If you actually read this post, and you’re going to respond to me on Twitter about it in good faith, please use the hashtag #ReadThePiece. I know this sounds silly, but it’s an easy way for me to separate responses that I want to honor with a real answer from people who just want to be mad about everything they read online.
There are many disagreements in our current society about what reality actually is. I am sure you can conjure up those examples on your own without being told precisely what they are, and though I think my audience probably leans one way, I think there are people who read this and believe the opposite of what you think. Truth used to be a thing that was hard to deny. I drop a pencil, the pencil falls down. Gravity did it.
But today, anybody can shape their own version of the truth with the same number of facts, and anybody can ascribe meaning into what facts matter and what facts don’t based on their interpretations of motivations. For example: I can’t tell you how many times I have read from a fan that the Texans are being brought down because Amy Palcic is leaking things when there’s literally a Sports Illustrated story with 40+ sources and it’s very obvious that the Texans have burned many, many bridges.
So here’s what we know about Deshaun Watson and the Texans:
The Texans don’t want to trade Deshaun Watson. That is not only evident by spoken words, but also just sourced reports. Their stance has roots in two real places. One is that Watson just signed an extension and really doesn’t have any recourse the way that the current NFL is designed. The other is something that I think is a little darker to talk about, and comes from Nick Caserio calling him “the player,” and Cal McNair calling him “4,” in the Caserio presser: They feel entitled to what he gives them and are almost insulted that we’re even pretending that anything will happen.
Meanwhile, at the same time it is very clear that Watson has mentally unpacked from being a Texan. He wiped all reference to the team on social media. When the topic was breached with Deion Sanders in a rare public appearance on Friday night for a show called Versus — by the way, the Texans were not mentioned at any point during this program despite it being a Watson highlight VOD — Watson did nothing to quiet the rumors that he wanted out.
(Sidenote: You’re entitled to your reaction on how that video makes you feel. I intentionally put “Oh” up here because I was processing it myself. It’s one thing to see someone else say that he wants out, and another to see him laughing about it, right? I don’t think that’s unfair. I also don’t think he did anything “wrong” in this video. The shock value is about laying out what was happening behind closed doors to everybody.)
So those are two diametrically opposed stances. The Texans are very much right that they can just sit on Watson’s career. Watson very much is in the right to use whatever is in his power to get away from them after a horrific season and an offseason where Jack Easterby remained the main power broker in the building by accumulating people who were loyal to him. The fact of the matter is that, from the Texans perspective, there is no fair deal for Watson. That’s tied up both in the fact that a) Watson is one of the most valuable players in the NFL full stop and b) that any marginal downgrade to Watson is going to have their own questions about why he wanted out of here and have immense skepticism about the situation. There’s not a picks package you can create that has the same value as a locked-and-loaded top-five quarterback (at minimum) for however long he’s healthy, on a fair contract.
The problem the Texans have is one of their own creation, and nobody should feel bad for them. In embracing Easterby they have created a brand that is toxic to everybody except their leadership. You may not hear players talk about it very often, because they are well-trained in media relations, but it was no accident that when Andre Johnson brought the fury on the organization that some current players liked that Tweet or Instagram post.
And, well, one thing that Easterby has always been very clear on is that you have to block out the noise. The Texans have created a building that literally has filibustered any media question asked about Easterby’s employment, Watson’s very reasonable conflicts, Andre Johnson’s posts … if you ask them about something they do not want to talk about, they will just talk about what they do want to talk about.
In that way, what the Texans are really creating here is the Texans Cinematic Universe: the one where Deshaun Watson’s relationship with the team is salvageable, the one where going 2-9 in one-score games last year means they just need to make one more play a game, the one where hiring David Culley is a good move because he’s a motivator and that’s all the team needed last year. This is what happens when Toxic Positivity is allowed to take root: In choking out the reality of the situation, you create a future where it’s almost impossible for a normal, functioning football team to blossom.
I’m not going to compare it to politics because they aren’t in the same realm of harming people. But the game plan, in and of itself, is no different than a New York Times piece about imposing martial law by a standing U.S. senator because you’re losing people on videos of cops beating protestors. If the facts look bad for you, why embrace them? Why not just talk loudly about anything else?
If you close, the doorVelvet Underground, “After Hours”
The night could last forever
Leave the sunshine out
And say hello to never
The problem with where the Texans sit from a rational perspective is that there’s really no way for this team to go forward without either firing Easterby and attempting a reconciliation with Watson and J.J. Watt or destroying the team for years to come. They haven’t got the memo yet, because they have been reading their news from the Texans Cinematic Universe and believe that they can get Watson back on board, but the longer they wait on the decision, the worse off they will be.
Everything around this team is tooled around Watson, and any attempt to trade him is an immediate admission that this team won’t compete next year. I have a pre-written post sitting in my queue about how I would shop Brandin Cooks for a mid-round pick to free up cap space because I’d rather keep Will Fuller and I don’t think you can keep both. But if Watson isn’t here, what does it actually matter? This team was horrendous last season with him. Without him, they might have won two games. You can’t marginally improve a team like this. You’re basically out of win-now mode until you have a quarterback that can tell you otherwise, and you’re right back to asset accumulation mode.
That’s before we even get into the fact that with Watson gone, the pull of becoming a Houston Texan goes out the door with him. Tyrann Mathieu cited Watson as a reason to join the team in 2018. J.J. Watt has pretty much kept the door open on Houston, in my opinion, specifically because of them having Watson. Remember when the team tried to trade Will Fuller at the deadline?
Why would Will Fuller want to re-sign with this team if Watson isn’t here? Stars want to play with stars. Somebody will take Houston’s money, sure. But it will be Jacksonville, just on the Gulf of Mexico. An irrelevant franchise, forsaken by many of its fans. Paying the Joe Schoberts and Toby Gerharts of the world to win four games instead of two.
A standoff with Watson threatens the team’s present just as much as it threatens it’s future. Maybe the Texans don’t actually want Watt back anyway — that goes with what I’ve seen so far — but without Watson here there’s likely no reason for him to want to be back. When Brandon Scott asked the question to Caserio about the team’s reputation and got back “And believe me, there’s a lot worse things that could probably, that are happening in the world,” that was Texans Cinematic Universe brain. It was an admission that the question was fair without ever answering it.
Now, a franchise operating in its best interests would have just rid itself of Easterby, but the Texans have committed two massive contracts into their general manager and head coach that say that Easterby’s job is pretty safe. If there’s not a trade to be made for Watson to move on from the scenario, then what we are watching isn’t an offseason of moves around Watson — much as the Texans Cinematic Universe will probably have to sell it — it’s a hostage negotiation.
I’m sure there will be plenty to talk about as the Texans have a new general manager and there are cap situations and what not to be addressed in the short-term, but this franchise has no real direction until the question about Watson is answered. As we talk about these things, we’re constantly going to be talking about two very different worlds.
I wouldn’t blame the Texans for playing hardball; this is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. But if they’re playing hardball and aren’t willing to make any reconciliations to Watson’s camp about how the franchise should look, this is going to be an ugly, ugly eight months. The time to make those reconciliations was in December, and the door is shut. The shape of the team was welded without him, but simultaneously, without him, none of it matters.
Seems like the kind of guy you’d want to get on the same page with. I dunno, might just be me.
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