The desperate quest for a Super Bowl championship leaves no stone unturned, and while Boy Scouts are welcome, there is also always room at the Roger Goodell Inn for would-be miscreants or evil doers.
The story never changes: If you are such a talent that you can help one of the billionaire owners feed the belching golden goose, the league will eventually find a way to massage the record away with what it declares as sufficient justice on any given Sunday or day of the week.
If Deshaun Watson is granted his wish and is traded out of his legal limbo to the Dolphins between now and Tuesday night’s trade deadline, he will be eligible to play … at least until the NFL decides on a date for him to be eligible for the Commissioner’s Exempt List.
Character matters in the NFL, until and unless it doesn’t. If Dolphins owner Stephen Ross willingly surrenders three first-round draft picks to the Texans for Watson, he will have reached the conclusion that the devil he knows, Tua Tagovailoa, can’t hold a candle to the devil he doesn’t know.
In the meantime, until investigations into Watson’s sexual misconduct charges by the Houston police are completed and made public, a small army of massage therapists will hold to their conviction that he is the devil no one knew.
Palace intrigue at its finest.
If Ross has a panic attack and decides to pull the trigger without waiting for a resolution of Watson’s 22 civil suits, it will mean he has no fear of falling off the tightrope between “innocent until proven guilty” and “where there’s smoke there’s fire,” fully aware that the NFL will be poised at a time of its choosing to protect the shield with its Public Conduct policy and likely six-game suspension.
Ross should do himself a favor and pass.
“With greater talent comes greater tolerance, we know that, it’s been like that forever, and it’ll be like that forever,” ESPN “Monday Night Football” analyst Louis Riddick told Serby Says. “The question is … who do you want to be as an organization? What do you want to stand for? Do you stand for anything, or are you just about doing whatever the hell it takes, and character and personal conduct be dammed, in order to get a win? Is that where you are? And if you are, then you will take chances on players who right now have legal situations that have not been resolved.
“I know there are people out there who are saying, ‘Well, he hasn’t been charged with anything, the commissioner hasn’t put him on the Exempt list and the commissioner doesn’t even have all the information.’ Yeah you’re right. So in that case, you know what? If I’m going, ‘I’m not doing anything.’ I’m just simply not doing anything because I don’t know. I don’t know if the risk is worth the reward here, and honestly, I would be leaving that to ownership, man, because that’s just something I would be uncomfortable with doing at this point, and that’s not to say that prior to all this stuff, I’m not saying that Deshaun is guilty, I’m saying I don’t know.
“And if you don’t know, how do you take that risk? How do you? ’Cause if something comes out that in fact some or all or any of this stuff is true, where do you draw the line as far as what you are going to accept and not accept in a player’s behavior in order to bring him on your team? Where is your line, or do you not have one? That seems so easy to me, but for a lot of people clearly it’s not. For a lot of people, it’s like, ‘The hell with all that. He’s a great player. … He’s better than Tua, the hell with Tua, ship Tua down the road, Tua’s not durable, Tua can’t throw the deep ball.’ It’s bigger than that, but for many people in pro sports, it doesn’t matter who players are, it’s what they can do for you. … I just don’t know if there’s anything that takes people off the table anymore, I really don’t, and that’s strange to me.”
Few will argue that strictly from a football standpoint, inviting Watson to take his talents to South Beach is a no-brainer, even though all the speculation and talk about it while his off-the-field behavior has been called into such serious question seems trivial.
But the NFL is a national pastime where the news cycle never stops, and some owner would undoubtedly consider trading for Hannibal Lecter if he could spin it and run an RPO.
“They want to possibly trade for him because they want have one of the top five quarterbacks in the NFL,” Phil Simms told Serby Says. “He’s a franchise changer. He played on a bad football team. Usually quarterbacks cannot excel on bad football teams — he did last year. I actually talked to a few coaches that had to play him, and they go, ‘Wow. We were lucky to win the game because we could not stop him.’ And that’s why the Dolphins want him.”
It is unfortunate that Tagovailoa would be collateral damage in any trade, after the Dolphins used the fifth-overall pick in the 2020 draft on him. Watson, of course, is the better bet to win a Super Bowl.
“On the field,” Simms said of Watson, “there’s no weakness. There’s nothing. Great NFL size … tremendous athletic ability … really good thrower of the ball. I’m extremely surprised at how well he’s thrown the ball as a pro. When he came out, I liked him, but I just go, ‘Gosh, I’m not sure he’s gonna be a top-flight NFL thrower,’ and that is definitely not the truth. He is a top-flight NFL thrower, too.
“The talent is overwhelming, and as we know, talent gives you leeway in other situations, so if he wasn’t so talented, nobody would even think about trying to trade for him and whatever. And even though we don’t know the outcome of the legal situation he’s in.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney likened Watson to Michael Jordan, and only the Texans believed him. There were no red flags, either.
“I’m not taking anything away from Deshaun the player in the least,” Riddick said, “but I just don’t know how you could pull the trigger given what it will cost you as the acquiring team without knowing everything as far as what his status is gonna be going forward. I just couldn’t do it.”
When late Jets owner Leon Hess fired Pete Carroll after the 1994 season to hire Rich Kotite, he said: “I’m 80 years old. I want results now.” Ross is 81 years old, and he wants results now, too — different from the 1-6 results he is getting this season from coach Brian Flores and Tagovailoa.
Any such blockbuster trade would have considerable ramifications. An empowered Watson would want input into the hiring of the next head coach, since Flores is starting to look like Dead Coach Walking.
Beyond that, women’s groups would be sure to protest. John Mara and Steve Tisch were so fortunate having Eli Manning as the face of the Giants franchise. What are we to think of Deshaun Watson as the face of a franchise? Is there any guarantee that he can exorcise the demons that his accusers have alleged live inside him?
For all his elite tools, trading for Watson is a risk not worth taking at this time.
Super Bowl VIII was the Dolphins’ last championship. They’ve been searching for the Next Dan Marino as doggedly as the Jets have been searching for the Next Joe Namath. First Ross thought Chad Henne was the answer to his prayers. Then Ryan Tannehill. Then Tagovailoa. Now, whether it’s in the immediate future, or sometime next year, the biggest — and perhaps the baddest — fish in the pond.