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Deshaun Watson’s Future Now Further Out Of Focus

Yesterday’s legal news shows this isn’t getting solved easily.

Tennessee Titans v Houston Texans Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

While we’d likely all love to see a quick, painless ending to the Deshaun Watson saga that yields the Houston Texans a bounty of draft picks and salary cap space, it’s just seeming more and more less likely that’s how this will play out. During yesterday’s hearing in Watson’s case, it came to light, by way of Rusty Hardin (Watson’s attorney), that the Houston PD has not wrapped up its criminal investigation into the allegations against the embattled quarterback. The best guess from those in the know is that it might come to an end on or before April 1st.

Pro Football Network:

Hardin added he had “no reason to believe” that a ruling won’t be determined on Watson’s 10 active criminal complaints by April 1 and whether he would be charged or not charged.

Hardin:

We know that the police have forwarded to the district attorney’s office their findings and their conclusions.

While this has intricate legal ramifications far beyond my meager ability to unpack, as far as the Texans are concerned it’s a ‘kicking the can down the street’ scenario that doesn’t bode well for the franchise. If Houston cannot complete a trade for the signal-caller soon, they’ll be on the hook for $40 million in the 2022 NFL league year. The impending salary cap for the coming season is expected to land at $208.2 million. Spotrac estimates the Texans have a meager $19.8 million in cap space as things sit right now. For a team that needs to find somewhere in the range of 15 new starters for the coming season, that cap dog don’t hunt.

For this to work out in Houston’s favor, they would need to trade Watson by March 16th, the start of the NFL’s league year—two weeks in advance of the April 1st date mentioned by Hardin. Even then, that’s only beneficial IF the announcement of the conclusion of the criminal investigation catalyzes a sudden flurry of settlements in all 22 cases.

Another wrinkle: The Texans would need their trade partner (Miami Dolphins? Minnesota Vikings? Carolina Panthers? Pittsburgh Steelers? Denver Broncos?) to not only take on Watson’s salary but to do so in a way that Nick Caserio and crew could reap the benefit of removing that huge hit from the 2022 cap.

Houston and Watson have just over three weeks to get this all ironed out - but it doesn’t look like that can happen. Why? Because it’s widely believed that no NFL team will trade for Watson until his legal issues are resolved. That’s just smart. Your new quarterback should take time to learn the offense, the playbook, develop chemistry with the linemen and receivers, etc., not spend hours doing depositions and conferring with his attorney about the legal minutia involved in something as complex as this set of cases.

So where does that leave the Texans?

Well, barring some minor miracle that clears the way for a pre-March 16th trade, they have a few options, none of which are great.

  • They can go ahead and pay Watson $40 million to stand around and do about as much as Josh McCown did for Houston last year or will do in 2022.

This is a calculated risk, protecting their investment and hoping to clear that off the books later in a trade - essentially allowing the Texans to buy draft capital, which they would presumably receive when Watson is finally traded - hopefully on or before the start of the 2022 NFL Draft on April 28th. As ugly as it sounds, this is probably Houston’s smartest play.

  • They can cut Watson, cut their losses, add to their already ridiculously high dead money hit ($35 million and climbing) and just move along.

This seems like a really dumb move, but this is the Texans we’re talking about here. You know, the team that thought it was a good idea to pay nearly $35 million to players no longer on the roster. Keep in mind, this isn’t just at Bill O’Brien’s feet; Jack Easterby, and to a lesser extent, Nick Caserio, had a hand in creating that steaming pile of stupidity.

  • They can pay Watson and then try to recoup some of their money by fining him.

This might be a ‘hedge your bets’ move, but since Watson showed up to mandatory team functions last season, there’s little doubt he would do it again this year. However, Houston could name Watson the starter, which would force him to play or walk away. This could also trigger NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to put Watson on the Exempt List, which essentially forces the Texans to pay him to stay at the house. Might as well go back to Option #1 above.

Through all these scenarios, there’s still the No-Trade Clause in Watson’s contract. The Texans can’t trade him anywhere without his consent.

While many hoped yesterday’s hearing would bring some much desired clarity to this situation, it seems it just muddied Houston’s waters even further.