To the surprise of nobody, the team’s situation with their star quarterback remains in limbo. Watson was a no show this week for the first OTAs with new coach David Culley. He reiterated his position of still wanting to be traded and his willingness to hold out/stay away just doubles down on that statement.
This bit of news fell on deaf ears with most media members who first said a trade was eminent but have now had to revisit their position. Some had said, in fact some insisted, that Watson’s earlier actions would leave the Texans no choice but to trade their best player. By doing nothing, the Texans have actually won the battle, if not the war, temporarily.
I really don’t think a trade is going to happen. In my opinion, I think Watson is doing the Texans a favor by not being there. He can no longer pressure the franchise to make a move because his status is in limbo legally. There are too many unknowns for a team to pull the trigger on any kind of a trade with the Texans and for that reason, there is no pressure on first year GM Nick Caserio to do anything but continue to put together his team as best he can. From Day 1 after taking this job, he has had no reason to do anything but put Watson on the shelf and attempt to move ahead.
All decisions with regard to his status are being made by others, legally by lawyers and court actions and internally by Park Avenue and the NFL league office. The league has launched an ongoing investigation that runs parallel to the authorities in Houston. The NFL office has no reason to make any ruling until Watson’s legal case plays out.
That being said, Caserio has also been patient. He’s made no decisions for the Texans with regard to Watson. I actually think he’s done a solid job with his effort to re-tool his team. With the hand he was dealt, he did a nice job in the draft and he has continued turning over the roster with a “change is happening” message. Caserio realizes he has value in his QB asset and will not lose it. Given what we know so far, the Texans have the leverage in this situation. Using experience and instincts, I still think Watson plays for them or he plays nowhere at all.
The chances of Watson playing this year are very slim. As long as he continues to hold out, he will incur fines for missing OTAs, salary de-escalators and disappearing guarantees along with the biggest windfall of all, the prorated portion of his signing bonus and game checks for games missed. The signing bonus money could be collected if desired, but it’s always been a part of the big picture leverage in the Texans pocket. The dollars Watson is losing by holding out will add up fast and will all be cap-credits in due time for the Texans. The fact that authorities have now said that the 20-plus cases filed against him will not be heard until 2022 has made it tough for anyone to hit any button other than PAUSE.
So what happens if Watson walks through the door and says he’s ready to play? Hummmm. Food for thought. If he is not ‘“out” of camp under his own volition and shows up ready to play for training camp, then the league might be forced to make a decision. If not, the team will have to pay Watson and welcome him back which from a football standpoint is good but obviously poses other challenges. Would they want him around with all of his legal issues still yet to play out or would the league suspend him?
Watson’s off-the-field situation could warrant a suspension for conduct “unbecoming” or “detrimental” or just a breech depending on language in his contract. This may be accompanied by loss of income as well, but that decision would almost certainly be challenged in arbitration by one side or the other. And consider what would happen if Watson were to show up and mysteriously tweak his back? The Texans would then have a real mess on their hands. We saw this play out last year in a few training camps, otherwise known as the newest of plays by disgruntled players, A HOLD-IN.
So, all is calm in South Texas for now, but identifying everyone’s options and future leverage points is important as we look down the road because its not IF but WHEN the legal strategy will change. Let’s check back when training camp opens.