Grading the trades...

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T15D23
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Grading the trades...

Postby T15D23 » Sat Aug 31, 2019 8:50 pm

Grading the trades: Clowney, Tunsil dealt in pair of blockbuster moves
Sheil Kapadia

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The NFL saw a pair of blockbuster deals Saturday with defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney going from the Houston Texans to the Seattle Seahawks and left tackle Laremy Tunsil going from the Miami Dolphins to the Texans.

The Clowney deal

The Seahawks sent linebackers Barkevious Mingo and Jacob Martin, along with a 2020 third-round pick, to the Texans in exchange for Clowney.

Why they made the move

Let’s start with the Seahawks. They were in need of pass-rush help after trading Frank Clark to the Chiefs and losing defensive tackle Jarran Reed to a six-game suspension. Clowney gives Seattle a disruptive presence on the defensive line. His 18 1/2 sacks over the past two seasons rank tied for 19th. Clowney’s 42 quarterback hits over that span are tied for 17th. And his 37 tackles for loss since the start of 2017 rank third behind only Chandler Jones and Aaron Donald. There are indicators that suggest Clowney has played even better than those numbers reflect. ESPN’s pass-rush win rate tracks how often a player beats his block within 2.5 seconds. Clowney did that 35 percent of the time last year, which ranked second in the NFL. In other words, even if his numbers weren’t always eye-popping, he was creating chaos and helping his team.

What makes this move even more attractive from the Seahawks’ perspective is that Clowney is only 26 years old. Defensive linemen typically take time to develop, and now Clowney will be playing in a one-gap 4-3 where he’s asked to fire off the ball and make plays behind the line of scrimmage. His quickness and explosiveness are elite, and Pete Carroll can have Clowney line up both on the edge and inside. With Clowney and Ziggy Ansah (assuming he looks relatively healthy at the start of the season), the Seahawks have a chance to field a productive pass rush.

As for the Texans, it’s tough to figure out what they were doing here. Smart teams made decisions with their franchise-tagged players earlier in the offseason — either trading them for significant compensation or signing them to long-term extensions. The Texans did neither, failing to resolve the Clowney situation until one week before the regular season begins.

Mingo is now on his fourth team in four seasons. Martin was a sixth-round pick last year. He flashed some potential with three sacks as a rookie but is not going to be a difference-maker at this point in his career.

The Texans had several options with Clowney. They could have aggressively tried to sign him to a long-term deal. They could have forced him to play on the franchise tag in 2019 and then received a compensatory pick if he walked after the season. Or they could have traded him much earlier in the offseason when teams might have been willing to give up more. They chose the absolute worst option. They waited and waited before eventually settling for a terrible compensation package. The Texans are worse in the short term and probably didn’t get much better in the long term. That’s not the ideal outcome in any kind of trade.

Trade grade (Seahawks): A

Is it possible that Clowney doesn’t work out or that he has injury issues or that he leaves Seattle after the season? Sure. And because of the timing of the trade, the Seahawks are not allowed to sign him to an extension right now. So there’s a scenario where Clowney is a one-year rental who signs a big long-term deal elsewhere in the offseason. But the reality is even if that happens, this is 100 percent a risk worth taking. The Seahawks have a quarterback in his prime in Russell Wilson and potentially their best offensive line in years. They are in win-now mode, and Clowney gives them a better chance to make a run in 2019. If he leaves after the season, all they gave up was a third-round pick and a pair of linebackers. Plus, even in that “worst-case” scenario, the Seahawks would be well-positioned to get a third-round compensatory pick back.

There are also huge potential long-term benefits here. The Seahawks were one of the teams that Clowney wanted to join, so it’s fair to assume he has at least some interest in eventually signing an extension after the season. Carroll is a master at getting the most out of immensely talented players whose work ethic or skill set is questioned elsewhere. There is a very realistic scenario where Carroll unleashes Clowney, he produces his best season as a pro, and he’s eager to sign a long-term deal in Seattle after the season. General manager John Schneider deserves a lot of credit for acquiring a player with huge upside and giving up so little in return.

Trade grade (Texans): F

With most trades, you can at least see the perspective from both sides. But this seems like an example of a terrible process by a franchise that’s operating without a general manager and looks completely lost.

Let’s look at the big picture. The Texans have one of the most valuable assets in football: a stud quarterback in Deshaun Watson who is on a rookie deal. Yet they have done a horrendous job of maximizing their chances at a Super Bowl run while he’s still relatively inexpensive. That has to be especially frustrating for Texans fans, given Andrew Luck’s retirement and the state of the AFC South, which is wide open for the taking.

There’s definitely a case to be made that the Texans have better information (specifically medical) than other teams, and so if they were uncomfortable signing Clowney to a big extension, perhaps they had valid reasons. But if that were the case, then they should have aggressively moved to trade him in the spring like the Chiefs did with Dee Ford and the Seahawks did with Clark. Once it got late in the summer, Houston’s options became limited. At that point, they should have made it clear to Clowney that they weren’t going to trade him unless they got valuable compensation. He would have eventually had to play on the franchise tag, which wouldn’t have been a complete disaster. At least the Texans could have tried to make a deep playoff run with Clowney in 2019. They then could have revisited their options with him after the season and at the very least could have eventually gotten the compensatory pick.

The Texans fired Brian Gaine in June and haven’t replaced him. They decided late that they were moving on from Clowney, discovered that he had influence over where he landed, settled for a weak compensation package and looked very much like a franchise that is operating without a GM.

The Tunsil deal

Per NFL Network, the Texans get Tunsil, WR Kenny Stills, a 2020 fourth-round pick and 2021 sixth-round pick in exchange for first-round picks in 2020 and 2021, a 2021 second-rounder, offensive tackle Julién Davenport and defensive back Johnson Bademosi.

Why they made the move

The Texans’ offensive line has looked like a disaster for months now. Last year, Houston gave up a hit or a sack on 30.35 percent of its pass plays. That was the second-worst percentage in the NFL.

They obviously recognized that issue going into last offseason but inexplicably did very little to address it. Bill O’Brien and Gaine obviously didn’t see eye to eye, and the Texans let the Eagles jump them in the first round of the draft for pro-ready left tackle Andre Dillard. The Texans could have targeted a marquee offensive lineman in free agency (even before dealing Clowney, they had $35.8 million in cap space, third most in the NFL) or attempted to swing a trade (maybe even one involving Clowney) back in the spring. Instead they opted to just take a flyer on Matt Kalil, who struggled this summer.

The Texans clearly became enamored with Tunsil and decided they were willing to pay a hefty price to land him. The good news for Houston fans is that, if nothing else, this move makes the Texans a lot better in 2019. Tunsil is 25 years old, and according to the Football Outsiders Almanac, he allowed just two sacks last season. Stills adds to an already strong group of receivers. The offense’s chances of carrying this team to the postseason are a lot better now than they were a couple days ago.

As for the Dolphins, Tunsil is the type of player they could have built around, even if they don’t expect to be competitive for a couple of years. It seems clear that they weren’t eager to move Tunsil, but once the Texans made a big offer, they decided to take it.

Goal No. 1 for Miami is to find a franchise quarterback in the 2020 draft. The Dolphins have been spreading that message for months. Now they have four picks in the first two rounds. Plus, they probably have the least talented roster in the NFL and are a good bet to land the No. 1 pick overall. This season will be a wash for Dolphins fans, but they are positioned to land a bunch of young, talented players before the start of 2020.

Trade grade (Texans): D

As I said earlier, the good news for Texans fans is that they at least filled a huge hole at a premium position for 2019. So why am I giving them such a bad grade?

Let’s start with compensation. I am not opposed to teams taking big swings, but this very clearly feels like a situation where the Dolphins were pretty much able to name their price.

As a point of reference, the Seahawks traded for left tackle Duane Brown in 2018. They gave up a second- and a third-round pick and also got a fifth-round pick in return. Brown was 32 at the time, so it’s reasonable to expect the Dolphins to get more. But multiple firsts and a second as the starting point of this trade is steep.

Keep in mind that Watson is eligible for a contract extension after the 2019 season that could pay him north of $30 million per season. The best way to build around an expensive quarterback is through the draft, and the Texans lost significant draft capital to land Tunsil. If you trust O’Brien and the Texans to put together a promising plan to build around Watson once he gets expensive, raise your hand. Anyone? Didn’t think so.

Another issue here is that the Texans didn’t sign Tunsil to an extension as part of the trade. Maybe they feel great about their chances of re-signing him, but given what they gave up, Tunsil has all the leverage in those negotiations. And what happens if he decides he doesn’t particularly enjoy his one season in Houston? The whole situation could turn into a complete disaster. Again, this might end up being moot, but it’s another example of bad process from the GM-less Texans.

Trade grade (Dolphins): B+

I am generally not a fan of trading good, young players at premium positions. But I completely understand why the Dolphins made this move. From a compensation perspective, they clearly won the trade.

Having said that, I do think culture is important, and I wonder what kind of seeds Brian Flores is going to be able to plant in his first season as head coach, given the horrendous state of that roster. The Dolphins’ goal for 2019 has to be to try to develop young leaders who buy in to Flores. That won’t be easy.

They also now have a terrible offensive line. Maybe that doesn’t matter much in 2019, but the last thing they want to do is play a young quarterback behind a group that can’t protect him in 2020.

Again, this is a move I would have made, and I totally get it. But as we’ve seen throughout sports, acquiring assets and capital is generally the easy part. Using it wisely, making smart evaluations and creating a positive culture are what determine if this kind of rebuild is actually successful.

Beat writer breakdown

From the Texans side: The Texans undersold Clowney and overpaid for Tunsil and Stills. As they try to win now, while Watson remains on a rookie contract, the Texans seem to not put much stock into value. They recognized that Clowney held the leverage, so they dumped him for a third-round pick plus some linebacker depth. They also realized that they needed to do something to protect Watson, so they sent three picks, including two first-rounders, to Miami to secure Tunsil, who might soon enough become the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL. He now holds some leverage of his own. Pundits and reporters (including this one) have criticized Houston for not doing enough to help Watson — whom opponents sacked 62 times last season — so the Texans deserve credit for finally making a move. In addition to Tunsil, they also added some insurance to a receiving corps that features two players — Keke Coutee and Will Fuller — with injury concerns. But it’s worth wondering if Houston would’ve had to give up so much to Miami and receive so little in return from Seattle if all of these transactions didn’t take place just before the season. — Aaron Reiss

From the Seahawks side: This is a great move for the Seahawks. They need a pass rusher, and Clowney needs a place to punish quarterbacks. The key for Seattle here is the compensation. Because Clowney wants a new deal, it’s uncertain whether Seattle would keep him long term, so a trade to acquire him now shouldn’t be at the expense of success down the road. And it’s not. Mingo is a rotational pass-rusher at best. Last season, he was outplayed by Martin, who was in his rookie year and played far fewer snaps. Seattle might be sad to see Martin go because he played with a high motor and projected to be an integral part of the pass rush — if there was one — this year. But if the cost of acquiring a talent such as Clowney is to sacrifice a young, situational pass rusher and a third-round pick that GM John Schneider can recoup with ease, then you pull the trigger. — Michael-Shawn Dugar

From the Dolphins side: Miami, a team that traditionally hasn’t drafted well, pinned a lot of its rebuild hopes on the next two drafts with Saturday’s trade of Tunsil and Stills to Houston. It’s a huge risk. Miami got good draft-day return from the Texans (a 2020 first-round pick and 2021 first- and second-round picks) but the Dolphins must turn these into something good either by packaging them in trades or selecting good players. In the 2020 and 2021 drafts, the Dolphins have four first-round picks and four second-round picks. The Dolphins have 13 picks in the 2020 draft. Clearly this isn’t a good trade for the 2019 Dolphins. Tunsil and Stills were two of their best and most popular players. If the Dolphins use those picks correctly, which hasn’t been an organizational strength in the past, and if offensive tackle Julién Davenport sticks around, this trade could be a boon for the 2020 and 2021 Dolphins. But considering Miami’s draft history this trade is a long shot, at best, to work in the Dolphins’ favor. — Chris Perkins
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