Deshaun Watson chooses Cleveland and Dolphins face brutal path to AFC playoffs | Schad

Joe Schad
Palm Beach Post
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Deshaun Watson made his decision and it was Cleveland.

Cleveland!

Watson chose Cleveland and that city hopes he'll have the kind of impact LeBron James once had.

James' infamous and famous decision was to leave Cleveland for Miami, although he did choose to return to the city that means so much to him.

There is little doubt Cleveland will embrace Watson's decision.

Cleveland!

Time will tell if the Dolphins made a colossal mistake by not following through on their plan to acquire Watson last season.

Then, Watson desperately wanted to live and work in Miami, which is pretty much the anti-Cleveland. Jarvis Landry can fill Watson in on the difference between the two cities.

Watson, it was said by friends, desired the South Florida lifestyle.

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Sadly, Landry has been let go and will not be catching passes for Watson. But Watson will be throwing to Amari Cooper, acquired in a trade from Dallas.

Here's the biggest problem for Miami. Watson chose to stay in the AFC, instead of heading to the Falcons or Saints of the NFC, which is where the smart money was bet.

Not so smart, I guess.

And now the AFC is really, really loaded. Like, incredibly loaded.

And Mike McDaniel's path to the AFC Playoffs in his first season is incredibly difficult.

The AFC is where it's at, folks

As of Friday afternoon, eight of the nine biggest free agent deals of the offseason were for players who will play in the AFC in 2022.

Among those players: Von Miller (Rams to Bills), J.C. Jackson (Patriots to Chargers), Christian Kirk (Cardinals to Jaguars), Randy Gregory (Cowboys to Broncos), Marcus Williams (Saints to Ravens) and Chandler Jones (Cardinals to Raiders).

Can the Dolphins apply for admission to the NFC?

Can the NFC open a transfer protocol to help balance out the playing field?

The AFC is incredibly difficult to navigate.

And Miami is putting its hopes on quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who has not yet lived up to expectations in his first two seasons.

There are an incredible number of talented quarterbacks in the AFC.

Joe Burrow (25, Bengals), Russell Wilson (33, traded from Seahawks to Broncos), Patrick Mahomes (26, Chiefs), Justin Herbert (23, Chargers), Josh Allen (25, Bills), Lamar Jackson (24, Ravens).

The Dolphins may be dealing with five of those quarterbacks for the next 10 or more years. Is Tagovailoa up to the task? 

Miami hopes so.

Look at all the players that are entering the AFC. Davante Adams says it's his lifelong dream to play for the Raiders and leaves Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

Khalil Mack is traded from the Bears and to the AFC's Chargers.

Who exactly is going to block Mack and Joey Bosa when the Dolphins play them in 2022?

Among the AFC quarterbacks Miami is slated to face next season: Deshaun Watson, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert.

And we'll see how Mac Jones and Zach Wilson of the Patriots and Jets, respectively, develop.

Is Tua up to the task? Is Miami's offensive line? Surely Dolphins general manager Chris Grier is going to sign a veteran offensive tackle to help give Tua a chance.

Right?

The Dolphins have gone 10-6 and 9-8 over the past two seasons and somehow failed to qualify for the AFC Playoffs each time.

They even fired their coach.

The Dolphins' decisions to extend Emmanuel Ogbah and franchise tag Mike Gesicki were solid.

Miami's decision to sign upside talents like Chase Edmonds, Cedrick Wilson and Connor Williams to new contracts was solid.

Good isn't good enough in this conference

But solid is not going to cut it in this new-age AFC.

Seven teams in the AFC will qualify for the next playoff party.

Who among these teams do you see Miami edging out: Buffalo, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Tennessee, Los Angeles Chargers, Denver, Baltimore, Cleveland, Las Vegas.

That's nine teams. It's hard to argue Miami is better prepared to succeed this season than those teams. And it's easy to say that every one of them has more confidence in their quarterback situation at the moment.

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson drops back to pass during the first half of a preseason NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas, Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019.

At some point, the Dolphins really wanted Watson. Something changed. There are at least two things we know. At the time, neither Watson's criminal nor civil situations had been resolved. And Brian Flores, who very much wanted Watson, has since been fired.

The Dolphins figure to be capable on defense, as they'll return pretty much all their players from a well-constructed and coached unit.

The Dolphins figure to be improved on offense, due largely to the influx of new coaches, spearheaded by the brainy McDaniel, who plans to design and call plays.

But unless Tagovailoa sharply rises to the level of his pre-draft expectations, and unless Grier has a few key free agent or trade additions up his sleeve, Miami seems to be on the outside looking in.

How can one look at the composition of the AFC powers the Dolphins will need to deal with and feel confident about their chances?

There's work to be done if Miami plans to be mentioned among the elite teams in what now clearly is the NFL's elite conference. Lots of work.

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