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From trade talk to 22 lawsuits



HOUSTON — At the beginning of March, the conversation surrounding quarterback Deshaun Watson was about whether the Houston Texans would grant his wish to be traded.

It was a rocky start to the 2021 offseason, during which Watson reportedly was upset with the way the team had handled the search for its next general manager and refused to return calls to Houston’s front office. Watson still has not directly informed the Texans why he wants to be traded.

Watson scrubbed his social media platforms of mentions of the team that traded up to draft him in 2017 and signed him to four-year, $156 million extension in September, telling those close to him he never wanted to play for the Texans again.

But just as quickly, the conversation shifted after Houston lawyer Tony Buzbee filed the first of more than 20 lawsuits against Watson, alleging behavior from sexual misconduct to sexual assault that occurred since March 2020.

Here’s a look at everything that has happened since the night the first lawsuit was filed.

March 16

On the night before the start of the new NFL year, Buzbee posted a photo of Deshaun Watson on Instagram, announcing in the caption that he filed a civil lawsuit against the Texans quarterback.

“I am extremely proud to represent those who have no perceived power against those who have PERCEIVED power,” Buzbee wrote. “Things are changing in this country, in this great state, and in this great city. And I feel like it’s for the better, for all of us! Today we filed suit against Deshaun Watson.”

Buzbee did not say what the lawsuit was alleging, but wrote, “Too many times women have put up with behavior that we all know no one should put up with.”

That night, Watson posted a statement on Twitter, saying he had not seen the lawsuit but had previously rejected “a baseless six-figure settlement demand.”

“I have never treated any woman with anything other than the utmost respect,” Watson said in his statement.

March 17

The following morning, the Texans released a statement saying the social media post was the first they had heard of the incident.

“We take accusations of this nature that involve anyone within the Houston Texans organization seriously,” the team said in the statement. “We will await further information before making any additional statements on this incident.”

After the Texans made that statement, the lawsuit was available on the Houston County District Clerk’s website. The lawsuit alleges Watson touched a female massage therapist with his penis during a massage.

The lawsuit says the plaintiff “began to feel extremely uncomfortable” and “it became apparent that Watson wanted a massage for only one reason — sex.” It accuses Watson of exposing himself and subsequently touching the woman.

In the lawsuit, the massage therapist alleges after she asked Watson to leave, the quarterback made a statement that she considered to be a threat. The lawsuit also says Watson later texted her to apologize.

That day, Watson hired Houston lawyer Rusty Hardin to represent him.

“I’m real comfortable with the kind of person that Deshaun Watson is, and I don’t like to publicly comment until I get all the facts,” Hardin told ESPN that day, adding that Watson “has a great reputation here in the Houston area, and the allegations are really inconsistent with the kind of person he is.”

Later that day, Buzbee filed a second lawsuit against Watson, which alleges Watson booked a massage with a masseuse over Instagram and flew her to Houston from Atlanta. When she arrived at the hotel where the massage was scheduled to take place, the suit says Watson was nude on a massage table and refused to cover himself with a towel despite several requests. It also says he inappropriately touched the woman.

The lawsuit says, “Watson’s behavior is part of a disturbing pattern of preying on vulnerable women.”

The NFL said in a statement they are aware of the matter but declined further comment.

That night, a third lawsuit was filed by Buzbee accusing Watson of assaulting a massage therapist by allegedly forcing her to have oral sex with him in December 2020.

The third lawsuit alleges Watson sent a direct message to the plaintiff over Instagram and then scheduled a massage for Dec. 28, 2020, at an office building in Houston.

After leaving the room, the massage therapist alleges she returned to find Watson lying on the massage table on his stomach with a small towel covering his buttocks. She alleges when Watson turned over midway through the massage, he “got more aggressive, forcefully telling her to move her hand down to his pubic area.”

The plaintiff alleges she felt “intimidated and threatened” and “she was afraid of what someone like Watson could do if she did not submit to his demands.” She says in the lawsuit Watson made it clear, repeatedly, that he could “help, or hurt, her career.” The lawsuit alleges Watson forced the woman to perform oral sex on him, and she “did not consent.”

March 18

NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said “the matter is under review” of the league’s personal conduct policy, and the Texans said they would stay in close contact with the NFL during the league’s investigation.

Buzbee told ESPN via text message his office had been in contact with police and “we will be sending a package” to them with information related to the cases.

Houston police declined to comment to ESPN whether they were investigating the matter. A spokesman for the Harris County district attorney’s office told ESPN that as of that point in time nobody from any law enforcement agency had provided information to the D.A.’s office about the allegations involving Watson.

Buzbee also posted to Instagram images of messages he indicated were between Watson and two of the women who had filed lawsuits against the quarterback.

That evening, four more lawsuits were filed against Watson, alleging similar inappropriate conduct and sexual assault to the previous three that had been filed.

March 19

Buzbee held a news conference during which he said one of the alleged incidents of which Watson was being accused had happened as recently as this month, which was after Buzbee said he had spoken to Scott Gaffield, who was representing Watson at the time.

Buzbee said during the news conference his office had been in contact with police and he would provide information about the women who intended to sue Watson. The Houston Police Department said in a statement posted to Twitter later that day it was unaware of any contact with Buzbee regarding the allegations or filings of any incident reports. Buzbee later wrote on social media the contact he referenced was with a detective he knows who reached out to him.

Buzbee also said he was not aware of any police reports filed before the civil suits.

“That’s going to be our next step,” Buzbee said, noting he would do so when his clients were ready but without offering a timeline.

After the news conference, Hardin issued a statement saying the allegations against Watson were “meritless.”

“I’m extremely proud to represent Deshaun Watson and wholly stand behind him against what we believe are meritless allegations,” Hardin’s statement said. “However, we will wait to comment in detail until we’ve completed our review of the numerous, evolving allegations from Mr. Buzbee. We will respond next week and ask you to keep an open mind until we do so.”

Watson’s agent, David Mulugheta, posted the following on Twitter around midday:

Buzbee said he had not had any contact with the Texans and the only contact with the NFL had been the letter he received from Lisa Friel, the league’s special counsel for investigations.

March 20

Buzbee said in an Instagram post he would submit affidavits and evidence from several women to the Houston Police Department and the Houston district attorney on March 22. He also said he would request a grand jury consider the evidence and determine whether charges should be brought against Watson by the state of Texas.

The district attorney would decide whether to grant Buzbee’s request for a grand jury. If granted, the grand jury would then decide, through witness testimony closed to the public, if there is enough evidence to succeed at trial and in turn determine whether charges should be brought against Watson by the state of Texas.

March 22

Seven more lawsuits were filed against Watson, with allegations that followed the same pattern of behavior.

Dane Schiller, a spokesperson for the Harris County district attorney, issued this statement: “It would be inappropriate for the District Attorney’s office to comment on a civil lawsuit, and we refrain from publicly discussing allegations in any matter until, and if, a criminal charge is filed; we do this out of fairness to all.”

March 23

Hardin said in a statement his law firm has “strong evidence” showing one of the lawsuits alleging sexual assault is false and “calls into question the legitimacy of the other cases as well.”

Hardin added he believes “any allegation that Deshaun forced a woman to commit a sexual act is completely false.”

In his statement, Hardin said Buzbee had “orchestrated a circus-like atmosphere by using social media to publicize 14 ‘Jane Doe’ lawsuits,” and the lawyer had also refused Hardin’s requests “to confidentially provide the names of the plaintiffs so we can fully investigate their claims” against Watson.

Later that day, two more lawsuits were filed against Watson, bringing the total to 16.

Regarding the case that was singled out by Hardin in his statement, Watson’s attorney released a signed affidavit from Watson’s marketing manager, Bryan Burney. In that declaration, Burney said he spoke with an individual he believes is the plaintiff in the third case filed by Buzbee.

“In January of this year, a woman attempted to blackmail Deshaun by demanding $30,000 in exchange for her ‘indefinite silence’ about what she stated was a consensual encounter,” the statement said.

Buzbee said Watson and Burney “repeatedly insisted that Jane Doe sign” a non-disclosure agreement, and she refused to do so.

March 28

Three new lawsuits were filed, including one that claimed Watson was deleting Instagram messages and contacting the women “who formally provided him massages, in an attempt to settle” those cases.

All three lawsuits accuse Watson of sexually assaulting women during massage sessions by “purposely” touching them with his penis, and state his “behavior is part of a disturbing pattern.”

The third lawsuit also included the accusation Watson was deleting the Instagram messages and contacting the plaintiffs “as a result of the repeated lawsuits against him.”

“Plaintiffs have not brought these cases for money or attention; instead, plaintiffs seek a change in behavior with regard to Watson, and a change of culture in the NFL,” said the lawsuit, filed by Buzbee.

The three new lawsuits bring the total filed against Watson to 19.

March 29

Hardin said in a statement Watson had not deleted any Instagram messages over the past two weeks and “categorically” denied his client contacted any of the women directly.

“Like a lot of people, Deshaun regularly deletes past Instagram messages,” Hardin said. “That said, he has not deleted any messages since March 15th, the day before the first lawsuit was filed. We categorically deny that he has reached out directly to his accusers in an attempt to settle these cases.”

Later that day, Sports Illustrated published an account from a Houston massage therapist who said Watson acted inappropriately when she massaged him.

The woman has not filed a lawsuit against Watson, but told SI she was speaking out because she wants “a genuine apology” from Watson, “for us and our community, for putting us in these situations where we don’t know what to do.”

The woman, speaking under the condition of anonymity, told SI that while “Watson did not touch her, nor did he force her into conducting any sexual acts,” he did “engage in behavior that was both inappropriate and unlike any other interaction she’s had with any of her more than 1,000 clients.”

The alleged incident described in the SI report took place in the fall of 2019; in the 19 lawsuits filed against Watson, the earliest incident took place in 2020.

March 30

Early in the day, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said the union would also monitor the situation.

“We monitor these cases, and if it results in an investigation by the league with respect to the personal conduct policy, we’ll become involved in that,” Smith said during an interview on ESPN’s Keyshawn, JWill & Zubin. “Other than that — you know historically I don’t comment on open cases — but we are continuing to monitor it as it might impact this young man and the personal conduct policy.”

Two more lawsuits alleging sexual assault and inappropriate behavior were filed against Watson on that evening, including one that states the quarterback has “unsent” messages on Instagram and has contacted the women who had previously massaged him “through intermediaries.”

That statement in the lawsuit clarifies the contents of a lawsuit filed by Buzbee on March 28 that said Watson was deleting Instagram messages and contacting the women “who formally provided him massages, in an attempt to settle” those cases.

One of the lawsuits alleges that Watson “made obscene sexual gestures,” and the second says over the course of four sessions, Watson “purposely” exposed himself to the massage therapist and touched her with his penis and ultimately groped her, coerced her into oral sex and ejaculated on her.

In addition to the two new lawsuits, Buzbee posted on Instagram to say he now didn’t feel comfortable going to the Houston Police Department with any information and that he and his clients “will go elsewhere to provide our evidence to investigative authorities.” Earlier, Buzbee said he would submit affidavits and evidence from several women to the Houston PD and the Houston district attorney.

“My legal opponent, Mr. Hardin, has a son who is on … the exclusive Command Staff of HPD,” Buzbee posted on Instagram. “I am not saying in any way that Deshaun Watson’s lawyer, Mr. Hardin, has a son who has a position that would compromise HPD and its investigation. I support his service, along with all Houston police officers — I think the rank and file know that.”

On this day, Texans general manager Nick Caserio became the first member of the organization to comment on Watson’s legal situation.

“We’re certainly cognizant and aware,” Caserio told the Texans All Access podcast. “We made a statement at the beginning about where the organization stood. I would say it’s a legal situation, it’s a legal process, so we’re certainly respectful of that.

“We certainly take them very seriously. The allegations, what’s been discussed, are certainly troubling. And organizationally that’s not something that we can condone, that we condone, those types of actions.”

March 31

Hardin released statements from 18 women saying they have worked with the Texans quarterback and he “never made them feel uncomfortable or demanded anything outside the scope of a professional massage.” Watson’s attorney said the statements were voluntary and from women who have collectively “worked with Deshaun more than 130 times over the past five years.”

April 2

A lawsuit was filed against Watson, alleging he assaulted a licensed esthetician “by touching her with his penis and exposing himself.” The plaintiff alleges Watson “grabbed” her buttocks during a massage while his “penis was erect … and completely exposed.”

The lawsuit alleges Watson told the massage therapist she had to sign a non-disclosure agreement before he would pay her for the massage.

This was the 22nd civil lawsuit filed against Watson.

The same day, the Houston Police Department said in a statement it had launched an investigation of Watson after a complainant filed a report.

“As with any allegation, the Houston Police Department is now conducting an investigation and will not comment further during the investigative process,” the department said in a statement. It did not specify what Watson is being accused of in the complaint.

Hardin said in a statement later that day he and Watson will “fully cooperate with the Houston Police Department.”

“We welcome this long overdue development,” Hardin said. “Now we will learn the identity of at least one accuser. We will fully cooperate with the Houston Police Department.”

The NFL said in a statement it is “continuing to monitor all developments” pertaining to the league’s personal conduct policy.

April 5

In a letter to season-ticket holders sent annually in the spring, the McNair family, who own and run the Texans, addressed the civil lawsuits and a complaint filed with the Houston Police Department against Watson, saying, “We want to assure you that we take these allegations very seriously.

“While we await the conclusion of these investigations, we express our strong stance against any form of sexual assault,” the letter reads. “Our family and the entire Houston Texans organization are deeply troubled by any form of abuse and we condemn this type of behavior.”

April 6

Buzbee held a news conference during which two of the plaintiffs were identified for the first time. Ashley Solis, who Buzbee said was the first massage therapist to file a lawsuit against Watson on March 16, spoke that day. Lauren Baxley wrote a letter to Watson that was read by Cornelia Brandfield-Harvey, a lawyer who works at Buzbee’s law firm.

“I got into massage therapy to heal people,” Solis said. “To heal their minds and bodies. To bring peace to their souls. Deshaun Watson has robbed me of that. He took that away from me, he tainted a profession in which I take enormous pride. … I suffer from panic attacks, anxiety and depression. I’m in counseling as a result of Deshaun Watson’s actions. I hope he knows how much pain he’s inflicted on me emotionally and physically. And I hope he knows how much pain he’s inflicted on these other survivors.

“People say that I’m doing this just for money. That is false. I come forward now so that Deshaun Watson does not assault another woman.”

Buzbee also said one of the women who gave one of the statements in support of Watson also sent a direct message concerning the quarterback, saying she stopped working with him because she was “hearing too much stuff about him messing with other people.”

“That’s two different stories,” Buzbee said. “Now, am I suggesting that the 18 women had bad experiences? I don’t know. Am I suggesting there’s a reason they came forward? I don’t know. That’s a question for you to ask. But what I do know is that what was said publicly by this one individual and what was said privately were two completely different things.”

Buzbee also said his firm has turned away five other women who approached it with cases against Watson, because the firm couldn’t substantiate their claims.

According to Buzbee, Solis and at least one other of his clients have provided statements to the police. The Houston PD said in a statement it has launched an investigation of Watson after a complainant filed a report.

In response to that news conference, Hardin’s law firm said in a statement that Buzbee’s firm “sought $100,000 in hush money on behalf of Ms. Solis to quietly settle the allegations the month before he filed the first lawsuit.”

The statement also included an email exchange between the Buzbee Law Firm and Gaffield. The communications were dated between Feb. 3 and Feb. 19, 2021.

“My email exchanges with Mr. Buzbee and Ms. Brandfield-Harvey were very clear,” Gaffield said in a written statement. “We did not think that the facts showed that Deshaun did anything wrong with their client. We believed then — and fully believe now — that Deshaun learned a lesson about putting himself in this type of situation by interacting with people he does not know.

“As the emails show, we were willing to continue discussions on Deshaun’s behalf to explore ways to prevent a lawsuit and a public spectacle. But Mr. Buzbee informed us that he was unwilling to do so. We expect that this matter will be resolved in court.”

In a statement later that day, McCarthy called the allegations against Watson “deeply disturbing,” noting, “we take these issues very seriously.”

April 7

Nike announced it had suspended its endorsement deal with Watson and sources told ESPN that Beats by Dre was ending its sponsorship of Watson. As the day went on, more brands disassociated themselves with Watson.

Houston-based Reliant Energy said in a statement its relationship with Watson was scheduled to end this spring and the company has “no plans for future engagements or contracts with him,” and supermarket chain H-E-B said in a statement “there are no plans for future engagement” after its deal with Watson expired following the 2020 season.

April 8

Hardin filed a motion for an emergency hearing for each lawsuit, asking a judge to rule Buzbee has to identify the women who filed lawsuits under the pseudonym Jane Doe.

The motion was granted by the Harris County District Court, with two hearings scheduled for April 9.

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Ja’Wuan James considering grievance to recoup potential lost 2021 salary, source says



Former Denver Broncos offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James is strongly considering filing a grievance through the NFL Players Association for lost wages after he tore his Achilles tendon away from the team facility, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler on Saturday.

James, who was released Friday with a post-June 1 designation, could seek more than $10 million in salary for the 2021 season that the Broncos appear likely to void after they designated him with a non-football injury.

The injury has already been a flashpoint between the NFL and the NFLPA over the “non-football injury” designation, which means teams are not required to pay players their full base salaries if they were injured outside of team facilities.

The day after James was injured earlier this month, he was specifically named in a memo from the NFL’s management council to team executives and head coaches. In that memo it was outlined under the “Non-Football Injuries” designation that teams like the Broncos would have “no contractual obligation” to pay players like James who were injured away from the team facilities.

The memo also outlined why a player’s salary would be paid if the injury had been suffered during a workout at a team’s complex. The memo also said: “Clubs are encouraged to remind players of the significant injury-related protection provided if they choose to work out at the club facility and the risks they undertake in choosing to train at a non-NFL location.”

The NFLPA responded two days later in an email to players that said: “It was gutless to use a player’s serious injury as a scare tactic to get you to come running back to these workouts.” Free-agent safety and NFLPA executive board member Michael Thomas also told ESPN’s Dan Graziano this week that “all the players are watching” how James’ situation plays out.

The 28-year-old James suffered his season-ending injury earlier this month. On Friday, he posted on social media that his “surgery went well,” adding: “Appreciate everyone reaching out. Always remaining positive & striving to be better than yesterday.”

Broncos wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton, whom Denver was trying to trade in recent days, also suffered a torn knee ligament in a workout away from the team’s complex, according to ESPN and multiple reports.

ESPN’s Jeff Legwold contributed to this report.

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Saints rookie Nolan Cooney overcame cancer, then learned to punt with help from YouTube



METAIRIE, La. — It was Nolan Cooney‘s passion for sports that motivated him most when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs during his junior year of high school.

The New Orleans Saints‘ rookie punter was a three-sport standout at East Greenwich High in Rhode Island. He said he wasn’t scared when he got the diagnosis and trusted his doctors, but the only information he researched was stories of athletes like cyclist Lance Armstrong and third baseman Mike Lowell, both of whom successfully underwent treatment for testicular cancer. Cooney was thrilled when he got the chance to speak with Armstrong on the phone, and when New England Patriots cancer survivor Joe Andruzzi came to visit and let him wear his Super Bowl rings.

And sure enough, Cooney reached his goal of returning to the basketball court in time for the playoffs — just days after he finished his two months of chemotherapy treatments. The scene was triumphant, with the crowd chanting his name in the stands.

“We didn’t have to lift his spirits,” Cooney’s parents, Joseph and Janice, agreed while discussing the positive outlook their son has maintained. “Our spirits were lifted by him.”

But nobody in the family ever dreamed that Cooney might become a NFL punter seven years later, signing with the Saints as an undrafted rookie out of Syracuse.

Because, well, Cooney had never punted before.

The three sports he played at the time were basketball, baseball and soccer.

“People say everything happens for a reason,” said Cooney, whose dad suggested he visit a local punting and kicking camp during those months of draining chemo treatments.

“Who knows what would’ve happened if I hadn’t really stumbled upon this during what would seem for a lot of people to be a tougher time [in my life]?” Cooney said. “But maybe it was the greatest thing to ever happen.”

Cooney (6-foot-3, 202 pounds) always had a strong leg from his years as a soccer goalie, and he had a natural spin on his kicks that made him good at punting the ball when he messed around in the yard. But there was a local rule that prevented him from playing both soccer and football in the fall, and he chose soccer.

When Cooney got healthy, he started teaching himself how to punt by watching YouTube videos — as if his story isn’t remarkable enough.

“You can learn a lot from studying film of other punters,” Cooney explained, “and hopefully they’re willing to speak to things that work well for them.”

Cooney attended his first camp in the summer before his senior year of high school, where the instructors told him he showed real promise as a punter (and less as a place-kicker). Then he continued to attend camps, even though he went back to playing soccer in the fall.

Cooney had opportunities to play college baseball as a catcher at smaller schools. But he wanted to pursue punting, so he signed up for a postgraduate year at Bridgton Academy in Maine to actually play on a football team for the first time in 2015.

“He’s a special kid,” said Trevor Coston, a former NFL safety who served as a coach and counselor at Bridgton and became Cooney’s personal assistant when they would shovel snow off the field in the mornings to work on his punting and send tapes out to colleges.

“He’d be up there shoveling the pathway before I’d get there,” Coston said. “It wasn’t like a lot of schools were opening doors. He just kept knocking. And a person like him, if you know him, his story, his background, betting on himself with everything he’s gone through, it was pretty easy that he was gonna make it once he had the chance to show anyone what he was gonna do.”

Cooney was especially persistent with Syracuse, which was the only FBS school that wound up offering him a walk-on opportunity.

Not only was Syracuse his mom’s alma mater, but Cooney had also met former Syracuse and current New York Giants punter Riley Dixon at a camp. And he credited Dixon with passing on his information to some of the coaches and administrators. They sent him an email inviting him to walk on about three weeks before practices started in 2016.

“He basically was like an unrecruited walk-on that kind of just showed up at our door,” said former Syracuse special-teams coach Justin Lustig, who is now at Vanderbilt. “This kid’s unbelievable. One of my favorites I’ve ever coached. [His makeup] is just through the roof, man. Like every category. I haven’t been around a guy that works harder than Nolan.”

Lustig said Cooney started out fourth on the depth chart as a redshirt freshman and gradually worked his way up behind current Atlanta Falcons punter Sterling Hofrichter, while also serving as a holder. When Hofrichter got drafted in 2020, Syracuse offered Cooney a scholarship for his senior year. And he became a third-team All-ACC punter, averaging a school-record 44.8 yards per kick.

Cooney led all FBS punters in total punts (74) and yards (3,314), with 24 downed inside the 20 and only three touchbacks.

He also started a podcast last year featuring a variety of guests who talk about overcoming obstacles. The name of the podcast, fittingly for a punter and cancer survivor, is “Power Through.”

In New Orleans, Cooney will compete with Blake Gillikin, last year’s undrafted rookie, to replace longtime standout Thomas Morstead, who was released in a wave of salary-cap cuts this offseason.

“It’s pretty surreal,” Janice said of her son’s unlikely path to the NFL. “If only they let him play soccer and football, we might have known this a little earlier.”

Meanwhile, the rule that prevented players in East Greenwich from participating in both sports has since been changed. Joseph said some school officials referred to the switch as “the Nolan Cooney rule.”

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Dolphins salivating at the speed Jaylen Waddle, Will Fuller will bring – Miami Dolphins Blog



MIAMI — Brian Flores is eager to see opposing defensive coordinators sweat when they see the Miami Dolphins‘ offense in 2021.

Speed is the top skill set that makes defenses stress, and the Dolphins coach had a mischievous smirk when asked about the conflict his new dynamic playmakers — first-round pick Jaylen Waddle and free-agent signee William Fuller V — will create.

No Dolphins position group improved more than wide receiver this offseason, and it’s clear quarterback Tua Tagovailoa now has enough players to flourish as he enters an important Year 2. Honestly, none of Miami’s rebuild will matter as much if Tagovailoa doesn’t make the next step.

What makes the Dolphins’ additions of Waddle and Fuller so dangerous are the possibilities they provide to open up opportunities for the rest of the offense as well as themselves.

“If you’ve got guys who can run on the perimeter, if you load the box, there’s more opportunity for one-on-one matchups and opportunities downfield. Defenses have to make that decision when you have those types of players on the field,” Flores said. “If you don’t load the box and you play for those big plays, then there’s less people in the box and less people to block, and I think it really becomes kind of a numbers/math game.”

“When you have guys on the perimeter and guys who demand some attention — that kind of attention — then there could be more space. … It’s a chess game and obviously the run game and how you attack the run game, that’s part of it.”

That is Flores’ answer, by the way, to oft-asked questions about at the Dolphins’ failure to draft or sign a top-tier running back. He believes added playmaker speed at wide receiver and continued offensive line development will help the running game just as much, if not more than any upgrade in the backfield. The “chess game’ theory makes sense as it’s unlikely teams will put seven or eight men in the box to stop Myles Gaskin and the other backs, much like they did in 2020.

Speed changes everything. Fuller and Waddle might prove to be the NFL’s fastest starting receiver duo.

Fuller, previously with the Houston Texans, had the fourth fastest max speed time (21.56 mph) among wide receivers last season, per NFL Next Gen Stats. He was also one of 13 players who were timed with a max speed of more than 21.5 mph. Fuller, a first-round pick by the Texans in 2016, ran a 4.32 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, tied for the ninth fastest official time among active NFL players.

And, guess what? Waddle might be even faster. The former Alabama wideout didn’t run the 40-yard dash this offseason as he recovered from a fractured ankle, but NFL teams received data that Waddle had the fastest GPS time of all college football players last season. Waddle was recorded running a 4.37 40-yard dash at a high school camp and videos circulated last offseason of him running neck-and-neck with Las Vegas Raiders receiver Henry Ruggs III, who ran a 4.27 40 at the 2020 combine. When asked earlier this year, Waddle said he normally runs in the high 4.2s or low 4.3s.

One can only hope for a race this summer to officially decide the Dolphins’ fastest player.

Miami’s speedy duo hasn’t been on the field together yet, but their games seem to play off each other well. Fuller has established himself as one of the NFL’s best deep-ball wide receivers, challenging defenses vertically while Waddle’s best asset might be how explosive he is with the ball in his hands after the catch, threatening defenses horizontally and vertically.

The Dolphins have had their eyes on Waddle for the past couple of years. His skill set features a rare combination of elite speed, run-after-catch and return ability. That’s why he was the Dolphins’ pick at No. 6 overall in the 2021 NFL draft. Pre-draft comparisons to Kansas City Chiefs star wide receiver Tyreek Hill give the Dolphins something to dream about once Waddle hits his stride.

“I get a lot of comparisons to Tyreek, just because of my small size and being able to be a runner,” Waddle said. “But I want to be my own player and try to play the game that I play and try to do my own style and not try to emulate someone else’s style. I’m going to try to be the player that I always have and try to make plays for the team.”

If Waddle plays his style and Fuller his, this Dolphins’ offense in 2021 will force defenses into those exact tough chess decisions Flores keeps envisioning.

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