Embattled Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson wasn't on the Texans' sideline Saturday night at NRG Stadium during their preseason finale against the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
His absence doesn't reflect a change in his status on the Texans' roster, though.
The Texans haven't agreed to trade Watson to the Miami Dolphins, the primary suitor for the former Clemson star, and no deal is regarded as imminent despite a lot of conversations and speculation surrounding the three-time Pro Bowl selection, according to multiple league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
"Untrue," one source stated.
"Denied," another source stated.
While the Dolphins have talked with the Texans, there hasn't been an offer commensurate with what the AFC South franchise wants in exchange for one of the most dynamic players in the game. The Texans want at least three first-round draft picks, two second-round draft picks and players to consider parting ways with a player as talented as Watson.
The Texans are not inclined to rush this high-profile, potential franchise-altering situation and could have Watson on their 53-man roster and inactive on gameday and pay him his $10.54 million salary as part of his $156 million contract.
The Texans aren't interested in making conditional picks part of a potential trade for Watson. The reason other teams are broaching that idea is because of Watson's unresolved legal situation as he's still facing 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault and/or sexual misconduct and 10 criminal complaints filed with the Houston Police Department. It may take as long as a few more months before a decision is made on whether a grand jury will or will not be presented a case with no decision reached yet on if an indictment will be sought.
Watson has not been charged with a crime and his attorney, Rusty Hardin, recently denied any wrongdoing on behalf of the NFL player. Hardin said that Watson has yet to speak to NFL investigators, including former Manhattan, N.Y. sex crimes prosecutor Lisa Friel, which is customary in personal-conduct policy investigations.
Watson would waive his no-trade clause for the Dolphins, according to multiple sources, just as he would have for the Carolina Panthers. However, the Panthers, per sources, are sticking with quarterback Sam Darnold at this time after acquiring him in a trade from the New York Jets. The Denver Broncos are sticking with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
And the Philadelphia Eagles, whose general manager Howie Roseman has conducted extensive due diligence into Watson's complicated off-field situation, as have other NFL teams, aren't one of the teams Watson would waive his no-trade clause for, according to league sources.
The Dolphins haven't closed the door on potentially acquiring Watson, nor have they made a final decision on second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who has made strides during the preseason. With the Dolphins not inclined to bid against themselves, any trade discussion has reached an impasse.
Watson hasn't been placed on the NFL commissioner-exempt list, which is the equivalent of paid leave, because he hasn't been charged with a crime.
It's entirely possible Watson could remain on the Texans' roster until the 2022 offseason. Watson is due a $35 million base salary in 2022 as part of the $156 million contract extension he signed last year. That was a year ago and before Watson became completely disenchanted with the Texans organization for multiple reasons, including not getting to give the input he wanted and was told he would have into the hiring process of general manager Nick Caserio and coach David Culley.
Watson led the NFL with 4,823 passing yards last season and passed for a career-high 33 touchdown passes.
For now, though, he's the Texans' fourth-string quarterback.
Meanwhile, the Texans' quarterbacks, starter Tyrod Taylor and rookie backup Davis Mills, including a pair of interceptions thrown by the third-round draft pick from Stanford, struggled mightily against the Buccaneers with Watson nowhere in sight.
Watson hasn't been practicing with the team this week, spending his time attending meetings and training sessions. He has occasionally worked out on a side field with strength and conditioning coach Mike Eubanks, but he hasn't practiced, even in a scout team capacity, recently.
So, this awkward situation continues to remain in a holding pattern.
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.