Some thoughts on the Eternal Deadline of the Deshaun Watson trade

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Normally, I’m a fan of writing about things that happened on this blog. Unfortunately, the Deshaun Watson trade-to-be has not been rooted in a lot of them until the last few days, when we’ve learned that compensation is agreed to (or, so it is said) between the Texans and Dolphins but that the Dolphins want Watson to settle his cases before he’s a Dolphin.

The drama of any kind of sweepstakes pretty much ended Wednesday morning with the report that Watson has only waived his no-trade clause for one team: The Dolphins. Watson could waive his no-trade clause to other destinations, but reportedly has already used it to rule out the Eagles. The Panthers wanted to do sit-down meetings with Watson before acquiring him, which is a great thought, but even if he wanted to do that, would probably not be in Watson’s best interests while he has ongoing litigation and people who could leak those discussions would be in the room. Roger Goodell’s non-comments about Watson’s availability to play on Tuesday set in to motion a few extra morsels for a team to acquire him before the deadline with an eye towards playing their way into playoff contention, but the Dolphins lost to the Jaguars and the Falcons and their playoff odds are at 2.4%.

Other teams might be able to re-enter the fray in the offseason, but with a deadline approaching now, this seems to be a Dolphins-or-bust proposition. Guess we’ll see if any Mystery Teams charge into the fold, but I think a no-trade clause is a pretty big carrot that says right now this is a trade all about Miami.

Let’s discuss the proposed trade and the situation as a whole in my favorite format for indigestible things: theoretical reader questions and answers.

What’s your own personal read of the chances of a Dolphins-Texans trade?

I think there’s a line to be neatly threaded about what has been agreed to in principle. I think the Dolphins and Texans have an agreement contingent on Watson settling his cases. That’s not necessarily the same deal that the Texans would get if the deal was made without that happening. Therein lies the gray area of “agreeing to compensation.” The issue is the same as it has been for many months: risk drives the price down, and the Texans are right to wait for the price to be at its highest. I think the Texans are getting the three first-round picks no matter what — but the remainder of the deal is up for grabs and the Dolphins and the Watson camp have every reason to tell the world about what’s going on because a) Watson should want his new team to have as many picks as they possibly can and b) the Dolphins would obviously prefer the trade to be as unfair as possible.

OK, so why would the Texans do that?

Well, Watson’s been here for months. He’s wasting a roster spot. He’s making his salary even though he’s not doing anything. Those are all poor reasons to rush into a trade, though. I think the reality of the situation is that the Texans would prefer to move on from him because they want to distance themselves from what they believe he’s done, and if anyone would know what he’s done as well as Watson’s camp, it’s the Texans. They have to be open to hearing the offers. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to take an offer that they don’t think is worth the price of someone who has played like a true franchise quarterback.

The interesting thing is that I think the Watson story is doing a great job running cover for the Texans, in a way. The team is horrendous. The trades and signings that Nick Caserio made last season weren’t a disaster because they were so low stakes that it is impossible for that to be true. But they have added no real assets from the free agent crop, and only Jon Greenard is taking a true step into becoming one. Watson’s situation actually helps take some attention away from that.

Anyway, I can’t tell you I’ve got compelling evidence that says the Texans should make this move, which is why I’m more on the side of believing there will be no trade yet. But I guess we’ll see. From the beginning, this has felt like a story of whether an ownership group is more desperate to get Watson than Texans ownership is to get rid of him.

Why doesn’t Watson just settle the lawsuits against him?

That’s an interesting one, because it seems like it would be in the best interests of his playing career. However, from day one his team has been adamant about this being a shakedown. Lance Zierlein said last Friday that he believed there might have been some recent movement between the Watson camp and attorney Tony Buzbee. I’ve got no information on that. I can’t fault Watson for believing that taking the case to court is the only way to really clear his name, because it probably is, but the mass brunt of the damage has already been done in terms of perception. The internet isn’t going to stuff those Bill Cosby memes back into the drawer and pretend it never happened.

I think it will all largely be swept away in the long-term either way because the NFL has never been a league that hasn’t been happy to rebuild shattered reputations. But this is a personal choice to fight these cases in court from Watson as far as I can tell and I can’t fault him for that choice. I don’t think it’s a great one for his playing career, and I don’t think he can fault the Texans for not trading him given the circumstances.

Why are we talking about Watson’s trade value? Aren’t the allegations against him pretty serious?

They sure are! You raise an excellent point. Unfortunately, the NFL didn’t have a pre-arranged solution to this situation, and the only way they seem capable of learning about things they need is reactively rather than proactively. Their reaction to the Watson situation has been like waking up with the smell of smoke in their bedroom and waiting in bed in disbelief until the wall is actually on fire before trying to find a way to escape. You can see this time and time again in things like the St. Louis trial over the Rams relocating (wow, we can’t just buy the court?) and the WFT scandal (who could have predicted that there would be public backlash to a slap on the wrist for Mr. Snyder?)

If it were up to me: Watson belongs on the commissioner’s exempt list or some new version of it, and I don’t think he should be off of it until things are settled. Unfortunately, that is not the reality we live in, and the football machine must be greased. In fact, Premiere Football Brains around the world know that this is the opportunity to grab him at a bargain, so the circumstances can be ignored for a clear win. Sort of like when the Astros traded for Roberto Osuna.

What is a fair price for Deshaun Watson?

The football player that Deshaun Watson became in 2020 does not have a fair price. If there were a theoretical player like that and the team had no incentive to move him, I think you wouldn’t be talking about three firsts, but three entire years worth of draft picks.

Obviously, you have to weigh that against what’s actually happening here. Watson isn’t playing and the allegations are serious. One thing that we’ve never really gotten any insight about because the Texans are cosplaying Very Serious New England lads is whether the directive to not play him is negotiated between both sides, a Watson hold-in that the Texans aren’t punishing him for, or a directive from above to not play him. I kind of believe it’s negotiated, but that’s just an educated guess based on people I’ve heard talking around the situation.

To be a little less vague: I feel resigned and predestined to hate this trade and this return, whenever it happens, regardless of the circumstances, from a pure football standpoint. The Texans had an opportunity to fix the problem after the season and they stood with one of their least valuable employees instead of their most valuable one. It’s a decision that they will be paying for on the football field for years. You can keep counting up from three first-round picks to like, eight. It doesn’t matter. I played Madden franchise mode too, but in the real world those picks pale in comparison to a young star quarterback under contract for several seasons. You’re not guaranteed to find three players with those three picks that equate to the value of one Watson, let alone one. I will be relieved when the hanging sword is out of our lives, because it’s obvious he has no interest in playing here ever again, but all the trade will do is turn the Texans from “the team Deshaun Watson is done with” to “the team Deshaun Watson used to play for.”

Why don’t the Texans just keep Watson?

Well, they don’t really have a way to accede to what he wants to be changed anymore. They can’t just have Cal resign as lead partner and fire Jack Easterby and say “everything’s fixed,” because it is clearly not water under the bridge when we’re dealing with personal feelings. On top of that, the team is now worse than ever.

I guess what they could say is “we’re not trading you, you can play here or retire.” But hardball is a very easy thing to think about in practice and a very hard thing to actually pull off. Like it or hate it — and I think most of you hate it based on the comments I get — Watson not saying anything has been a boon for the Texans. He knows where the bodies are. If you think the Sports Illustrated Easterby articles were a disaster for the franchise, wait until the franchise quarterback is telling everyone about the things that didn’t make those pieces. Maybe you’d come back with “can the team reputation get any worse than it already is?” and, well, every time I think the Texans have hit their nadir they find a way to create a new low.

I’m not trying to say there’s 100% no way that Watson will ever play a game for the franchise again — anybody who says they know 100% for certain what is going on here is lying — but I think a lot of things would have to change drastically. I think his trade market would have to crater based on what comes out of the cases. I think he’d have to take on a lot of humility about his situation. These are things that I can’t entirely rule out, but that certainly don’t seem to be happening in the current stasis of the situation.

Why don’t you ever just tear down Deshaun Watson for wanting to leave, never speaking about the Texans, crying at the signing of his contract, and quitting on his team?

Have you seen what this team has become? I have a lot of empathy for wanting to flee the scene. Let’s leave Easterby out of it for a second and say for the sake of argument that he has no say (lol) — the team that they’ve constructed here is a dire plea for help. The acting owner of the team drops an anti-Asian reference at his charity golf event and thinks it’s funny. They traded DeAndre Hopkins for pennies on the dollar. They lost the faith of J.J. Watt. I’ve been an enormous critic of most of the moves they’ve made since 2018 ended and the only time I look back in retrospect and say I don’t feel good about my read on the situation is the Brandin Cooks trade — and even that one, now that the Texans are 5-18 in their last 23 games, I think you could still argue you’d rather have a younger cost-controlled second-round player. (And hey, now you pissed him off too! Great job, guys!)

While I find loyalty very commendable and would be praising Watson hard for staying, we’re in a new era. It’s not 1970 where you can hide how bad things are in Houston from a quarterback, he’s going to be able to ask people if it’s normal for a character coach to be elevated to the position he has been. Legacy media are very committed to protecting ownership/the team. (To give an example, I heard the Cal anti-Asian story months ago but wasn’t going to report it without a way to actually verify it, and if I heard it, I know my spot on the food chain here. Other people definitely knew.) Players aren’t bound by the same rules.

You’ve seen Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson walk the same “not confident in this team” tightrope, and they’re in much better situations. It’s very apparent to every player that the Texans are one of the worst organizations in the NFL right now, and if you have any doubt about that, look at how many free agents just had no interest in coming here. John Brown signed with a team that released him rather than sign here. Teams now have to live up to franchise quarterbacks as much as franchise quarterbacks have to live up to teams. That is 2021.

Do I think Watson quit on the team? Sure. Do I think the team quit on him before that? Yup. I’m never gonna step on a man for doing what he thinks is best for him, and it’s obvious that these Texans are in no state to grow a winning football team for years to come. Firing Bill O’Brien changed nothing.

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6 Replies to “Some thoughts on the Eternal Deadline of the Deshaun Watson trade”

    1. I mean, I don’t begrudge Easterby for having the job he has. It’s an indictment on the people above him. But I am going to drag him for being terrible for this team’s on-field situation, sure.

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