The topic of quarterback Deshaun Watson and his immediate future remains the biggest story in the NFL outside of the Super Bowl, and the Miami Dolphins clearly remain part of the equation.
The Dolphins typically are mentioned among the possible destination should the Houston Texans acquiesce to Watson's trade request, with oddsmakers making them the second-most likely destination behind only the New York Jets.
Any trade for Watson carries two major implications for the Dolphins: 1) giving up a lot of assets to get the three-time Pro Bowl quarterbacks; 2) giving up on the idea of Tua Tagovailoa as a franchise quarterback after one season.
NFL Network analysts offered their take on Watson and the idea of the Dolphins trading for him during various Zoom media sessions this week.
One of the most interesting comments came from former NFL executive Scott Pioli, whose resume includes stops with the New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs and most recently Atlanta Falcons.
“From a personnel standpoint, as any outsider, I don’t think you can sit here and have a real opinion on that because the only people that know what kind of progress that Tua made this year and how good he is on a day-to-day basis and how good he’s going to be in the pro system, in their system (are the Dolphins)," Pioli said Friday. "That was the (Dolphins') first pick overall last year. They obviously liked a lot of things about him.
"To move on from a player this quickly would be strange, but again, everyone wants to talk about Deshaun Watson and the shiny thing over there. Well, the teams that move on, only they know how good their players are. Again, they jumped on Tua, they liked him. Only they know whether or not it’s time to move, but I can’t imagine — it’s less than 12 months — that they’re looking to move on from him.”
This is a great point because if the Dolphins liked what they saw from Tagovailoa in terms of his progress not just in games but in practice, then the idea of giving up multiple premium picks and possibly high-profile players as well doesn't make as much sense.
The thing is we simply don't know exactly how the Dolphins view Tagovailoa because it's simply not the organization's style, as currently constructed, to criticize players.
As proof, head coach Brian Flores consistently said in 2019 and even in the early part of 2020 that he was pleased with the development of quarterback Josh Rosen, and then the Dolphins waived him before the start of the regular season despite his modest salary.
This isn't to suggest that Tagovailoa is on a par with Rosen, but simply reinforcing the notion that what is said publicly regarding a player shouldn't be construed as the final word about the team's evaluation of said player.
It also could be argued that Flores benching Tagovailoa in favor of veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick twice after Tua took over as the starter spoke louder than any comment that was made.
It also could have been made that Flores was trying to juggle giving Tagovailoa the playing time he needed for his development and winning enough games to reach the playoffs, which the Dolphins obviously almost did.
“Brian Flores has committed, it seems, to Tua and it was kind of an interesting dilemma watching Fitz going in and play and play so well," former Lions and 49ers head coach Steve Mariucci said. "The guy, he’s got nine lives and he just keeps playing well, it’s unbelievable. But then it’s like, all right, Tua, you’re still our starter and so there’s been a real commitment towards Tua. He’s shown at times to be a very, very young, good quarterback. And then at times he showed us that he was a rookie.
"If anybody gets a chance to grab a Deshaun Watson, you have to think about that because he’s special special. But chances are they’re going to be with Tua next year, I think he can be developed into a heck of a player. I had a guy like him named Steve Young, left-handed guy, similar size. Mobility, Steve was probably a little faster, but I think they can move Tua around so he can see a little bit better. I wouldn’t play him from the pocket so much. I’d move him more, change the launch point. But I think he can be a good quarterback in this league.”
One point consistently made by the NFL Network analysts involved the circumstances under which Tagovailoa entered the league, less than a year removed from his major hip injury and without the benefit of a normal offseason or preseason games.
In large part because of that, it's pretty unanimous among the analysts that there'll be significant improved from Tagovailoa.
“I don’t think their head coach, Brian Flores, is erratic, he just jumps and makes decisions like that," said longtime New England Patriots edge defender Willie McGinest. "When you draft a guy that high, you start to devise your team and system around that guy. So when you have somebody of Deshaun Watson’s status (and) trade talks that could possibly end up on your team, I think it’s due diligence to evaluate as a staff and talk about it, but you look at what you have, I think you’re in a good position.
"I watched Tua play a lot of games this year. The way he just came in and what he was able to do, I thought was special. I think he is a special talent and he is a special player. He had a lot more production in the games this year than I’ve seen guys that have been in the league four or five years. From looking from the outside, as a player, I think they’re fine with what they have. I think they should just build around what they have. They had a great year.”
Hall of Famers Terrell Davis and Michael Irvin both took the approach that they like Tua but the Dolphins would be wise to explore the possibility of trading for Watson if he's put on the market.
“You certainly look at it," Davis said. "I’m certainly going to try to peek over there and take a look and see what’s going on under the hood because Deshaun Watson is a special talent. We know what he is. There’s no mystery about Deshaun Watson, so I’ve got to entertain that. … If you go get Deshaun, what are you giving up if you’re the Miami Dolphins? I mean, you’ve got to give up a lot. From the outside, I thought not having a preseason, not being able to develop this young man really affected him during the season. So I’m not quick to jump off that wagon so fast. I think they need to go ahead and look at Deshaun but feel comfortable that if you don’t pull that trigger, you still have a quarterback that ultimately could be your franchise quarterback. That’s the outside, 3,000-foot view from outside of Miami.”
“The dilemma here when we talk Sam (Darnold), we say, OK, we’ve seen a lot of film," Irvin said about the Jets quarterback. "We’ve seen enough to try to get a measurement and an understanding of where his ceiling may be. When we’re looking and talking about Tua, we’ve just seen a little and we were probably pretty close to his floor. We haven’t seen a whole bunch of Tua, so we’ve seen closer to Tua’s floor than his ceiling. Now you see Tua every day in practice. Do you see what his ceiling can go even though we’re looking at his floor? Or you have to say, wow, what will I have to give up because my concern was, my team’s leader is my quarterback. Now, what will I have to give? Can I give something up? Can I give draft picks and all that stuff up, pretty much keep my team and not give up the players that I’ve got to give up that make a difference on my team? Keep my team where it is and then bring over Deshaun Watson?
"That team was around Deshaun Watson? Oh yeah, that would be a difference-maker. But it depends on what it would have to give up to make that decision. If I have to give up those guys I have on my defense, all of those guys, then that’s going to be a hard decision. But if I have to give Tua and all these draft picks I got, then I might be more willing to do that and say, now, let’s get (it) right now and instead of being ready in another year or two, we’re ready right now with Deshaun Watson.”
“The other part is we weren’t even sure if Tua was going to be able to play this year. This guy had a traumatic, a significant injury. I mean, that was a real injury. I understand he was out there, but I guarantee you whatever he was this year, it wasn’t close to his 100 percent. And only they know what his real health is. Those are the other factors. That’s why I say, when you’re on the outside, there’s so much that you don’t know.”
Alain Poupart has covered the Miami Dolphins on a full-time basis since 1989. You can follow him on Twitter at @apoupartFins.