The Watson Watch and the Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins have the assets to make a competitive offer to Houston if it got to the point the Texans looked to trade Deshaun Watson
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On the eve of the start of the 2020 NFL playoffs, the hot topic of conversation involved a team that came nowhere near to reaching the postseason and one of its two star players.

That team, of course, is the Houston Texans and that player is quarterback Deshaun Watson, who reportedly is not a happy camper (the other star player is J.J. Watt, in case that wasn't obvious).

The reasons for his displeasure reportedly involve the Texans telling him they'd seek his input into the hiring of a new general manager before they went ahead and hired Nick Caserio without following through on their promise, plus the Texans declining to bring in Eric Bieniemy to interview for the vacant head-coaching position after Watson had pushed for him, and even dating back to having to find out on Twitter last offseason the team had traded star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona.

The reports naturally have led to the speculation of whether Watson is mad enough now or could reach the point of requesting a trade and whether the Texans actually would be foolish enough to acquiesce.

And, yes, this conversation should begin with the notion that trading away Watson would be a really bad move for the Texans because he is undeniably, unequivocally a bona fide franchise quarterback.

Yes, the Texans went 4-12 in 2020, but it was a Murphy's Law type of season and Houston played 10 games against playoff teams, going 0-10 in those but with six of the losses by seven points or less.

Watson led the NFL in passing yards (yes, the Texans played from behind most of the season, but he also was second behind only Aaron Rodgers in passer rating).

Watson is a three-time Pro Bowl selection, he turned 25 in September and he's signed through 2025.

Yes, Watson has the second-highest annual average salary among all NFL quarterbacks (behind only Patrick Mahomes), but how many quarterbacks are clearly better?

Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson. That's pretty much it. And Rodgers is 38 and Wilson is 33.

So, yes, Watson is a pretty special player and the Texans would be getting a whole lot of phone calls if they ever put out word they were willing to trade him.

And, yes, the Dolphins absolutely, positively, unequivocally should be one of those teams making that call — if the idea of Houston shopping Watson came to pass (get it?).

There are many who find it unfathomable because trading away 25-year-old franchise quarterbacks just doesn't happen.

One of those who can't envision it happening is Houston Chronicle longtime NFL writer John McClain, who joked that he's got a better chance of becoming Texans head coach than of Watson being traded.

So there's that. But for the sake of speculation and being thorough, let's assume for a second that McClain is Texans head coach in 2021 and the team indeed decides to trade Watson.

First off, Watson has a no-trade clause in his contract, according to CBS NFL writer and former agent Joel Corry, which would give him the power to veto any trade to an unwelcome destination.

With their large draft capital in the 2021 draft combined with the fact they went 10-6 this season and have the look of an annual contender, it's difficult to think of many teams in a better position to make a push to get Watson and be appealing to him — again, if it gets to the point where he wants out and Houston is willing to move on.

But there would be a heavy price to pay because Houston wouldn't just give Watson away.

Corry, for example, said his asking price from the Houston standpoint would be five first-round picks.

From this vantage point, there's no way any team would give up that many premium picks, no matter how valuable an asset Watson represents.

So what would a potential Watson trade look like?

Well, it's tough to look at historical precedent because, again, 25-year-old franchise quarterbacks just don't get traded.

Going back, we found two blockbuster trades to provide some sort of a blueprint, and one of them involves a former Dolphins player.

Yes, we're talking about Jay Cutler.

Long before he came out of retirement to join the Dolphins in 2017, Cutler was a 25-year-old quarterback coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance for the Denver Broncos.

Reports at the time suggested a sour relationship between Cutler and new head Josh McDaniels from the start, and that led Cutler to demand a trade. He was sent to the Chicago Bears along with a 2009 fifth-round pick in exchange for two first-round picks and a third-round selection along with quarterback Kyle Orton.

The other trade with some similarities was the one involving Rams running back Eric Dickerson during the 1987 season.

Dickerson was one of the best backs in the NFL when he was sent to the Indianapolis Colts in a three-way trade also involving the Buffalo Bills. In the end, the Rams' return for Dickerson was three first-round picks, three second-round picks and a pair of running backs, Greg Bell and Owen Gill.

Since Watson should be considered a lot closer to Dickerson than Cutler in terms of talent and potential impact, yes, it would be costly to trade for him.

As everyone should know by now, the Dolphins have the third and 18th overall selections in the 2021 NFL draft as well as two second-round picks — and, of course, the extra first- and second-round picks came from those same Texans.

Just offering to flip them back to Houston would be a start to any discussion, though it likely wouldn't be enough.

The Dolphins also could throw in Tua Tagovailoa in the offer and, even tough this is blasphemy to a lot of fans, it makes a lot of sense. Tagovailoa is a year removed from being the fifth overall pick and if the Texans view him as a potential franchise quarterback, that might be worth the equivalent of a couple of premium picks.

The counter argument to that, of course, would be: "Well, if he's a potential franchise quarterback, and GM Chris Grier said a few days ago he was the Dolphins' starter, then why trade him and bother going after Watson?" The reason is simple: Tua MIGHT become a potential franchise quarterback. Watson IS a franchise quarterback.

So what about the third overall pick, the 36th overall pick and Tua for Watson? That would leave the Dolphins with their own first- and-second round picks (18th and 50th) coming off a 10-6 season.

Again, this comes down to what Houston thinks of Tua. If they think he's a bona fide future star, they recoup two draft picks and save a lot of money at the quarterback position while moving on from a disgruntled player.

Maybe the Texans would want more than that return, even if they think Tagovailoa is the real deal, especially if they get a lot of offers. But don't forget that Watson has veto power so he almost would be able to dictate his next destination.

What potential Dolphins offer might look like already have been speculated, but we'll just point out two that kind of show a wide spectrum.

On one end, there's a "hypothetical trade" that looks too good to be true for the Dolphins and it comes from Bleacher Report, with the writer suggesting the cost for Watson could be Tagovailoa and the third overall pick.

On the other end, there's what appears to us to be a lot more realistic hypothetical trade and it comes from Adam Beasley of The Miami Herald, who suggests Tua, the Dolphins' two first-round picks and Xavien Howard as the package going to Houston for Watson.

Maybe the answer lies somewhere in between.

For the Dolphins, the biggest question would be: How much is too much in terms of what the Dolphins would want to offer?

It's fair to worry about the team draining too many assets to land a franchise quarterback, but that logic only applies if the confidence is high that Tagovailoa will become that kind of player.

In the end, it would be just as damaging for the Dolphins to pass up a trade offer for Watson only to have Tagovailoa failed to reach elite status as it would be to use up a lot of resources to get Watson only to watch Tagovailoa become a franchise quarterback elsewhere.

In the end, it's still difficult to envision Houston moving on from Watson, but it's a situation that bears watching because the Dolphins most definitely would deserve quick mention if we moved to the stage of talking about potential trade partners.