No new developments have come out of the Deshaun Watson situation for some time. The only real change over the last several weeks has been a shift in positioning by the Houston Texans when speaking publicly about the matter. A few months ago, whenever GM Nick Caesiro or head coach David Culley or owner Cal McNair was asked about Watson, they adamantly stated he was a member of the team right now and the foreseeable future. Now, after the sexual harassment and assault lawsuits have gone public and several of the accusers have come forward, the Texans' forward-facing position is that they'll evaluate the situation after the legal proceedings have played out.
It's hard to know what will happen once we get to that point. Watson will almost definitely face some sort of discipline from the NFL in the form of a suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy, even if the lawsuits are settled outside of court. There's precedent there in the form of the Ezekiel Elliott and Ray Rice situations, neither of which involved lawsuits but resulted in multi-game suspensions anyway. After everything that's happened since the season ended, Houston probably wants to start fresh but can't release Watson outright due to his gigantic contract, and nobody really knows who would be interested in the All-Pro quarterback now.
The general consensus among NFL insiders appears to be that Watson will end up elsewhere. Eventually. Peter King said as much a few weeks ago, tabbing the Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles as the most likely trade partners if and when Watson does end up on the block again. Today, Albert Breer touched upon the topic in his MMQB column for Sports Illustrated and favors the Miami Dolphins as the team to watch in Watson trade talks:
The tone change on Deshaun Watson continued this weekend with what David Culley told the local media. “We have nothing to say about that situation at this time,” Culley said. “Cal [McNair] and ownership a few weeks back indicated about how our organization feels about the situation. When [GM] Nick [Caserio] was on not long ago, he mentioned that he also mentioned that the legal process is in effect right now and we’re going to respect that and go from there.” Culley added that he had “nothing to say” on his expectation of seeing Watson at the facility anytime soon. This, to be sure, is different from where we were back in January and February, and that’s why—when the dust settles both legally (and lawyers on both sides pushed buttons publicly this week) and with the league—I’d think Watson is likely to be moved.
I also would not ignore the Dolphins. Miami has a first-rounder next year, and two in 2023, and could also offer a young quarterback (Tua Tagovailoa) from a college program Texans GM Nick Caserio has a lot of experience with. Houston could then let Tagovailoa and Davis Mills compete behind Tyrod Taylor … and, well, we’re probably getting ahead of ourselves here. But I do think the Dolphins are in a place where they could offer something good for Watson that would also allow them to maintain everything they’ve built the last three offseasons.
The Dolphins make sense for all the reasons Breer laid out. They've built a competitive team in short order with Brian Flores and Chris Grier at the helm over the last two years. They very nearly made the playoffs last year. The big question is if Tua Tagovailoa can come into his own quickly enough to take advantage of the strong supporting cast. There were signs indicating he could at times in 2020-- but there were also moments where Tagovailoa looked far away from becoming a playoff-caliber QB.
He was also a rookie trying to figure out NFL life during a COVID-affected season. And he was playing his first football in nearly a year after missing much of his final season at Alabama due to injury. With a handful of games and a full offseason pretty close to normal, there's reason to be optimistic Tagovailoa will improve in his sophomore season.
The Dolphins will give him that chance. Given Watson's baggage, nobody is in a rush to trade for him. But the attraction of acquiring a quarterback who can play like Watson will be enough for somebody to take a risk on him. The Dolphins might if Tagovailoa doesn't exhibit some substantial improvement in Year 2.
It's a bit of a rushed discussion anyway, since Watson probably wouldn't be traded until the 2022 offseason depending on the severity of discipline he's facing from the league offices. But if Tagovailoa upgrades his play level to even just average, Miami will probably stick with him. He's cost-controlled for three more years. The Dolphins were playoff contenders last year and could be more very soon if Tagovailoa really finds a groove. Even if Tagovailoa never ends up as good as Watson, being good enough will make it worthwhile for the franchise to keep him after all that's happened with Watson.