HOUSTON -- Houston Texans general manager Nick Caserio didn't delve into the specifics and back-and-forth details of complicated trade discussions with the Miami Dolphins regarding Deshaun Watson, and the Pro Bowl quarterback's unresolved legal situation.
The Texans and the Dolphins negotiated and got close to a deal at the NFL trade deadline, but ultimately nothing got worked out, partly because Miami owner Stephen Ross wanted Watson to settle his 22 civil lawsuits that allege sexual misconduct from the NFL players' sessions with massage therapists.
"As it pertains to Deshaun, going back to training camp, we said we're going to take it one day at a time and be respectful of all of the parties involved," Caserio said Wednesday during a press conference at NRG Stadium. "In the end, no trade that came to fruition. I don't really have any comment on some the mechanics and the logistics of what happened, what hasn't happened, what didn't happen. I actually talked to Deshaun this morning. He and I had a conversation. We're moving forward. We'll evaluate that situation as we move along here."
None of that precludes a potential deal in the offseason with the Dolphins or perhaps other NFL suitors entering the picture, but Watson's 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct not being settled and 10 active criminal complaints filed with the Houston Police Department with no charges filed or grand jury indictment were a negative factor that led to not reaching a deal.
Caserio didn't want to look into the future Wednesday as far as any potential discussions with the Dolphins or other teams during the offseason, including March 16 when the league year begins and Watson is next eligible to be traded.
"I would say right now the focus is on Miami on Sunday," Caserio said. "Anything as it pertains to the offseason and the draft, there will be plenty of time to talk about that. The focus right now is the Miami Dolphins."
The Dolphins were willing to take the risk of potential charges being filed against Watson, but wanted his lawsuits to be settled to execute a trade. There was realistically not enough time to do so, though, once it became clear that would be an 11th hour requirement to finalize a deal.
Caserio declined to discuss Watson's legal situation.
"I don't really want to comment on something that's out of my control," Caserio said. "We just take it one step at a time and take the information as it comes and try to make good decisions as best we can."
Caserio also didn't want to discuss why Watson, who has a standing trade request and a no-trade clause in his $156 million contract, didn't want to play for the Texans. Watson has never commented on his stance, which stems from his displeasure on not having communication and input into the hiring process of Caserio and coach David Culley that he expected from the Texans based on his conversations with chairman and CEO Cal McNair. Watson was also upset, prior to signing his blockbuster contract, with the Texans trading All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals.
"I don't want to speak for somebody," Caserio said. "I'm never going to interpret someone's beliefs what they wishes are. That's not my responsibility. My responsibility is to the people in our building."
Caserio emphasized that Watson, who reported to training camp to avoid accruing $50,000 daily fines, doesn't practice or attend meetings currently and reports to NRG Stadium every day to exercise to maintain his conditioning, hasn't taken attention away from the task at hand: trying to win football games.
"Honestly, it really hasn't been a distraction," Caserio said. "The team has done a great job focusing on the things they can control. Quite frankly, it's probably more of a distraction away from here. It doesn't affect anything we're doing on a day-to-day basis."
Dolphins general manager Chris Grier reflected on the Watson talks Wednesday morning during a press conference.
“It's my job as GM to investigate every avenue," Grier said. "At the end of the day, no trade was made. As an organization, we decided not to make a deal. You go through these processes, you talk about these things."
Grier left the impression, though that this door is far from closed and will be revisited in the offseason.
As for where this leaves Dolphins starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, Grier basically said Watson is so good it had to be explored.
"Tua is a great kid, strong minded," Grier said. "This is just a unique situation,”
No settlement agreements are imminent or developing at this time between Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, and the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Tony Buzbee, There is no clarity on whether Watson will be charged by the Houston Police Department as detectives from the human trafficking division investigate 10 active criminal complaints, including eight filed by litigants in his civil lawsuits. And a grand jury empaneled by the Harris County District Attorney’s office has yet to hear the Watson case with no time table on when a decision on a potential indictment will be made.
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Watson has denied all wrongdoing through Hardin. There is no apparent audio, video or DNA evidence against the NFL player, according to sources.
Grier sounded angry while denying reports that the Dolphins asked for nondisclosure agreements to be a part of Watson's proposed settlements with his accusers.
“Absolutely ridiculous and categorically false," Grier said. "It’s flat wrong and it pisses me off. A lot of the stories that came out about how all this stuff has gone on has been false, I’d say 90 percent of the stuff. A lot of the stories that came out about it are false.
“I can’t come out here every week and say things are false, false, false, I can’t come out here every week and keep denoting and denying. People won’t believe you anyway."
The Dolphins were willing to trade for Watson despite the possibility of criminal charges.
Grier was asked if that was another factor in the Dolphins' decision to not trade for Watson at this time, replying: "There's a lot of unknowns, and that's part of it."
Grier was also asked if the organization had conversations with women in the building regarding their comfort level with potentially adding Watson but that didn't happen because: "We never got to a point where anything was realistic."
The Dolphins have been Watson's preferred destination throughout this process since he first requested a trade in January.
Watson is “intentional” in his desire to never play another down for the Texans, per sources. He has been inactive every week for non-injury reasons-personal matter.
In an August news conference, Hardin stated about the FBI brief involvement in the case, which originated with plaintiffs’ attorney Tony Buzbee: "In April, the FBI came to us and told us they were investigating a matter as to whether one of Mr. Buzbee's clients had committed extortion in the way they were demanding money from Deshaun or what they would do if they didn't pay it," Hardin said.
One potentially bad scenario for Watson and any team that trades for him to consider: Watson possibly being charged with a crime and then being placed on the commissioner-exempt list and not going to trial until late next year and then being unavailable in 2021 and 2022 and, depending on how a possible case is adjudicated, potentially being punished for an undetermined portion of the 2023 season.
Watson is due a $35 million guaranteed base salary in 2022 and is being paid a $10.54 million base salary by the Texans this year.
The Watson issue was inherited by Caserio and coach David Culley.
"I think they've been put in a very tough spot, a spot that is not of their choosing and they've made the very best of it and sort of worked through it day to day," McNair recently said. "So, we'll see where it goes."
The NFL issued a statement prior to training camp on Watson’s status, and nothing has changed.
"The NFL’s review of the serious allegations against Deshaun Watson remains ongoing and active," the league said in an email. "We are working cooperatively with the Houston Police Department and ensuring that the NFL’s inquiry does not interfere with their investigation. As we continue to gather additional information and monitor law enforcement developments, we will make appropriate decisions consistent with the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the Personal Conduct Policy. At this time, there are no restrictions on Watson’s participation in club activities."
A source said that the NFL hasn't been given access to speak to many of the plaintiffs in the civil cases or third parties who may have relevant information. And the league hasn't been given access to evidence the police have gathered in their investigation.
Hardin, said during an August press conference that Watson has yet to speak to NFL investigators.
“The answer is no," Hardin said. "Here's the reason: The NFL regularly tries to not reach out to the defendant and his lawyers until the criminal investigation is over. They want to make sure they don’t interfere with the criminal investigation. Whenever the time is appropriate we will fully cooperate.”