When you are a sick fan of a sports team, the team itself becomes intertwined with your own life. I remember what year something happened because of the Houston Texans. 2016 was [NAME REDACTED], 2011 was when the Texans finally won the AFC South, 2014 was when Bill O’Brien saw a dead cat talent bounce with Ryan Fitzpatrick, and 2017 was when Houston drafted Deshaun Watson.
I’ll always remember where I was. I was driving across I-10 out to the desert to devour the springtime. The golden disk was curving down below the edge of the Earth. The sky was pinks, blues the color of the Robin’s egg, oranges, and yellows. I had five more hours to go. Everything was beautiful, beautiful and perfect. My phone began to blow up. Deshaun Watson? WATSON. YES. WATSON. The quarterback carousel had come to an end. Rick Smith traded up to land a franchise quarterback.
Then Watson lost a camp battle to Tom Savage. #JustBillO’BrienThings. Watson took over after Savage was sacked six times in the first half of the first game of the season proceeded to set the league on fire behind a jet sweep, play-action offense. Thanks to perfect deep passes, electric scrambles, and an absurd touchdown rate, the Texans finally had a quarterback after not having one the previous four seasons.
In 2018, Watson was bogged down by a mismanaged offensive line. I’ll never forget Seantrel Henderson starting at right tackle after never being good at tackle to begin with. To top it off, Henderson was injury prone and snapped his ankle in the season-opener, which resulted in Houston moving rookie Martinas Rankin to left tackle after he missed all of training camp with an injury. Houston also moved Julie’n Davenport to right tackle despite the small issue of Davenport never having played right tackle before. The Texans went on a tear that season because their all-time great run defense devoured teams that had terrible quarterback play. The Texans ran the ball, not because they were good at it, but because they had to. It all ended in the Wild Card Round of the NFL Playoffs, at home, against Indianapolis, where Houston’s entire gameplan was to play jackpot with DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans’ inability to defend the pass did them in, and Bill O’Brien’s offense spent the vast majority of the game wallowing down 21-0.
In 2019, Watson had his best season in the NFL. O’Brien crafted a couple of great game plans, Yankee-crossing Atlanta’s Cover Three defense and controlling the ball against Kansas City’s linebackers by running the drag flat read-pass option. Houston continued to beat up on the AFC South and made it back to the postseason. That brought a mystical experience against Buffalo, as Watson carried a broken offense to come back against the Bills. As everyone knows, in Kansas City 24-0 became 51-31 after O’Brien didn’t have a play call on 4th and 2. We all waited for it to happen, and it finally happened. The dam burst.
But it wasn’t all bad. Shortly before the 2020 season began, Deshaun Watson signed a four-year contract extension to stay with the Texans. He was committed to Houston, and Houston was committed to him. The Texans would remain a contender as long as DW4 was under center, and that window was now open until at least 2025.
In 2020, the Texans were supposed to make their jump to Super Bowl contender. O’Brien and Jack Easterby went to work. They turned DeAndre Hopkins into David Johnson, Brandin Cooks, and Ross Blacklock. They added Randall Cobb to spread out the entire offense and Eric Murray to an abysmal pass defense. That’s it. Hamstrung by Laremy Tunsil, the Texans spent the summer becoming actively worse. Tim Kelly’s super-cool-kill-them-all offense that would expire because Watson wouldn’t throw it to Hopkins all the time was dead on arrival. The Texans fell apart, starting 0-4, finishing 4-12, and the O’Brien era came to an end.
Just months after the quarterback signed a contract extension and said, “I love that man” about his head coach, Watson’s head coach was gone. Owner Cal McNair told Watson he’d have a say in the search for Houston’s new head coach and general manager. These were empty appeasements. As the story was told, Houston hired an outside search firm, and the Texans were set to hire Omar Khan as their general manager. Jack Easterby smuggled McNair to New England, where McNair changed his mind, and the Texans hired Nick Caserio instead.
Shortly after this, Watson was rumored to be requesting a trade, which seemed beyond comprehension at the time but then became serious. Shortly after that, David Culley was hired, which did nothing to change Watson’s mind despite him still being quarterback of the Houston Texans. Finally, shortly after that, Watson was accused of sexually assaulting 20+ women.
Smart organizations dislike the unknown. With Watson facing these charges and settling not within sight, the trade market was effectively closed. Houston spent the season paying Watson not to play football and buried the possibility of moving on from him until 2022.
Last Friday, Watson was told he wouldn’t face criminal charges after a grand jury declined to indict him. This opened the trade market once again. Watson was allowed to speak to Carolina, New Orleans, and Cleveland to see if he would rescind his no-trade clause to continue his career elsewhere. He did. Watson was traded to the Cleveland Browns for three first round selections, a third round pick, and a pick swap that will turn a fifth into a fourth.
Sources: The #Browns and #Texans are in agreement on a trade for Deshaun Watson. It’s three first-round picks, a third-rounder and late-round pick swap, a fourth for a fifth.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 18, 2022
It’s done. He’s a member of the #Browns.
He also got a new contract with $230,000,000.00 fully guaranteed.
Deshaun Watson gets a fully guaranteed 5 year $230M contract. That is $80M more than the previous record for fully guaranteed money at signing ($150M). This deal was negotiated by David Mulugheta of Athletes First. https://t.co/nQls9WRpD1— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 18, 2022
The end has arrived. All those feelings we felt against New England in 2017, Buffalo in 2019, Seattle in 2017, and New York in 201 are gone. The past has finally passed. Watson’s future is now someone else’s. Cleveland receives a franchise quarterback, and the Texans refurbished the assets lost under O’Brien’s rule.
In 2022, I was sitting in front of my computer, working from home, listening to the birds chirp, thinking of my own personal future and what I’m going to do next, dreaming of the weekend, when Deshaun Watson was traded. It was a picture much less beautiful than the one in April of 2017.