By: Chip Turner
The Watson to Miami noise isn’t going away.
The rumors won’t stop, the sources keep getting more credible, and we’re all tired of hearing “where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” partly because, well…there’s a heck of a lot of smoke. The rumblings are getting louder that the Miami Dolphins are “all in” on acquiring Deshaun Watson if he becomes available. Those last four words, of course, are the key to the entire situation.
The Houston Texans are adamant they’re not trading Deshaun Watson, and Deshaun Watson is adamant that he won’t play for Houston anymore. Furthermore, Texans CEO Cal McNair seems to be handling the situation (and the organization in general) in the manner which I imagine Shaggy and Scooby would handle a thermonuclear weapon.
As it stands, the Texans and Watson appear headed for a showdown, which neither side will win. If worse comes to worst, Deshaun Watson can refuse to report to the Texans, as he’s reportedly willing to do. Maybe he sits out the whole season, or maybe he reports for the minimum number of games required to have the 2021 season count toward his contract. If either of those scenarios happens, the circus starts all over again after the 2021 season, and Watson’s trade value will be considerably diminished.
From an organizational standpoint, the best time for the Texans to acquire a franchise-building stash of picks and players in exchange for Watson is right now, or at least before free agency starts. So what if McNair changes his mind? What if, all of a sudden, the Texans decide that enough is enough, that they’re open to trading Watson, and let the offers come pouring in?
Now, before everyone comes completely unglued, understand this: I believe in Tua Tagovailoa. I believe that under the current circumstances, building around him is the proper course for the Dolphins franchise. I truly believe that with the proper guidance, growth, and surrounding cast, he can become a QB capable of leading Miami to a Super Bowl.
But…and this is the thing…Deshaun Watson is capable of doing that right now. He’s a known quantity, and would allow Miami to definitively check off the single most important part of a championship-caliber team: Elite quarterback.
Here’s the second part of that equation: Of the three teams Watson is reportedly willing to accept a trade to, the best trade partner for the Texans is the Dolphins. Four picks in the first two rounds this year, Tua Tagovailoa, and several young players on cheap contracts. Could the Jets muster up a package close to that? Sure, but Tagovailoa (despite what some might think) has more trade value than Sam Darnold. Additionally, if Cal McNair is the equivalent of Shaggy and Scooby handling a thermonuclear weapon in my analogy, Woody Johnson is the equivalent of Mr. Magoo wandering into the scenario with a chainsaw.
What would a trade package for Watson look like? Miami would probably give up Tua, both first-round picks and at least one second-round pick in 2021, their first and second-round pick in 2022, and probably a second round pick in 2023. I’m aware that some pundits have suggested that a team would have to give up five first-round picks; I seriously doubt that would occur. Watson’s stance and limitation of trade partners makes a haul of that magnitude difficult.
So, if the situation changes, and all the smoke around the potential trade brightens into flame with picks and players flying everywhere, where does that leave the Dolphins franchise? What do they do with Deshaun Watson and a cupboard devoid of draft picks?
First, let’s take a look at what it does to Free Agency. Make no mistake, both teams would incur a considerable amount of dead money through this trade. Miami can create about another $10-12mm of cap room through cuts, but a Deshaun Watson trade would probably leave them with no more than $25mm to play with in free agency this year. They would no longer be major free agency players, but they could likely sign a player like Curtis Samuel or Corey Linsley along with a few upgrades in a money-strapped market.
Second, we move to the NFL draft. There’s simply no way around this; acquiring Deshaun Watson will probably seriously impair Miami’s draft capital for three years. However, if Miami were to keep one of their second-round picks in the 2021 draft, could they conceivably make the team around Watson better? Would Watson’s 2021 Dolphins be any better than Watson’s 2020 Texans?
They certainly would. Players like Javonte Williams, Demetric Felton, Quinn Meinerz and other supporting pieces could still be drafted. Additionally, Miami’s defense and coaching staff are proven to be head and shoulders above what Houston had last year. So that’s not a concern.
Here’s the real question: Would the 2021-23 Dolphins be better with Tua and their draft picks, or Watson and no high-round picks during that time? When the 2024 season rolls around, and we look back at this offseason, did Miami make the right choice?
If Houston decides (as they should) to put Deshaun Watson on the trade block, we’re going to find out. While the Dolphins haven’t wavered from their mantra of “Tua is our starting QB,” the temptation of acquiring one of the best young QBs in the league might be too much to pass up.
As for me? I say bite the apple. And yes, I feel tremendously guilty about it.