watson's contract by restructuring deals and pushing cap costs into future years -- a practice they have employed consistently throughout the past decade.
In theory, the Saints could also restructure Watson's deal to make his 2022 cap figure as low as $7 million by converting most of his $35 million salary into a signing bonus and adding automatically voiding years to the end of his current deal.
Carolina also would look at restructuring Watson's four-year, $156 million deal signed with Houston in 2020.
Watson, because of the no-trade clause in his contract, still has a big say in where he goes.
Watson, speaking to reporters at a news conference outside of his attorney's office on Friday, said the past year has been "emotional for me.''
He offered no timetable for what's next.
"I know we're far from being done of handling what we need to handle on the legal side, but today is definitely a big day," Watson said Friday. "I thank my lord and savior Jesus Christ for letting the truth be heard. And I thank everyone that was a part of this for seeing and hearing both sides. That's what my point and my team wanted to do, is have a fair slate of us telling our side of the story and letting the conclusion come to what happened today, and that's what the grand jury decided on.
"I'm just going to keep fighting to rebuild my name and rebuild my appearance in the community. And on the legal side handle what we need to handle. But also ready to get on the field, and prep for that.''
ESPN.com's Mike Triplett contributed to this report.