“Bold prediction” of Panthers trading for Deshaun Watson takes on a life of its own

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The ongoing dispute between quarterback Deshaun Watson (who wants to be traded) and the Texans (who want him to stay) will be one of the biggest news stories of this NFL offseason. And if there’s not any actual news to report, news can be manufactured.

That’s the recent lesson from ESPN, which has run wild with talk that the Panthers will offer running back Christian McCaffrey and three first-round draft picks to the Texans for Watson. The talk traces back to ESPN reporter David Newton, but Newton didn’t report that was going to happen at all.

Instead, Newton included it in a list of bold predictions for all 32 teams that ESPN.com published. The article Newton contributed to carried a disclaimer saying, “keep in mind that these are adventurous suggestions of what might happen.”

But that disclaimer didn’t stop the trade talk from taking off on Twitter. Newton tried to contain the story, tweeting a reminder that it was “a bold prediction and not a report,” but soon it became the biggest topic of conversation on ESPN.

Pardon the Interruption made the McCaffrey-for-Watson swap its top story today, and shows like Get Up and First Take have similarly emphasized the story.

But it’s a non-story. It was just one reporter’s “adventurous suggestion” of something that might happen.

Turning a prediction into a report provides plenty of content during the offseason, but it doesn’t do much to inform the audience about what’s actually going to happen with Watson.