Updated: Aug 11
BY: Pranay C Malempati
An elite, franchise quarterback is a highly coveted asset in the NFL and it is rare that one becomes available at a very young age. We have a unique situation right now, as trade talks are heating up about Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, as he undergoes a criminal investigation for sexual misconduct. Watson will not be in any legal trouble for the extent of this NFL season, since his deposition isn’t scheduled until February 2022. However, it is still unclear whether he will play this year because the NFL has the option to put him on the commissioner’s exempt list, which is essentially a forced paid leave.
The ongoing criminal investigation and prospect of potentially going on the exempt list, along with his contractual no-trade clause, makes Watson’s trade situation tricky. Reports say the frontrunner is currently the Miami Dolphins, who Watson would be willing to waive his no-trade clause for. Watson is apparently not willing to waive his no-trade clause for the Philadelphia Eagles, who people thought were another potential destination. Both the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos, who had been in trade talks for him, are apparently sticking with the guys they’ve got for now.
Whichever team trades for Watson should keep a few potential scenarios in mind when deciding how much to give up and planning for the future. But since Miami seems like his most likely landing spot, let’s keep our eyes there and consider how a trade could work out both for the Dolphins and for Watson.
Miami’s starting quarterback is currently Tua Tagovailoa, who was the fifth overall pick a year ago. Tagovailoa had an up-and-down first season, but has shown promise in training camp and preseason. Say the Dolphins trade for Watson and he gets placed on the commissioner’s exempt list. They could ride it out with Tua for this season and hope he performs well, which would presumably give them a good problem at quarterback if Watson’s criminal investigation clears up.
But if Watson ends up being able to play, this Dolphins team could be a dark-horse Super Bowl contender. With an upper-echelon quarterback and a receiving corps consisting of Devante Parker, first-round pick Jaylen Waddle, and Will Fuller (who, albeit injury prone, has great chemistry with Deshaun Watson), this could be a top three passing attack in the league. Watson would have a chance to lead the league in passing yards.
Throw in a talented defense coming off a good season with top-10 potential this year and Miami would have a real shot to steal the AFC East crown from the Buffalo Bills. As long as they have better offensive line play than Houston did during Watson’s tenure, and it’s hard to to imagine they wouldn’t, he could lead this team quite far, whether it be this season or down the line.
Obviously, the worst-case scenario would be that Miami trades for Deshaun Watson, the commissioner places him on his exempt list, and then Watson’s criminal troubles hold him out of the NFL for longer than just this season. In that case, Miami would likely have ended up throwing away its future, given that Houston wants “three first-round picks, two second-round picks, and players.” That would be okay if Tua pans out to be a good starting quarterback, but that is tough to know at this point in time.
There is a way the Dolphins could protect their future, and they are reportedly trying to do this. Miami could send its draft picks to the Texans conditionally, with the condition that Watson overcomes his criminal investigation within a set time frame. However, it is unclear whether Houston would be willing to accept conditional picks because they could wait around and hope Watson’s trade value rises later in the season.
Deshaun Watson is an elite quarterback who would drastically change the future of most teams, including the Dolphins. Miami’s trade decision will come down to how much faith they have in Tua Tagovailoa and whether they think Watson will be able to play in the foreseeable future. If they do trade for Deshaun and he is able to play, Miami will have the pieces around him to do damage this season, and potentially in the playoffs.