As the clock ticked in the Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins’ high-stakes two-minute drill involving Deshaun Watson, no trade was ultimately hammered out for the Pro Bowl quarterback by the NFL deadline Tuesday afternoon, according to multiple league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
The complex, off-and-on negotiations between Texans general manager Nick Caserio and Dolphins general manager Chris Grier and coach Brian Flores didn't lead to a deal despite a significant amount of time, effort and resources devoted to trying to find a suitable compromise while Watson navigates his unresolved legal situation.
In essence: To be continued, in all likelihood.
This situation is expected to be revisited in the NFL offseason as the Texans and Dolphins are expected to keep trying to work out a deal for Watson, who has only agreed to waive the no-trade clause in his $156 million contract for the AFC East franchise and no other NFL team, according to sources. Of course, other NFL teams could emerge as contenders for Watson. Especially if his legal situation is resolved.
The Texans want at least three first-round draft picks and two second-round draft picks and perhaps more in exchange for the three-time Pro Bowl selection who led the NFL in passing yardage last season, according to sources.
No settlements have been reached for Watson’s 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct and no agreements is 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.
Watson has denied all wrongdoing through Hardin. There is no apparent audio, video or DNA evidence against the NFL player, according to sources.
As motivated as the Texans, Dolphins and Watson were to strike a deal, nothing worked out for multiple reasons.
That included the Texans wanting an appropriately high value in exchange for one of the most dynamic players in the NFL regardless of position who’s in the prime of his career at 26 years old and having already passed for 14,539 career yards, 104 touchdown passes and 36 interceptions for a 104.5 passer rating. A multidimensional threat, Watson has also rushed for 1,677 career yards and 17 touchdowns.
Coveted at one point by the Philadelphia Eagles, whose general manager, Howie Roseman, did a significant amount of research into Watson’s legal situation and sent an investigator to Houston, Watson, per sources, refuses to waive his no-trade clause for the NFC East club.
Watson wasn’t completely opposed to the Carolina Panthers, per sources, but also never agreed to waive his no-trade clause for them. Carolina briefly spoke with the Texans about a week ago before ultimately pulling out of talks. Contrary to one national report, the Panthers didn’t discuss or offer star running back Christian McCaffrey in any proposed Watson deal, according to multiple sources.
Meanwhile, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said last week that the league lacks the sufficient information about the allegations despite the investigative efforts of former Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor Lisa Friel under the personal conduct policy to place Watson on the commissioner-exempt list, which is the equivalent of paid leave.
“We don’t have all the access to that information and pride ourselves on not interfering with it,” Goodell told reporters in New York during the fall league meeting. “That process is ongoing There obviously are other, I’ll call it legal approaches that are being made either through civil cases. Obviously the police have been investigating also. We don’t have all the access to that information at this point in time, and we pride ourselves on not interfering in that, being cooperative as we can to make sure we get all the facts.
"But I think that process is still ongoing. Until that process is ongoing and we have enough data and enough information to be able to make a determination of whether he should go on commissioner exempt, we don’t feel that we have that necessary information at this point.”
The legal situation created some hesitancy for Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, according to sources, along with the obvious concern about the public relations fallout and potential damage to the brand by acquiring a player accused of serious allegations, albeit unproven ones.
Ross wanted Watson to be unencumbered by the lawsuits or potential prosecution, according to sources.
This remains a possible franchise-altering opportunity for the rebuilding Texans, who are 1-7 and on a seven-game losing streak heading into Sunday's road game against the Dolphins.
Caserio doesn't want to squander the opportunity to capitalize on the opportunity to acquire valuable draft picks he can use to overhaul the roster and add some good football players to move on from the Watson situation he inherited when he left the New England Patriots to take over the AFC South franchise's personnel department.
The Dolphins have been Watson's preferred destination throughout this process since he first requested a trade in January due to the former Clemson star feeling disenchanted with the organization and chairman and CEO Cal McNair because of a lack of involvement and communication in the hiring process of Caserio and coach David Culley on the heels of him first being angered by the controversial trade of All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in March of 2020, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
Watson is “intentional” in his desire to never play another down for the Texans, per sources. Watson reported to training camp to avoid accruing $50,000 daily fines. He reports to work every day to work out, but has not practiced since training camp and he no longer attends meeting, 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.
Recently, McNair was noncommittal on the prospects of potentially trading Watson, who led the NFL in passing yards last season and is one of the most dynamic players in the NFL regardless of position.
"We'll just wait and see," McNair said recently during the Texans' second annual Founder's Day at the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge in Houston. "It's a day-to-day thing. Nick is in charge of that, so we'll see how that works out."
When asked to rate the odds of Watson being traded by a Nov. 2 league deadline, McNair smiled and replied: "I have no idea."
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. "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.”
And perhaps, at that time, Watson will be traded. That time is now now, though.
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.