INDIANAPOLIS -- The unresolved nature of quarterback Deshaun Watson's legal issues in regards to an active criminal investigation and ongoing civil lawsuits leaves the Houston Texans in a familiar position: a holding pattern.
While the legal situation continues to unfold with no charges filed and 22 civil lawsuits active and Watson awaiting depositions during which he'll likely take the Fifth Amendment until any potential criminal charges are determined, the Texans and NFL teams interested in trading for the three-time Pro Bowl passer are monitoring the situation and awaiting clarity.
“I would say that situation, we've talked about this with our group, we're day to day in terms of handling that," Texans general manager Nick Caserio said Tuesday during the NFL scouting combine. "Once the information becomes more relevant or prevalent, then we'll handle it accordingly. My philosophy from the beginning has always been to do the right thing by the Houston Texans organization, and we're going to continue to do that here moving forward.”
During a recent special hearing requested by attorney Rusty Hardin, Harris County District Court Judge Rabeea Collier denied a portion of the motion, yet she also stipulated that certain depositions in the 22 active civil lawsuits can be delayed untilafter April 1.
That date is when the NFL player's Houston-based lawyer expressed confidence multiple times that there will be a ruling from law enforcement officials on whether Watson will be be charged criminally for alleged sexual misconduct.
Collier did grant part of Hardin's request. She also upheld his request to be present for all depositions involving his client. Hardin said that due to his court schedule, he isn't available for the next few weeks.
Collier said that she will uphold the previously agreed upon docket and emphasized that Watson's legal team has already taken 75 hours of depositions, with only six of the 22 civil litigants still to be deposed. She said that plaintiffs who have filed a criminal complaint against Watson and haven't been deposed can't depose him until after April 1.
“I’m allowing you to take Mr. Watson’s deposition on case specific details for those who have not filed a criminal complaint," Collier said.
Only plaintiffs who have been deposed and haven't filed criminal charges can begin taking Watson's deposition now. The court ruled that Watson will be questioned under oath within the next 10 days if Hardin is available to be there in person for nine of the 22 plaintiffs.
"Denied in part, granted in part, denied as to those plaintiffs that have not filed a criminal complaint against your client," Collier said to Hardin in court. "It's granted in part with the plaintiffs that have put a criminal complaint against your client and for the individuals that may fall in between that have not been deposed. That has been granted because those individuals may not ask questions of your client until those plaintiffs are deposed."
Hardin added he had "no reason to believe" that a ruling won't be determined on Watson's 10 active criminal complaints by April 1and whether he would be charged or not charged. Eight of the 22 accusers, massage therapists making allegations against Watson of inappropriate behavior, have filed criminal complaints.
"We know that the police have forwarded to the district attorney’s office their findings and their conclusions," Hardin said.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen on April 1,” Collier said.
Hardin added that he would advise Watson to take the Fifth Amendment in any deposition until there is a ruling on the criminal complaints. Hardin said he isn't aware of any lawyer who would advise their client to not invoke their Fifth Amendment rights in a deposition while remaining under a criminal investigation.
"It is my obligation to not expose him to depositions while he is waiting to hear if he'll be criminally charged," Hardin said.
Hardin added that the potential "prejudicial impact is immeasurable" if Watson did participate in a deposition and answered fully, emphasizing that Watson would be acting on his advice but is willing to testify at any time.
Hardin, asked by Judge Collier why he believes he'll have clarity on criminal charges or no charges by April 1, said that's because the police have submitted their findings to the Harris County District Attorney's office. Hardin added that he expects the investigation to be concluded "in weeks, not months."
Hardin, Watson's Houston-based lawyer, had filed a motion requesting that the NFL player's deposition be pushed back to no earlier than April 1 because not all 22 complainants -- massage therapists alleging sexual misconduct and/or sexual assault -- have been deposed, which was the original plan for the case.
The criminal investigation could be wrapped up by early April, so Watson could have the remainder of his depositions that month. That's also prior to the NFL draft when, depending on the resolution of his legal situation, Watson could be traded.
The motion emphasized that the criminal investigation of 10 criminal complaints, including eight plaintiffs, hasn't been completed, with no clarity about Watson's status as far as whether he will or won't be charged with a crime.
Law enforcement sources said that no DNA, audio, or video evidence has been found or submitted by police detectives investigating the allegations. Watson, who has a standing trade request and a no-trade clause in his $156 million contract, has denied wrongdoing through social media. Hardin said in a press conference that Watson had consensual sex with some of the massage therapists accusing him of lewd behavior.
The Texans have been seeking at least three first-round draft picks and a pair of second-round draft picks in exchange for Watson, who led the NFL in passing yards two seasons ago.
Could that price drop potentially if his legal situation doesn't improve? That's obviously.
He remained on the Texans' roster last season and was paid his $10.54 million salary. Watson was not placed on the commissioner's exempt list but played in no games.
Watson only practiced during a portion of training camp before he and Caserio reached an agreement that he would report to the Texans' training facility for individual workouts with the strength and conditioning staff but not participate in practices and meetings.
A former first-round draft pick from Clemson, Watson wanted to be traded to the Miami Dolphins and was nearly moved. However, the deal unraveled at the trade deadline last season when just 18 of the 22 plaintiffs were willing to agree to settlements. That was a condition from Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, whom sources have emphasized was very interested in trading for Watson. The Dolphins have since moved on and have expressed a commitment to incumbent quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
NFL teams are keenly aware that Watson's focus is on his legal situation and are actively monitoring the situation. Among the teams that still have interest in Watson, per sources: the Carolina Panthers.
Caserio downplayed any negative impact on the team as far as it being a potential distraction.
“I think the only strain is the discussion that you all had," Caserio said in a reference to the media. "You guys have probably spent more time on it than we have, I think. Once the season started, our focus going back to last season was kind of on our team and just preparing on a week-to-week basis, so trying to control the things that we can control. I'd say our players did an awesome job of focusing week to week on just the task in front of them, which is getting ready for the opponent.
"We've kind of transitioned into the 2022 season, so we're excited about Lovie (Smith) and the staff that he's put in place. We're going to take it one day at a time, control the things that we can control and just try to do as good a job as possible starting to put together the team for next season.”
Aaron Wilson is an NFL reporter for Pro Football Network and a contributor to Sports Talk 790.