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Battle Red Limbo

Will it ever end?

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Stability is a luxury rarely realized until it is stripped away. Once comfort is discovered in some way, shape, or form, it’s quickly embraced as the new normal. What’s difficult and requires constant struggle to achieve (getting a degree, finding a nice job, etc.) is quickly absorbed into standard life, and is rightfully taken for granted once gained—life beforehand feeling somewhat alien or deficient in retrospect.

The equivalence to such a feeling in the NFL-scape is having an exceptional quarterback on your team. What takes years and years of searching and hoping some rookie may develop or free agent signing can take it to the next level is how franchises are defined for years on end (Buccaneers, Titans, Browns, etc.). Once a great passer is found (or at least an adequate one), the expectations immediately rise to the point that a reality without said passer feels unthinkable. What a football team is capable of accomplishing rises exponentially when a good quarterback is found, so it comes as no surprise to most that the floor of expectations rises as well. A quarterback is, in many ways, the key to victory.

To be in a position where that essential piece to the puzzle is ripped away from you is a surreal moment and one all fans wish they never see. But, in even the rare cases where this nightmare rears its head into reality itself, there is always a caveat. An asterisk to their name. They’re old and washed up, we can’t bet our franchise on them anymore. They’ll be a free agent and want to see how much they can make on the open market. They were so disappointing recently that trading them and salvaging what was left was the best thing we could do. Never has an exceptional player in the prime of their career been traded away from a team. In the one hundred and one year history of the NFL, this is truly uncharted territory.

Well, you see where this is going. The Houston Texans, confound it all, have found a way to make the unthinkable not only thinkable, but likely. They have found a way to chart this turbulent sea and open to Houston the most horrible state of affairs possible. Deshaun Watson has asked for a trade, and Texans have refused to trade him, and we now have entered a staring contest with the fire extinguisher during a three alarm fire.

We know how this ends, we’ve seen it in Houston a million times before. We just saw it last year with another fundamental piece to the puzzle of winning football games. The Texans organization caused a rift between themselves and DeAndre Hopkins, and dumped so much salt into the wound that the only decision they felt comfortable enough to make was to hack the entire appendage off. It shouldn’t have surprised us that history repeated itself, but a collapse of breakneck pace didn’t allow any hindsight. But, all you have to do is look around to see where we are. Purgatory. Limbo. That thin veneer of reality passing by the window is all that glitters, and the Texans are not gold.

This is the great in-between. The Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt era is dead. Two of the most important players to ever dawn the Houston uniform have been cast away, the hope they brought a plagued franchise destroyed. However, their final chapter has not been written yet. We still don’t know when or where they will end up after all is said and done, and this story is without its ending until that has happened. They will go somewhere, and we will receive a return of monstrous proportions upon their exit, which will inevitably be the impetus for the next volume of Texans lore. So now that we know how this ends and our fate has been sealed, we wait. And we wait, and we wait.

This waiting has been exhausting. This entire month has been exhausting. Since the end of the season, we knew J.J. Watt was leaving, and it was only a week into January we figured out Deshaun Watson was joining him. Since then, it’s been a drip feed of rumors of where they might end up, what a random team might look like with Watson or Watt, and how the Texans will reset after doing the unthinkable. As bad as it sounds on paper to be awaiting the news of Watson and Watt being traded, it cannot be stopped and all that matters for the Texans will be how the grow beyond this. Every papercut of “where Deshaun wants to go” and “what happened between Watt and the Texans” stings slightly more every passing day as the clock ticks closer to midnight. Recently, it’s been all about Watson potentially going to Las Vegas or Denver. It’s terrible. Can’t it just end, already? Can’t we just get the trade package and the picks and just move on to the next phase?

Not yet. Not for what is likely to be at least a few weeks longer. Usually these blockbuster trades occur well after the Super Bowl and either right before or during free agency. But, this year is exceptional because it’s already seen a blockbuster trade. Former Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has been sent to the Los Angeles Rams for Jared Goff, two first round picks, and a third round pick. It didn’t take very long at all for their speculation to be put to rest, so maybe our suffering will only last a few days more. But, with Nick Caserio’s and David Culley’s standoffish approach to Watson’s demands, I fear the suffering will last a nice while longer. For their amusement, I guess.

A few more weeks worth of headline after headline of where our franchise players could go, why the Texans are the new worst organization in pro football, and other exhausting reads that will challenge your faith in fanhood. More days spent wondering if the Texans will miss their chance to get any good picks this draft because of their standoff, or even forcing Watson to sit on the couch for an entire season in an act of divine stubbornness. Wondering whether or not the Texans will ever be a good football team again. It’s all nonsense drama that will keep us on the edge of our seats far longer than it should, and only serves to hurt the Texans even more so. Like reckless gods, the Texans have created this calamity, all on their own, and now that they’ve seen what happens next, they’ve decided to freeze time for all of us. To pause the game indefinitely. Although, in a situation like this, they may be taking inspiration from the artificial intelligence that didn’t know how to beat Tetris. Maybe the only winning move is not to play. But, unfortunately, time waits for no one.

Every single day is spent preparing for this moment to end and for the next to begin. For a new beginning to usher in some optimism, but we can’t do it yet. We have to wait and hope things will work out on the other side, completely unaware of what lies ahead. Right now, we just have to burn some more.

It’s limbo, but it might as well be hell.

Follow me on Twitter: @FizzyJoe