The unresolved legal situation of Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson still lacks clarity, and that lengthy investigation of 10 criminal complaints alleging sexual misconduct may have a resolution as soon as Friday when the Harris County district attorney’s office presents its findings to a grand jury. Until then, and perhaps even after Friday, the trade market for Watson lacks some amount of clarity.
As much as Friday marks an important day in the case with that outcome remaining unclear, the level of interest around the NFL isn’t. Up to 10 NFL teams are actively monitoring the Watson situation, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
In particular, the Carolina Panthers are seriously engaged in wanting to trade for the three-time Pro Bowl selection, with one source characterizing their level of interest as “all-in.” Panthers owner David Tepper previously hired an investigator to thoroughly look into Watson’s legal issues.
Tepper has remained extremely interested in possibly acquiring Watson, who has a no-trade clause in his $156 million contract and would have to sign off on any possible trade, for over a year, according to sources. It is not a secret around the training facility of the NFC South franchise that the team is intrigued by the possibility of acquiring the former Clemson star.
The Seattle Seahawks, having traded quarterback Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos, are also interested in Watson and potential trade scenarios to fill the huge void they just created under center.
The Seahawks have a lot of draft capital, including the Broncos’ original ninth overall pick, two second-rounders, and players that could be included in a prospective trade, including wide receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.
The Seahawks have plenty of salary cap space to absorb Watson’s $35 million guaranteed salary for 2022 after trading Wilson and cutting linebacker Bobby Wagner: a surplus of $49.22 million, per NFL Players Association records.
The New Orleans Saints, with quarterback Jameis Winston rehabilitating from a torn ACL and a pending unrestricted free agent, are also interested in Watson, according to league sources. The Saints would have to create serious salary cap room to add Watson.
The Washington Commanders, once interested in Watson, have moved on and traded for Carson Wentz from the Indianapolis Colts.
The Broncos had an interest in Watson for over a year, per sources. Yet, they hesitated to pursue him given the potential reputation fallout with the accusations he’s facing and the team being for sale. They pivoted to Wilson when it became clear that Aaron Rodgers would remain with the Green Bay Packers.
Watson was nearly traded at the NFL deadline last season to the Miami Dolphins, but the deal was scuttled because Dolphins owner Stephen Ross insisted that the quarterback settle his lawsuits. Watson was only able to reach preliminary agreements to settle with 18 of the 22 plaintiffs, per league sources not authorized to speak publicly. Dolphins general manager Chris Grier said: “The door is shut on Deshaun.”
The New York Giants aren’t interested, per owner John Mara. He cited a tight salary cap situation and Watson’s unresolved legal situation.
Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman previously conducted significant due diligence on Watson before last season. The Eagles even sent an investigator to Houston to look into the legal situation and contact Rusty Hardin, Watson’s attorney, per sources. However, Watson has never been inclined to waive his no-trade clause for the Eagles. Moreover, Philadelphia has publicly committed to Jalen Hurts as their quarterback.
As pivotal as the grand jury is for Watson — who has not been charged with a crime and has denied wrongdoing on social media at the start of the case — it isn’t the only legal situation he’s facing.
That includes 22 active civil lawsuits with Watson set to have his first deposition Friday at Hardin’s office. Hardin has advised Watson to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against potential self-incrimination.
Hardin emphasized that taking the Fifth is not an admission of guilt and that the three-time Pro Bowl passer will be happy to testify when he can. Law enforcement sources said that no DNA, audio, or video evidence has been found or submitted by police detectives investigating the allegations.
“It’s a non-starter because neither I or any lawyer in the free world will allow their client to give testimony in a civil case while those same issues are being heard by a grand jury,” Hardin said in a telephone interview with Pro Football Network. “Tony Buzbee didn’t want to delay. It’s unfortunate. Deshaun will be glad to testify when I advise him to.
“This is a civil matter. That’s where we believe it should be heard. If Tony Buzbee wants to waste his time asking questions, that’s fine. Deshaun will not answer those questions. Deshaun will testify when the grand jury has completed its work.”
Watson has been accused of inappropriate behavior by massage therapists. Hardin said during a press conference previously that the NFL player had consensual sex with some of the plaintiffs. It’s expected that the list of teams interested in Watson will grow exponentially if his legal problems are resolved favorably.
Meanwhile, coach Lovie Smith and the Texans have learned to have patience. They understand that Watson’s unresolved legal situation is out of their control.
Smith said he remains hopeful that closure will ultimately be gained for Watson and the AFC South franchise. That time could be approaching.
“I have no idea,” Smith said. “And the good part about it is time kind of takes care of everything. I just know Deshaun is an excellent football player. Excellent football players need to be playing somewhere in the NFL. Hopefully, that will happen, and if it’s not with us, it’s somewhere else. And I’m sure as I see in this situation, both of us eventually are going to benefit from the situation, and I just can’t wait for that to speed up a little bit.
“How important is that? I’m agreeing with what you said. Yes, we would like a prompt resolution to it, but I’m also a patient man, too, and time normally takes care of everything. We understand this is Year 2, and I know Deshaun wants to play, and it will come to a head. I have faith in that. We just have to give it a little time, and hopefully, everybody will be happy with it. I’m sure that will be the case.”
While the legal situation continues to unfold, the Texans and NFL teams interested in trading for the signal-caller 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. “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.”
The Texans have been seeking at least three first-round draft picks and two second-round draft picks in exchange for Watson. Could that price drop potentially if his legal situation doesn’t improve? That seems like an obvious possibility, but not a certainty.
Watson remained on the Texans’ roster last season and was paid his $10.54 million salary. He 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.
Although Watson had a strained relationship with the team, that didn’t negatively impact his relationships with teammates, coaches, and other staff members. Watson offered advice to third-round rookie quarterback Davis Mills, who displayed a lot of potential and outplayed first-round signal-callers.
“He’s helped out a lot,” Mills said last season. “What he’s done with me, any questions I have, like the other guys, too, he’s an open book, and he’s taught me a lot.”
Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and analyst and a contributor to Sports Talk 790.