Not only would it be good for Houston Texans fans, but if would be good for the NFL to hype a kickoff weekend battle of former Clemson G.O.A.T. quarterbacks as the Jacksonville Jaguars and Trevor Lawrence travel to Houston to take on the Texans and Deshaun Watson at NRG Stadium. While it’s highly unlikely to happen, there’s still a slim chance it might. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk details how that might play out.
If the 22 cases aren’t resolved before the start of training camp (and if the criminal investigation is closed without indictment), Watson will have to make a guess as to whether the league will place him on the Commissioner Exempt list. If he believes there’s a real chance it will happen (and there is), he’ll show up for camp.
Well, that would get Watson to camp, where David Culley could work his charms on his disgruntled field general. That doesn’t get Watson to Houston’s first win over 2021’s first overall draft pick when the Jaguars come to town.
He’ll show up because the end result will be the same as if he holds out — he won’t be playing for the Texans. On paid leave, however, he gets his full salary of more than $10 million for 2021, and he faces no fines, forfeitures, or other consequences. If he sits out all of 2021 without showing up, the total cost will be upwards of $20 million.
Hmmm... sit home and play Madden for free or go play real ball and get $20 million? Decisions, decisions.
So if he shows up expecting to be placed on paid leave and isn’t, he’s stuck. He’s on the Texans. He’ll have to practice and play, unless he opts to “hold in,” deliberately providing minimal effort and/or refusing to practice or play based on embellished, exaggerated, and/or fabricated injuries. Alternatively, the Texans could trade him at that point to a team that is willing to give Houston what it wants while also accepting the possibility that, even if Watson isn’t immediately placed on paid leave, future information emerging during depositions that can start as of September 13 may cause the league to change its mind.
So you’re saying there’s a chance...
...While the Collective Bargaining Agreement creates an easy path for players to not show up for the starting of training camp (although it’s not cheap for him to hold out), it’s very difficult to leave once a player has arrived. At that point, the team can send the player a letter giving him five days to return and, if he doesn’t, the team can place him on the Reserve/Left Squad list. If that happens, the player can play for no one in 2021, and the team will be able to pursue financial relief from the player, while also not paying him a salary.
Thus, if the cases are still looming in two months, Watson very well may decide to report for camp. (I currently believe he will.) If he’s not placed on paid leave and not promptly traded he’ll be a Texan once again, even though it’s clear he has no desire to be.
Economics are a funny thing. While most would assume Watson will never again suit up as a Houston Texan, like the Avengers fighting Thanos, there’s still an incredibly slim chance this all plays out in Houston’s favor. The ‘perfect world’ version of this would see Watson and the McNairs mend fences, the quarterback is exonerated of all charges and allegations against him, and Nick Caserio proceeds to build a solid team around DW4.
The more pragmatic option, based on recent history of Texans moves, is Watson shows up for training camp and the Texans promptly trade him to another team for (1) a player they may or may not cut in a few months and (2) some draft picks of lesser value than Deshaun Watson should command. Common sense speaks against this, but those two worlds have no place in recent Texans trades. If it does happen, odds are the Texans won’t get the haul they could have gotten had they shipped Watson off before his legal entanglements went public.
You can bet there are still several teams standing at the ready with their bag of magic beans hoping to be the latest to win a trade with Houston. They’ll happily take a gamble on a generational quarterback who may or may not contribute to their fortunes in 2021. They’ll try to do so by giving Houston assets that are worth a fraction of the value of a franchise quarterback. It’s just good business on the other team’s part.
Or things could stay status quo, Watson continues dropping touchdowns on his flat screen to DeAndre Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald, and Will Fuller V in Madden’s franchise mode while Houston continues to burn on the side of the road like a derelict Ford Taurus full of second-string linebackers.
Either way, it should be an interesting next few months in the ongoing saga of Deshaun Watson.