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Now Is Not the Time for Deshaun Watson Trade Speculation

Between the unresolved lawsuits and the context uncovered in an SI investigation, it’s irresponsible to predict what’s next in the QB’s football career.

Here’s another attempt—if you haven’t been warned already—to convince you that it’s far too early to begin devouring Deshaun Watson trade destination posts like a box of guilty-pleasure movie theater candy.

NFL Network reported Monday that the Texans are now open to receiving trade offers for their quarterback who, in case you forgot, is the subject of dozens of lawsuits—right now 22 civil and 10 criminal complaints. While Monday’s report is, technically, new information, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Texans never had a choice, even before the first lawsuits were filed. Watson was determined to finish his career elsewhere. The Texans had to decide whether to force him into a miniature retirement or enjoy the benefits of a significant trade return.

ESPN, meanwhile, strangely noted at the bottom of a piece on Monday that the quarterback’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, said: “Teams are ready to jump now if the Texans would trade with them, even while all this is pending. There’s no question that teams, numerous teams, are still interested. The ball is in the Texans’ court.”

This, coupled with the information that Watson has reported to Texans camp in order to avoid fines but has made it clear he has no interest in remaining for long, doesn’t mean something is going to happen soon. It just means someone is impatient. Clearly, Watson’s camp is. They are trying to establish a “nothing to see here” narrative when it comes to the lawsuits while recapturing the same kind of momentum they harnessed in January. They aren’t thrilled with the idea of their unhappy client sitting listlessly in a facility that, no matter how cordial the interactions have been, he is not overjoyed to be sitting in.

Maybe the Texans are getting impatient, too. They would like you to know they are open for business and have not been thrilled with the mechanics of various trade discussions, however uncomfortable they may have been.

Here’s what isn’t new but is likely worthy of some reiteration: For those having just arrived here from an Eagles fan page depicting Watson in a green uniform, allow us to provide the most thorough, exhaustive, and unbiased reporting on the situation—amplifying the women affected rather than the power brokers who typically get a disproportionate amount of journalists’ attention—to date (link here). If you’d prefer the Cliff’s notes, here are some fairly important notes on why this is still not a football story.

• The allegations go beyond what’s been filed in court. Along with uncovering messages that provide context to the first civil lawsuit filed, the SI investigation gave voice to multiple women who haven’t filed suit, including one who had previously detailed a disturbing therapy session with Watson. SI also uncovered an exchange in which even one of Watson’s supporters admitted that, “whether the creepy stuff is his intention or not, he does it every time [...] only 1 therapist hasn’t complained.” Watson’s hiring of dozens of massage therapists via Instagram was initially couched by attorney Rusty Hardin as a necessity of pandemic times. However, Watson’s behavior had become known in massage therapy circles before the world shut down. His pattern of behavior should not be ignored, and claims from his attorneys that he’s done nothing wrong should be met with skepticism.

• Any consequences for Watson will go a long way toward determining how we view consent. From the SI piece: Consent will be central to any legal proceedings. Several of the plaintiffs in the Watson cases describe in their complaints being “scared” or “intimidated” by him, either because he was physically larger than them, he could have an impact on their career or due to their admitted lack of experience or credentials, which left them unsure of how to respond to his sometimes “aggressive” directions or commands for inappropriate contact. Thirteen of the plaintiffs said they were not licensed massage therapists at the time of their appointment with Watson, which many told Watson, but he went ahead with the session anyway. Additionally, seven are identified as single moms, their bodywork practice a way of providing for their family.

• There are major issues at stake here. Beyond Watson and the women alleging sexual misconduct to varying degrees, these cases are a bellwether for people working in the massage therapy industry and other industries in the sports world where there is an incredible imbalance of power between themselves and the athletes they work with.

It is still monumentally, laughably irresponsible to return to life before these suits were filed just because it seems someone wants to move on. The NFL has not concluded its investigation into Watson, and thus, is nowhere close to determining how long Watson will be suspended. The police have not concluded their investigation into Watson. None of the cases have been settled or adjudicated.

If a general manager, somehow spurred on by Monday’s comments, decided to pick up the phone and consummate a trade, their organization would forfeit whatever slender piece of moral high ground it had left in the tank. Countless times, when a team signs a player that has been credibly accused of sexual misconduct or has had a domestic violence incident in their past, the general manager often couches the signing in a vaguery about how they did their due diligence on the matter. There would not even be the opportunity to use that transparent excuse here. A team would literally be twisting in the wind as it awaited the results of various investigations and the rulings of various judges. While we are avoiding football discussions, this decision would be one of the most disastrous and irresponsible in recent NFL history. Watson could miss significant game time, which, to any general manager, would impact the price point.

Watson will play football again. At some point, the uncomfortable mechanics of our sporting world will kick in and there will come a time when announcers will, behind cringeworthy vernacular, bundle all this perspective about Watson and the lawsuits as “the past” or “those issues.” But that time is not now. Watson isn’t going anywhere yet, nor should our attention.

More on Deshaun Watson:

How 22 Women and One Star Quarterback Got Here
A Massage Therapist on Her Session With Deshaun Watson