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 essentially said we’re going to take him one day at a time, we’re going to assess the situation, take the information that comes in, be respectful of everybody and all the parties involved,” Caserio said Wednesday at NRG Stadium. “I would say with Deshaun, including other player throughout the league, there were various levels of discussions specific to him, and specific to some other players, as well.
“In the end, there was no trade that came to fruition, so I don’t really have any comment about some of the logistics and mechanics about what happened, what hasn’t happened, what did happen. I actually talked to Deshaun here this morning. He and I had a conversation, so 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, includingMarch 16when the league year begins and Watson is next eligible to be traded.
“Right now the focus is on Miami on Sunday,” Caserio said. “ Anything as it pertains to the offseason, the draft, there will be plenty of time to talk about that. I think the focus right now is on 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 and how that impacted the trade discussions with the Dolphins.
“I don’t really want to comment on something that’s sort of out of my control,” Caserio said. “Again, we just take it one step at a time, and just take the information as it comes, and try to make good decisions the best we can. In the end, there wasn’t a trade that came to fruition. That happens all the time.
“Respectfully, what another team or organization does, I don’t want to speak for them about what their level of work is or isn’t. My focus is on the Houston Texans, and that’s where it’s going to remain.”
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 their wishes are. That’s not my responsibility. My responsibility is to the people in our building. I have a fiduciary responsibility to 200-or-so people in NRG Stadium on a day-to-day basis, whether it’s the business entity, our coaches, our players, our operations staff, and quite frankly, to the fans of our organization, which we have a lot of great fans.
“Anecdotally, we’ve actually had a lot of support. I’ve had people come up to me randomly and just let us know how much they appreciate what we’re trying to do. Again, it’s nice to hear. It hasn’t necessarily translated over into what everybody had hoped, but we’ve had a lot of support, and my job is to try to do the best job on a day-to-day basis for this organization as possible.”
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.
“Honesty, it hasn’t been a distraction,” Caserio said. “ I don’t want to speak for anybody else, but it really hasn’t been a distraction for me, and our team has done a great job of focusing on the things that they can control as well. Quite frankly, it’s probably more of a distraction away from here. It doesn’t really affect anything we are doing on a day-to-day basis.”
Dolphins general manager Chris Grier reflected on the Watson talksWednesday morningduring 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.
Caserio declined to say whether conditional picks, depending on Watson’s availability, were part of the negotiations. He added that there were inaccuracies in published reports about the trade discussions.
“I haven’t seen a lot of reporting, but the veracity of what has been reported is a little bit stretched, but that’s just the nature of how these things work,” Caserio said. “I would say that every discussion we have, that I have, is internal. So, it’s not like we are taking the information. I think sometimes there is some speculation that goes into, it if I’m being honest, but that’s ok. I know what the conversations are with whatever party, whatever team we are discussing a trade with.”
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.
Watson has denied all wrongdoing through Hardin. There is no apparent audio, video or DNA evidence against the NFL player, according to sources.
Caserio emphasized the gravity of the allegations.
“It’s a serious situation, given the circumstances,” Caserio said. “I don’t think we want to lose sight of the serious nature of what is happening, aside from football. Let’s take it away from football for a minute. So, that’s real, that’s real life. There’s that component and then there is a functionality, Houston Texans, football team, day-to-day business.
“To a certain extent, we have to be respectful of both sides. My focus, our focus has to be on the things that we can control, which are the things that we are doing on a day-to-day basis. If there is some information or some material on the outside that affects what we do or what’s going on with us, then that will obviously have more of an impact.”
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.”