Chris Canty and Mike Golic Jr. are surprised by the Texans’ decision to fire David Culley. (1:20)
HOUSTON — On Jan. 28, 2021, it was made public knowledge that Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson had requested a trade.
A lot has changed with the situation in the past year.
On March 16, 2021, the first of 23 civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault and inappropriate behavior by Watson was filed. Twenty-two of the lawsuits are ongoing as Watson and his legal team have denied wrongdoing.
Ten women — eight of whom filed civil lawsuits — have filed complaints with the Houston Police Department. Depositions have begun, but Watson cannot be deposed before Feb. 22. Tony Buzbee, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, told FOX 26 this week that he plans to take Watson’s deposition starting Feb. 24.
And from a team perspective, after firing David Culley last week, the Texans are searching for their second coach since the quarterback voiced his displeasure.
In his end of season news conference, Texans general manager Nick Caserio said he doesn’t “think there’s any more clarity today [on Watson’s legal situation] than there was here previously.”
“But we’re going to work through it,” Caserio said. “Ultimately, we’re going to do what we feel is best for the organization.”
Where does Watson’s trade request stand and is there a possibility he plays for the Texans again? Now that the offseason is here for Houston, let’s take a look.
It started a little more than a year ago, when Watson made it known he was unhappy with the Texans’ process in hiring Caserio. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Watson offered input, but the organization did not consider the GM candidates he had endorsed.
At the end of the 2020 season, Watson said he thought the organization needed “a whole culture shift.” Caserio spent 20 seasons in New England. Former coach and general manager Bill O’Brien was with the Patriots for five years.
After finding out about Caserio’s hire on Twitter, Schefter reported that Watson requested a trade. A trade, of course, was complicated by the fact Watson had signed a four-year, $156 million contract less than six months before. Caserio and Culley made it clear they had no intention of trading Watson.
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But the conversation around Watson shifted in mid-March, when the first of 23 lawsuits was filed. Watson’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, released a statement denying Watson had committed a crime.
“Any allegation that Deshaun forced a woman to commit a sexual act is completely false,” Hardin said.
Hardin later said any alleged sexual encounters between Watson and any of the plaintiffs was consensual.
The NFL opened an investigation into the lawsuits and the Texans said in a statement they would stay in close contact with the NFL during that investigation.
Watson wasn’t traded before the NFL Draft and did not show up for the Texans’ voluntary organized team activities in the spring. Because Culley canceled mandatory minicamp in June, Watson was not fined.
As the spring and summer went on, Caserio’s stance went from, “We have zero interest in trading the player,” to saying the Texans would do what is best for the organization.
Watson reported to training camp in July to avoid the daily $50,000 fine that would be levied if he refused. Watson took part in some training camp practices, but only in individual reps and not team drills. Trade talks continued during training camp with Caserio reportedly looking for a package of six players and draft picks in exchange for the quarterback.
Watson was not suspended by the NFL or the Texans and spent the entire season on the Texans’ active roster. He was paid his $10.5 million base salary not to play for Houston.
The Texans and Miami Dolphins were in trade talks before the deadline, but talks ultimately stalled, in part because of Watson’s unresolved legal issues.
Other than Watson’s legal situation, from a football perspective, it became more difficult for a team to trade for a quarterback once the season started. It’s one thing to add a quarterback in the offseason when he has time to learn your offense and you can plan around him. It’s another to do it in early November.
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It was also unclear to any team trading for Watson whether NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would decide to put him on the exempt list if he tried to play.
The other difference from the Texans’ perspective is that now draft positions are set. It’s a lot more of a certainty to trade for say, the No. 5 or No. 6 pick in 2022 rather than risk trading Watson midseason and that dramatically affecting the pick. For an example of how drastic that difference is — even though the Dolphins don’t own their 2022 first-round pick — had the Texans traded Watson to the Dolphins in early November, before the trade deadline, Miami was 1-7 and in line for a top pick. Even without trading for Watson, the Dolphins won eight out of their last nine games and finished with the 15th pick. Miami traded the pick to the Philadelphia Eagles before the 2021 draft.
Watson’s salary has also changed. In 2021, Watson was playing on the last year of his rookie deal, where he had a base salary of $10.5 million. In 2022, that jumps to $35 million, and in March, his $20 million 2023 salary and $17 million 2023 roster bonus become fully guaranteed.
Although the Texans kept Watson on their roster last season, it becomes cost-prohibitive to do it again in 2022. Houston already has $35.4 million in dead money. If Watson stays on the active roster again in 2022, that will effectively be $74.4 million in dead money. Watson currently accounts for 27.58% of Houston’s 2022 projected cap.
One reason this question has come up is because of Watson’s desire to be traded to the Dolphins. Miami fired coach Brian Flores, who Watson wanted to play for and the Texans interviewed last week.
Never say never, but sources say the Texans don’t expect any coach hire to change Watson’s mind. The quarterback’s unhappiness with the organization came before Culley was hired and has to do with ownership and the front office, not the coaching staff.
Caserio also addressed the matter head on when he appeared on Sports Radio 610. When asked if the potential hiring of Flores could result in Watson staying, he replied “that more than likely would not be the case.”
The Texans could agree to a trade for Watson at any point, but it cannot be made official until 4 p.m. ET on March 16, the start of the new league year.
Watson had previously agreed to waive his no-trade clause for the Dolphins, but he could be forced to be open to other teams this offseason to get a deal done.
The civil cases are still going through the discovery process, but they could be settled if both sides agree to do so. If the lawsuits are not settled, a pre-trial conference is scheduled for early May, according to court documents.
Whether Watson will face criminal charges remains to be seen. Last month, search warrants showed Watson was being investigated for indecent assault, a misdemeanor charge in Texas.
Hardin said he does not expect Watson to speak to the NFL’s investigators until after the criminal investigation is over. Watson was not suspended or put on the commissioner’s exempt list, and the NFL may not make a decision on whether to suspend Watson until his legal situation — including the criminal investigation — is resolved.