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Imagine how much more difficult Robert Saleh’s Jets rebuild will become if Deshaun Watson gets traded to the Miami Dolphins.
If Dolphins GM Chris Grier acquires Watson from the Houston Texans, the AFC East for the foreseeable future will look like this:
Josh Allen, 24, and the Buffalo Bills. Watson, 25, and the Miami Dolphins. Bill Belichick, a mystery quarterback, and the New England Patriots. Sam Darnold, 23, or a rookie quarterback and the Jets.
This is the motivation for the Jets to win the Watson sweepstakes beyond simply acquiring a great player at the sport’s most important position: their biggest contender for the Texans’ quarterback might be in their own division.
Watson has a no trade clause and reportedly has eyes for South Beach. There is no state income tax in Florida, and Brian Flores’ team has quickly become a formidable AFC foe.
Just one year after a roster tank, the Dolphins suddenly were 10-6 and only a quarterback away from being a clear playoff team in 2020.
The Carolina Panthers also are considered serious suitors. The San Francisco 49ers are seeking a QB upgrade, too, as are the Patriots, Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, Washington, L.A. Rams, and more.
But the reality is that the Jets and the Dolphins have what the Texans would most want in a blockbuster trade package: a top-three pick in this year’s draft.
The Jets have picks No. 2 and 23 in this year’s first round, and four total picks in the top 66 of the draft. The Dolphins have picks No. 3 and 18 in the first round and four total picks in the top 50. Their No. 3 and 36 overall picks are both Texans draft choices that former coach Bill O’Brien traded to Miami.
The Texans may command a record trade haul that could include three first-round picks plus players, if not more. The Jets and Dolphins each having a second first-rounder in April’s draft could help those teams part with their top-three pick and still have an asset of their own.
One Jets advantage is that Watson reportedly asked the Texans to interview Saleh for their head coaching vacancy before he was hired in New York. He may want to play for him in green.
And Saleh, though he has been complimentary of Darnold, has gone out of his way to keep all of his options open, to insist the Jets will look into anything that can make their team better.
Woody Johnson’s return as owner makes it more likely the Jets will go big for Watson, too. This is the man who brought in Brett Favre and Tim Tebow. Woody won’t be shy.
The Dolphins have more than just better weather and tax laws, though: they also appear ready to contend with Watson. The Jets are still incomplete and years away.
Miami seems poised to win, and they have to know — regardless of what they say publicly — that they can’t sit on their hands with Tua Tagovailoa as their starter.
Granted, new Texans GM Nick Caserio and coach David Culley talked tough at Friday’s press conference, saying they have no interest in dealing their superstar QB. But Watson clearly is finished with the organization, and it is only a matter of time before a deal happens.
Given that reality, here is what the 2021 AFC East will look like if the Jets lose the Watson sweepstakes to the Dolphins:
- Allen and the reigning division champion Bills, coming off a 13-3 season, averaging 31.3 points per game, having played in the 2020 AFC Championship Game.
- Watson and the Dolphins: coming off a 10-6 season, just missing the playoffs, and now adding the NFL’s passing yards leader in 2020.
- The Patriots, coming off a 7-9 season but what, are you going to bet against them two years in a row?
- And the Jets: trying to rise from the ashes of a 2-14 season with a new coach and maybe a new rookie QB.
This is why the Jets have to go big for Watson. They can’t lose him inside their division. They would never live it down.
TIP OF THE CAP
The NFL Players’ Association is projecting the league’s 2021 salary cap to drop to $180 million, according to league sources, though that number is not official yet. There will be more NFL discussions on the cap early this week. The league’s cap was $198.2 million in 2020.
NFLPA sources are confident the cap won’t go any lower than $175 million and believe it will settle at $180 million.
The cap has increased by $10 million or more per year for seven straight seasons and has decreased only once in 2011, the year of the NFL lockout. But financial shortfalls due to the COVID-19 pandemic are creating a cap squeeze that will force teams to tighten their belts.
Some players and agents are wary of what the reduced cap could mean for player price tags on the free agent market — though as long as there is an open market free of owner collusion, the highest bidder still will win.
NFL COACHING YOUTH MOVEMENT
Next fall, there will be six NFL head coaches under the age of 40 at the start of a season for the first time since 1970, per Elias Sports Bureau. And the average age of the NFL’s 32 head coaches will be 50.5, the lowest it’s been since 2010.
This is the product of a hiring cycle that saw five of the seven vacancies filled by coaches under 45 years of age, including three younger than 40.
The Rams’ Brandon Staley and the Falcons’ Arthur Smith are 38. The Eagles’ Nick Sirianni is 39. The Jets’ Robert Saleh is 41. The Lions’ Dan Campbell is 44. The Jaguars’ Urban Meyer is 56, and the Texans’ David Culley is 65.
Come September, when the 2021 season opens, six coaches will be below 40 years of age: the Rams’ Sean McVay, 35, the Bengals’ Zac Taylor, 38, Staley, Smith, the Browns’ Kevin Stefanski, 39, and the Giants’ Joe Judge, 39.
McVay is responsible for a large part of the youth movement. Taylor, Staley and the Packers’ Matt LaFleur, 41, all were hired off McVay’s Rams staff within the last few cycles.