HOUSTON -- In the wake of a major change, the firing of coach David Culley, there is no immediate change involving another high-profile situation involving the Houston Texans organization.
Embattled three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson’s status remains unresolved as he still wants to be traded and is still facing 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct and 10 criminal complaints with no charges filed.
Although the list of potential NFL suitors for Watson is expected to widen, especially if his legal issues are resolved without criminal charges with no ruling from law enforcement authorities imminent or expected at this time, nothing has changed in the relationship between the former Clemson star and the AFC South franchise.
Watson still wants to be traded with no reconciliation with the Texans expected, still has interest in the Miami Dolphins, although lessened a bit by the firing of coach Brian Flores, and is open-minded about potentially waiving his no-trade clause for other NFL teams, including the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
“I think there is going to be a number of things that we talk about during the offseason,” Texans general manager Nick Caserio said Friday morning at NRG Stadium. “That particular situation, I don’t think there’s any more clarity today than there was here previously, but we’re going to work through it. Ultimately, we’re going to do what we feel is best for the organization.”
Watson was nearly traded at the NFL trade deadline to the Dolphins with Flores a major proponent of that push, but ultimately no trade was worked out as only 18 of the 22 lawsuits were poised to reach financial settlement, per sources. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross wanted Watson to settle all of the lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct from the NFL player’s sessions with massage therapists.
Watson remained on the Texans’ roster all season and was inactive for every game as he was paid his full $10.54 million base salary. Under his $156 million contract, Watson is due $35 million in 2022. The Texans prefer to trade Watson by the start of the league year on March 16.
"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 during the season. "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."
During the seasn, 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 publicly 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 during a press conference.
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“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."
Watson has denied all wrongdoing through his attorney, Rusty 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 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.
The Watson issue was inherited by Caserio and 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 said during the season. "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.”