Teams spend years, sometimes decades, searching for a franchise quarterback. The Houston Texans found one, and are standing by the appraisal of cost for another team to acquire him.
As the minutes and hours to the NFL trade deadline Tuesday tick by, the Texans might be making moves. Trading Deshaun Watson is not one of them.
Of course, a team could bow to Caserio’s trade price — reportedly starting at three first-round draft picks — and shift the narrative. That’s a longshot at this point.
Texans chairman and chief operating officer Cal McNair strikes a philosophical tone while expressing heavy trust in his chosen decision-maker: general manager Nick Caserio.
A former chief lieutenant to New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick hired by McNair in January to overhaul the Texans’ roster following a 4-12 season, Caserio is in the middle of trying to engineer an ambitious rebuilding project.
It’s a tough job for any NFL executive, and Caserio has been trying to acquire draft capital to make over a roster whose best player no longer wants to play for them.
The Texans are already in sale mode as they approach the NFL trade deadline Tuesday, having traded former Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram to the Saints and paying him $250,000 to account for New Orleans’ tight salary-cap situation while he signed a one-year contract extension in 2022 with a maximum value of $2.8 million. More trades could be coming with wide receiver Brandin Cooks reportedly drawing interest.
The biggest potential piece Caserio has to dangle in front of NFL teams: disgruntled Pro Bowl quarterback Watson.
And trading Watson, for the appropriate value, presents Caserio with one of the most difficult and unprecedented situations in recent NFL history.
But according to sources, a deal involving Watson is “not happening right now.”
One of the top players regardless of position in the NFL, Watson long ago soured on playing for the Texans. The relationship was damaged when the Texans traded All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals. It was broken irrevocably when Watson didn’t get the voice he thought McNair had assured to him in the hiring process of Caserio and coach David Culley.
Now, Watson is firmly on the trading block and the Texans may not be able to hammer out a deal with the Miami Dolphins, Watson’s chosen trading partner and the only known team he’d relent his no-trade clause to join.
McNair has placed his faith in Caserio to quarterback this challenging situation.
“We’ll just wait and see,” McNair said. “It’s a day-to-day thing. Nick is in charge of that, so we’ll see how that works out.”
McNair made no predictions on whether a deal will be worked out by Tuesday, saying: “I have no idea.”
Unlikely to happen, according to sources, is the current assessment of a Watson deal more likely to come prior to the 2022 NFL Draft. Early analysis of prospects in the draft show few top prospects at the position, which also serves to support Caserio’s sticker price.
Not to mention, the odds are low that Watson will ultimately be traded until the offseason because of his ultra-complex and unresolved legal situation, according to multiple league sources with direct knowledge of the situation.
The Texans also want two second-round draft picks in addition to three first-rounders and one other equivalent, according to sources.
That’s an excessive cost when full context is applied.
Because Watson is facing 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault and sexual misconduct. He is also facing 10 active criminal complaints. Eight of the complaints are from litigants represented by Houston attorney Tony Buzbee. Two of the complaints are non-litigants.
Watson is represented by prominent Houston attorney Rusty Hardin, who has represented Adrian Peterson and Roger Clemens. Hardin has denied wrongdoing on behalf of Watson. There haven’t been any charges filed by the Houston Police Department.
There hasn’t been any clarity on whether Watson will be indicted by the Houston Police Department.
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross would like Watson to resolve his lawsuits, which would be an expensive endeavor. Also, Watson doesn’t want to settle the lawsuits.
There’s no audio, video or DNA evidence incriminating Watson, according to sources.
Still, the prospect of acquiring a player with potentially major charges and the public relations storm expected to follow his arrival in any NFL city is difficult for any team to navigate.
One obstacle Watson isn’t facing right now is the commissioner-exempt list, which is the equivalent of paid leave.
Watson is currently being paid his full $10.54 million salary while not practicing or attending meetings. He reported to training camp to avoid accruing daily $50,000 fines.
The NFL is not expected to make a ruling on Watson until his legal issues are ruled upon.
That means that technically Watson is eligible to play. Right now. Today.
“We don’t have all the access to that information and pride ourselves on not interfering with it,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said during a press conference at the league meetings in New York last week. “That process is ongoing There obviously are other, I’ll call it legal approaches that are being made either through civil cases. Obviously the police have been investigating also. We don’t have all the access to that information at this point in time, and we pride ourselves on not interfering in that, being cooperative as we can to make sure we get all the facts.
“But I think that process is still ongoing. Until that process is ongoing and we have enough data and enough information to be able to make a determination of whether he should go on commissioner exempt, we don’t feel that we have that necessary information at this point.”
The Carolina Panthers remain a wildcard.
The Panthers jumped back into the Watson sweepstakes for a few days before backing out of the talks. Watson, who attended Clemson, never indicated he would waive his no-trade clause for the Panthers.
The Philadelphia Eagles had strong interest in Watson, but he doesn’t want to waive his no-trade clause for the NFC East franchise, per sources.
As for next year, Watson is due a guaranteed $35 million base salary.
If Watson is charged with a crime, he would be placed on the commissioner-exempt list. Any potential trial wouldn’t happen until late next year, per legal sources.
That means Watson could miss the entire 2021 and 2022 seasons.
McNair expressed sympathy with Caserio and Culley. They didn’t ask for this mess. They’re dealing with it as best as they can.
“I think they’ve been put in a very tough spot, a spot that is not of their choosing and they’ve made the very best of it and sort of worked through it day to day,” McNair said. “So, we’ll see where it goes.”
–By Aaron Wilson, Field Level Media