The Houston Texans, Miami Dolphins and Seattle Seahawks rocked the football world with a series of transactions over the weekend. The moves – centering on Jadaveon Clowney and Laremy Tunsil – provided a portal into the very souls of each organization and revealed plenty. For better or worse.
To recap, the Seahawks got Clowney for a third-round pick and two backup, situational-at-best players (Barkevious Mingo, a journeyman on his fifth team since 2015, and Jacob Martin, a former sixth-round pick). And the Texans sent their 2020 and 2021 first-round picks, a second-round pick in 2021, defensive back Johnson Bademosi and tackle Julian Davenport to Miami for Tunsil, receiver Kenny Stills and a fourth- and sixth-round pick.
After discussing the trades with evaluators I trust the past few days, here are some of my takeaways from a weekend that shook the league and may have swayed the balance of power in a division or two:
Texans have a mess, and a lot of pressure
Bill O'Brien, post-GM power struggle, has as much pressure on him now as anyone in the NFL. Working without a GM, he has mortgaged the next two years to fill a desperate void for a tackle that was exacerbated by whiffing on Andre Dillard in the draft by getting leapfrogged by the Eagles via trade. One personnel executive, when digesting how little O'Brien got for Clowney, and the fact they are paying one of their best players $7M to leave the franchise, noted the following: "They may have actually been smarter to have never tagged him, pay him nothing, and just take the third-round pick (comp in 2020). He's lucky they have an owner there that just took over and probably doesn't know any better. You don't give away $7M for a third-round pick, a huge draft bust (Mingo) and a backup linebacker. That blows my mind."
Houston's problems really started in 2017 when things got bad between O'Brien and former Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown. Brown held out, seeking a new deal and was dealt to Seattle for reserve corner Jeremy Lane, a fifth-round pick and a second-round pick. Deshaun Watson got pounded, Houston's OL wilted, and O'Brien's desperation was apparent in the haul he gave up for Tunsil. Schneider got Brown and Clowney from Houston for basically three backups at positions of great depth for him at the time, plus a second-, third- and fifth-round pick in three different drafts. Jackpot!
Waiting until after the July 15 deadline to extend a player on the franchise tag, and then getting to little for Clowney in return, would be a fireable offense for a GM. If the Texans had one. For this little, there's no excuse in the world Clowney wasn't dealt in the spring before guys like Dee Ford and Frank Clark changed teams.
Seahawks big winners
There isn't anyone I spoke to who didn't love what Seahawks GM John Schneider did. He basically gets to rent Clowney for less than half of the franchise tag (when you factor in the $7M that Houston paid and the salaries of spare-part players he sent to the Texans). If Clowney leaves for a huge free-agent payday in 2020, then Seattle likely recoups the third-round pick it sends to Houston in 2019 as a comp pick. Clowney is mega-motivated, believing a huge pay day is ahead if he is healthy and productive this season. "This isn't low risk for John," one GM told me. "It's basically no risk." Clowney fills a huge need on a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
Josh Rosen loses, again
The Dolphins' franchise QB is not on the current roster. And poor Josh Rosen will be a trade chip, again. Behind this offensive line, and surrounded by this roster, any quarterback would suffer. Evaluating him will be next to impossible and with the cache of picks Miami holds and with how high they will pick, they can have any QB they choose in 2020 or 2021. Honestly, Miami dealing Rosen before the midseason deadline wouldn't be a shocker. He'd be an upgrade over several backups on projected playoff teams right now, and with Ryan Fitzpatrick starting the season, why wouldn't the Dolphins be open to anything at this point?
Laremy Tunsil's leverage now huge
Tunsil has as much leverage as any player in the NFL right now. O'Brien gave up more for him than the Bears did for Khalil Mack a year ago … and the Bears had cost certainty, with Mack's deal already done. Tunsil remains on his rookie deal (not for long), but with how Houston has been throwing around picks and money ($7M for Clowney to leave, remember), he should ask for $20M a year. "They gave up what it would take to land a young, established starting QB, not that those guys ever get traded," one exec noted. "So Tunsil should ask for QB money."
More NFL trade notes
- Should the Dolphins end up drafting a certain left-handed QB from Alabama, it's worth noting that the right tackle position will be at a premium for them even more than the left side, given the blindside and all.
- If you are Nick Caserio, whom the Texans failed to land as their GM, would you really want to go to Houston in 2020? New England is a draft/trade/waiver wire team, but the Texans' next two drafts are so gutted that free-agency is going to be their only avenue. If Watson gets beat up again, working for an unproven owner and with guys like J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus not getting any younger, and with this being a year when more GM jobs could open up, why limit your rodeo to one team?
- The team no one is talking about who could benefit most from O'Brien's recent desperation may be Washington. Sure, Trent Williams is a lot older than Tunsil, and his recent injury history is a concern -- but he is also a top-five LT when healthy and he isn't planning on ever playing for Washington again, and his trade value should be quite solid with just $24M to pay on the final two years of his deal and with all of the guarantees already paid. Plenty of teams need a tackle upgrade now, and injuries will only increase the need.
- I wrote months ago that the Dolphins should try to sell off everything except for Tunsil, and that I would have made extending him part of the rebuild. But you cannot turn down this much value for a player, they have so much draft excess to address tackle in the coming drafts, and dealing him now locks them into a top-three pick, as far as I am concerned. They were smart to not take Clowney as part of the talks with the Texans – he makes no sense at this stage of the rebuild and especially post-July 15 (the deadline to extend a player on the franchise tag) – and O'Brien was in even more dire straights after coming out of the Clowney trade without an offensive lineman.
- The end of the Kenny Stills era in Miami was unnecessarily messy, and his inclusion in the Tunsil trade is no surprise. As this roster improves over the years – nowhere to go but up at this point - the coach and owner will hopefully learn from this and limit the unforced errors in juggling the nexus of sports and politics once it does enter the locker room.