Matt Patterson/Associated Press
In the last quarter-century, not a single quarterback below the age of 29 with multiple Pro Bowls on his resume has been traded. DeShaun Watson is only 25, he’s got three Pro Bowls on his record, and he’s the second-highest-rated passer in NFL history.
A trade involving Watson would be unprecedented in the modern NFL era. That’s not the kind of history the Houston Texans should be willing to make.
There’s been chatter for much of the week that Watson is disenchanted with the Texans for various reasons, the most recent being the process the team undertook when hiring new general manager Nick Caserio. That came from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who reported Sunday that “Watson is said to be furious over the decision” before adding, “Some around the league believe that Watson could opt to withhold his services this season.”
Beyond that, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reports that Watson, who has a no-trade clause in his contract, might be open to a trade to the Miami Dolphins:
Chris Mortensen @mortreport
Sources say Watson could play hardball with Texans about a trade. His new $156 million contract includes a no-trade clause but informed speculation from a source is that he would consider the @MiamiDolphins in which Tua Tagovailoa and additional compensation goes to Houston.
First things first: Houston’s new-look regime—comprised for now of Caserio, top executive Jack Easterby and chairman and CEO Cal McNair—should bend over backward to heal its relationship with Watson.
There’s a reason we’ve never seen a quarterback as young and accomplished as Watson change teams. As the Texans can attest based on their experiences with David Carr, Matt Schaub and Brock Osweiler, it’s extremely hard to find a franchise quarterback in this league. Usually, no more than about a dozen exist in their prime at once, and the odds of finding another one soon after losing or trading one are not favorable.
This is the most important position in professional sports. Fifteen of the last 17 Super Bowls were won by guys named Brady (five), Manning (four between the brothers), Roethlisberger (two), Brees, Rodgers, Wilson and Mahomes. The only exceptional cases since 2003 belonged to Joe Flacco and Nick Foles, both of whom became legendarily hot during Super Bowl runs in the last decade.
Zach Bolinger/Associated Press
It doesn’t matter that the Texans just handed Caserio a six-year, $30 million deal. If ripping up that contract is the only way to show Watson they are dedicated to building around him and with his input, then that’s exactly what McNair should do. As humiliating as that would be, it would very likely beat the alternative that involves trading a superstar just months after making him the second-highest-paid player in NFL history.
This team is much more likely to win a Super Bowl in the next decade with Watson and without Caserio than with Caserio and without Watson.
But dropping Caserio might not even be necessary if the Texans simply allow Watson to participate in the process of securing a new head coach. Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated reported this week that Watson was particularly frustrated by the fact that the team ignored him when he advocated for Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. Bieniemy has proved to be more than qualified for a head coaching job, and the Texans were the only team with a vacancy that didn’t at least request to interview him.
But Bieniemy also has yet to be hired elsewhere. Houston still has time to fix its mistake by calling both Watson and Bieniemy and offering an olive branch to the former along with a blockbuster contract to the latter.
Will that require the swallowing of pride? Absolutely. Will it be extremely costly if they have to sever ties with Caserio and/or pay an even larger premium to Bieniemy to convince him to take their job instead of one with the Atlanta Falcons, New York Jets, Los Angeles Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars or Detroit Lions? Probably.
Will any of that matter if Watson and Bieniemy are raising the Lombardi Trophy at some point in the 2020s? Nope.
And while it appears the quarterback’s frustration spans beyond the current hiring process, that would hopefully be enough to convince Watson that they’re prioritizing him and listening to his concerns.
All of that being said, if the relationship can’t be reconciled and Watson is dead set on finding a new football home, ironically, the Dolphins might indeed be the best trade partner.
The irony stems from the fact that Miami possesses Houston’s No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft—a selection the Texans gave to the Dolphins as part of a trade package that sent standout left tackle Laremy Tunsil from Miami to Houston in 2019.
The Dolphins might feel that after falling just short of the playoffs merely a year after tanking and launching a rebuild, they’re just one significant piece short of contending. After 2020 No. 5 overall pick Tua Tagovailoa generally struggled with his consistency and big-play ability in his rookie season, Miami could be willing to swap out a still-unknown commodity for a proven asset at quarterback.
David Becker/Associated Press
The Dolphins have the salary-cap space and draft capital to get it done. Even if they gave Houston’s No. 3 pick back as part of that deal, they still hold the No. 18 overall selection as well as Houston’s 36th overall pick in Round 2.
The Texans, meanwhile, would rid themselves of the Watson mess while somewhat symbolically retrieving one of the prime picks dealt away by the previous regime. Tagovailoa still has tremendous upside as a former star at Alabama, they could add a key supportive piece like wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase or linebacker Micah Parsons at the top of the draft, and they’d suddenly have more cap space with which to operate.
It remains far-fetched, but it’s juicy and logical and maybe even a potential win-win if the relationship between Watson and the Texans front office is beyond repair and Tagovailoa pans out in a new setting.
Again, though, that should be considered the best of the worst-case scenarios for the Texans, who have committed a series of glaring missteps and disregarded one of the best young players in the sport. Before giving up and calling the Dolphins in hopes they’ll bail them out, they can finally show some humility and make it clear that Watson is the organization’s top priority.
It might not be too late, but they’ll have to act fast.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter: @Brad_Gagnon.