Deshaun Watson joined the Texans for practice on Wednesday morning (Twitter link via Adam Schefter of ESPN.com). However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Watson will be able to participate in training camp the rest of the way. The NFL issued a statement this week suggesting that Watson could still be placed on paid leave, pending the outcome of their investigation.
“The NFL’s review of the serious allegations against Deshaun Watson remains ongoing and active,” the NFL said. “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.”
Off the field, Watson is embroiled in civil litigation with lawsuits from 22 different women. Even without criminal charges, Watson could still face league discipline.
Meanwhile, Watson still wants to be traded. But, by reporting to work, he’ll avoid $50K in daily fines. For now, new head coach David Culley will try to navigate things as best he can. Even with Watson on the field, the Texans are probably more focused on getting newcomer Tyrod Taylor and rookie Davis Mills up to speed.
With their training camp less than 24 hours away, the Texans are set to navigate a complex situation with their star quarterback. Deshaun Watson is expected to show for Houston’s Tuesday workout, but a criminal investigation and trade rumblings engulf the Pro Bowl passer.
Texans brass spent months denying Watson was available, but Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL.com report they are now willing to listen to offers for him (video link). Despite Watson’s legal entanglement, the Texans are asking for a historic return. They want three first-round picks and change for the 25-year-old standout, Pelissero notes.
The Texans and Watson met Monday, and while the summit was cordial, Rapoport indicates the fifth-year QB reaffirmed his trade stance. Under normal circumstances, Watson would bring back a bounty for the Texans and provide plenty of ammo to ignite their rebuild. Teams like the Broncos, Eagles, Panthers and Dolphins and perhaps select others loom as prospective suitors, and certain interested franchises have spent time examining Watson’s legal situation, per NFL.com. Watson has a no-trade clause. He was mentioned as interested in the Broncos, Dolphins and 49ers this offseason, but the talented quarterback likely has hurdles to clear before he gets his wish to leave Houston.
Watson’s legal drama clouds the trade environment, and the Houston Police Department’s investigation into his alleged sexual assault and sexual misconduct has seen some developments. Ten women have now spoken to police in this investigation, according to defense attorney Rusty Hardin (via ESPN.com’s John Barr). Eight of those accusers are part of the 22-woman contingent who have filed civil suit against Watson. Nearly half of the 22 women involved in the civil matter have spoken with the NFL, per Tony Buzbee, the lawyer representing them. No depositions have been scheduled, and, further complicating this investigation, Watson is not set to be deposed in the civil suit until February 2022.
Hardin’s team has cooperated with this investigation, but the NFL has yet to interview Watson. This would represent a key step before a Watson placement on the Commissioner’s Exempt list occurs. As of now, however, such a move does not appear to be on the front-burner. Although that could certainly change if the criminal investigation gains more steam, the Texans are now set to have a quarterback in camp entangled in a multifront legal battle and one who has no interest in playing for them again.
Deshaun Watson will report to training camp. As Ian Rapoport of NFL.com observes, Texans quarterbacks are reporting to the team today, and Watson will be with his fellow signal-callers (Twitter link).
Watson, of course, is embroiled in civil litigation thanks to the sexual misconduct and sexual assault lawsuits that 22 different women have filed against him, but it’s presently unclear if Watson and the plaintiffs are close to a settlement. And, as Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network tweets, no criminal charges are imminent either. So even though there was a belief that the NFL would step in and park Watson on the Commissioner’s Exempt list if and when he reported to camp, Garafolo believes the league will simply monitor the situation for now.
Another veteran NFL reporter, Josina Anderson, has the same understanding. Anderson’s sources say the league will wait for official findings from Texas authorities before taking any action of its own (Twitter link).
Despite the maelstrom of controversy surrounding him, Watson remains adamant that he wants out of Houston (though as ESPN’s Ed Werder tweets, no rival clubs have asked Watson to waive his no-trade clause as of yet). However, since holding out of training camp would subject him to unwaivable $50K daily fines, it was expected that the three-time Pro Bowler would show up as required.
This is a unique and complicated situation for rookie head coach David Culley and rookie GM Nick Caserio. Having commissioner Roger Goodell step in and declare Watson temporarily ineligible would help to bring a little normalcy to training camp, but it doesn’t sound as if that will be happening (at least not before practices begin). So Culley will be tasked with handling the Watson matter while also trying to get free agent acquisition Tyrod Taylor and top draft choice Davis Mills ready to go for the start of the season.
Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com hears that the Texans have moved on from Watson and are prepared to go forward with Taylor and Mills, unless Watson’s presence at the team facilities somehow leads to a reconciliation (Twitter link).
One of the key points in this year’s draft came at No. 9, when the Broncos — who did extensive work on quarterbacks coming in — passed on Justin Fields and Mac Jones to selectPatrick Surtain II. Denver passing on potential long-term starters transpired shortly after new Denver GM George Paton acquired Teddy Bridgewater from the Panthers.
With the Broncos choosing Surtain, Bridgewater and Drew Lock reside as their quarterbacks. They split reps down the middle this offseason and will continue this competition during training camp, when chapter six in the franchise’s post-Super Bowl 50 quarterback saga commences in earnest.
The Broncos have started an NFL-most 10 players at quarterback — counting Phillip Lindsay‘s wildcat snap in the COVID-19-created Kendall Hinton game last season — since Peyton Manning‘s March 2016 retirement. Denver has tried free agency (Case Keenum, the second Brock Osweiler acquisition), the trade market (Joe Flacco, Bridgewater) and the draft (Lock, Paxton Lynch) to fill this spot. The Broncos’ most successful post-Manning season — 2016, when the team went 9-7 — came with 2015 seventh-rounder Trevor Siemian at the controls.
Now on his fifth team, Bridgewater is still just 28 and has a history with Paton. The Vikings drafted the Louisville alum in the 2014 first round, when Paton was working as GM Rick Spielman‘s top lieutenant. The former Jets (briefly), Saints and Panthers passer has developed a reputation as a risk-averse passer, and Carolina was eager to jettison him after authorizing a three-year, $63MM deal in 2020. The trade agreement knocked Bridgewater’s 2021 cap hit down to just $4.4MM and made him a 2022 free agent. But Bridgewater makes sense for a team with high-end defensive capabilities, which a healthy Broncos iteration possesses.
Bridgewater finished 17th in QBR last season; Lock ranked 29th. The 2019 second-round pick was often erratic during his second NFL season, tying for the NFL INT lead (15) despite missing three games. Lock, however, was thrust into an unusual spot in 2020 — learning a new offense in a virtual offseason — and lacked top receiver Courtland Suttonfor most of the season. But Lock’s grace period is over, with longtime GM John Elway ceding the reins to Paton.
The elephant in this room: will the Broncos’ interest inAaron Rodgers be relevant soon? The Broncos have lapped the field in Rodgers rumors, with the Raiders — another team Rodgers is open to joining — comfortable withDerek Carr for the time being. Depending on which skill-position players would be left in Denver after a trade, Rodgers would be equipped with a host of young weapons and a defense positioned to be one of the league’s best.
Even as some around the league wonder if the Packers are bracing for the reigning MVP’s exit, they are holding firm and possess leverage. Despite a return that could feature two or three first-round picks and one or more established young starters, Green Bay is understandably clinging to hopes this situation can be salvaged. The Bengals traded disgruntled QB Carson Palmer in October 2011, after the incumbent had staged a retirement in an effort to leave Cincinnati, and Palmer made nine starts for the Raiders that year. The Broncos likely would be open to a Rodgers in-season arrival, but ideally for them, the Packers begin trade discussions before the season.
Will the Broncos end up swinging a trade this year, or will 2022 be the window for such a transaction? Can Bridgewater or Lock seize the job and halt Rodgers and Watson rumors for good? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts on this situation in the comments section.
Tony Buzbee, the attorney representing the 22 women who have filed lawsuits against Texans QB Deshaun Watson, said back in May that his clients would not agree to a settlement with Watson. Shortly thereafter, Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, said that Buzbee had indeed approached him about a settlement, but that settlement is not an option unless “the terms are made public and all participants are allowed to speak in their own defense at all times.”
Several days ago, Buzbee once again took to Instagram to discuss the matter. He said, “there will not be a settlement, at least anytime soon. I have my best people on the case. That should tell you a lot about our intentions. … our team is doing what it takes in discovery and prep to try these cases to a jury. The press folks say we’ve gone ‘quiet,’ but the truth is we made clear early on that we wouldn’t try these cases in the press and now are doing the important work required for our clients to try these cases to a jury.”
As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk writes, Hardin and Buzbee have privately discussed a settlement, but those talks broke down due to Buzbee’s unwillingness to waive confidentiality and make the terms of a settlement public. Florio believes that Buzbee is prepared to settle and that the general parameters of an agreement — including the amount of money Watson is willing to pay out — are in place, but that Buzbee still wants to keep the settlement confidential and is insisting he is prepared to try the case in an effort to get Hardin to change his stance. For his part, Hardin says there are no active settlement talks at the moment (via Courtney Zubowski of KPRC-TV).
For most observers, the football side of this matter is still on the backburner, but for the Texans, Watson, and any teams that might want to trade for the three-time Pro Bowler, it is very much a pressing issue. The NFL’s investigation is ongoing, but Florio believes the league must make a decision as to whether it will place Watson on the Commissioner’s Exempt list as soon as possible to be fair to all parties involved. Despite everything else that has happened since his trade demand earlier this year, Watson still wants to be traded and remains interested in the Broncos, though Denver reportedly would prefer to swing a deal for Packers QB Aaron Rodgers.
However, it’s unclear when the NFL might make a decision with respect to Watson’s playing eligibility. According to Hardin, the league has not even spoken to his client yet.
The criminal investigation into Watson is also ongoing.
Ex-Watson Texans teammate Kareem Jackson said, during an appearance on Aqib Talib‘s Catchin’ Fades podcast (audio link), Denver is where Watson wants to end up. This might be a slight exaggeration, with NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport noting Watson remains open to being traded to the Broncos but does not necessarily have them as his unquestioned No. 1 destination (Twitter link).
Jackson said earlier this offseason Watson was interested in the Broncos, and a subsequent report indicated the Texans quarterback was intrigued by Denver’s situation. In speaking to Watson in recent weeks, Jackson said the three-time Pro Bowl QB expressed interest in Denver in March and that Colorado remains where he wants to play. Per Jackson, Watson inquired about Jackson’s free agency plans — between the Broncos cutting him and re-signing him in March — and after Jackson re-signed asked the safety to communicate to the Broncos his own interest in the team. Watson has a no-trade clause, once this matter again becomes relevant.
Prospective Watson trades, of course, have been on the backburner for several weeks. Twenty-two women have accused Watson of sexual misconduct, with some alleging sexual assault took place during massage sessions. Watson has been linked to nearly 50 masseuses, with some coming out in his defense. The 25-year-old standout is a candidate for the Commissioner’s Exempt List and a suspension, which certainly stands to reduce his trade appeal.
The Houston Police Department is investigating Watson. So is the NFL. It is highly unlikely a team trades for Watson until more clarity emerges about his status for the 2021 season. Depositions in Watson’s civil case are slated to begin in September, though the quarterback is not set to be deposed until after the 2021 NFL season.
While the Broncos expressed interest when Watson was merely a disgruntled NFLer and not at the center of multiple investigations, it is unclear if they remain one of his suitors. The Panthers also appeared prepared to be more aggressive than the Broncos on the Watson front. Carolina ended up trading 2020 starter Teddy Bridgewater to Denver but did so after acquiring Sam Darnold. Although the Panthers picked up Darnold’s fifth-year option, Watson could still be on the team’s radar. The other teams most closely linked to Watson this offseason — the Dolphins, Jets and 49ers — have top-five picks invested at quarterback.
Watson and Rodgers are each represented by the Athletes First agency, CBS Sports’ Joel Corry notes (via Twitter). Rodgers placed the Broncos as an acceptable destination in April and remains interested in the Packers trading him to Denver. Watson is 12 years younger, but the Broncos prefer Rodgers as a trade target. Considering Rodgers’ accomplishments and Watson’s off-field issues, this makes sense. Neither the Packers nor Texans have relented, though Houston’s moves — signing Tyrod Taylor, drafting Davis Millsin Round 3 — point to the franchise preparing not to have him this season.
Embattled quarterback Deshaun Watson won’t be with the Texans when they begin OTAs (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero). Despite everything else going on in Watson’s world, the longtime Houston star still wants to be traded, Pelissero hears.
Watson’s rift with the Texans was the big storyline to start 2021, with the Panthers and other contenders rushing to the phones. Then, a slew of allegations started to trickle out in the spring. To date, Watson and his attorney have denied wrongdoing in the 20+ cases. Meanwhile, his deposition is set for February of 2022 — after Super Bowl LVI.
Watson could be free to play in the interim, if he’s not parked on the Commissioner’s Exempt List. If he’s cleared to play by the league office, the easiest path to the field would be to try and mend fences with the Texans. For now, GM Nick Caserio isn’t saying much regarding the situation.
“If you want to speculate, you should probably go buy Bitcoin,” Caserio said recently.
Watson, 26 in September, led the league with 4,823 passing yards in 2020 — a new career-high. He also set new personal bests with 33 passing touchdowns and a 70.2% completion rate. Given his ongoing legal situation it’s unclear if any team would actually trade for him right now, or what they’d give up if they would.
Certainly, the compensation would be something less than the earth-shattering mega package they would’ve received a few months ago. Either way, it doesn’t sound like the allegations have done much to alter Watson’s firm stance, and it sure doesn’t seem like he’ll be reporting any time soon. Assuming the two sides don’t reconcile, the Texans have a few options.
Although we still appear a ways away from true trade talks, the June 1 date after which a Rodgers deal becomes less financially constraining for the Packers is approaching. Shifting to players already in the AFC, here is the latest from the conference:
Tavon Young has become one of the NFL’s most injury-prone players, and the Ravens may have selected his heir apparent inShaun Wade this year. The former early-round Ohio State prospect is expected to begin his career in the slot, and Young is not yet 100%. ACL tears sidelined Young for all of 2017 and 14 games last season, and he missed all of the 2019 season due to a neck ailment. Baltimore DC Don Martindale said Young has not been fully cleared from his latest round of ACL rehab, Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com tweets. Young has missed an astounding 47 games over the past four seasons. Thanks to restructuring Young’s contract, the Ravens would be tagged with more than $9MM in dead money over the next two years were they to cut the veteran corner after June 1.
Better news may be coming out of another AFC North contender’s headquarters. Odell Beckham Jr. has resumed sprinting after suffering an ACL tear last November, and Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer expects the Pro Bowl wideout to be in the Browns‘ Week 1 lineup. Beckham’s injury may have helped keep him in Cleveland, depressing the trade market for the talented wideout who has yet to truly take off with the Browns. Trade rumors have followed Beckham in Cleveland, but he is set to return at a $14.5MM salary this season.
In more injury rehab news, the Colts had Marlon Mack back on the field this week. Mack did not participate fully in Indianapolis’ OTA sessions this week, but Stephen Holder of The Athletic notes the fifth-year running back was available for part of the voluntary workouts (subscription required). Mack sustained a torn Achilles in Week 1 last season. He re-signed with the Colts on a one-year, $2MM deal, pointing to optimism the former fourth-round pick will be ready to go to start this season.
As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reports, the scheduling order signed by the presiding judge in the lawsuits filed against Texans QB Deshaun Watson has set Watson’s deposition for February 22, 2022. That is over a week after Super Bowl LVI.
So unless there’s a settlement prior to that date, then Watson would theoretically be able to play the entire 2021 campaign with Houston — if he is willing to drop his previous trade demands in light of his current predicament — or with another club if a rival GM is willing to take a career-defining risk. Florio predicts that Watson will report to Houston’s training camp, and that’s when matters will truly come to a head.
Indeed, there is a very real possibility that Watson will be placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt list for an indefinite period of time, and perhaps until all 22 lawsuits are resolved. His first appearance at training camp could force Roger Goodell to make a decision in that regard one way or another.
Florio describes in a separate piece how the league’s personal conduct policy applies to Watson’s situation. The second paragraph of the paid leave section of the policy reads as follows: “when an investigation leads the Commissioner to believe that a player may have violated this Policy by committing any of the conduct identified above (relevant here is an act of sexual assault by force), he may act where the circumstances and evidence warrant doing so. This decision will not reflect a finding of guilt or innocence and will not be guided by the same legal standards and considerations that would apply in a criminal trial.”
Obviously, the language “may have violated” gives Goodell a great deal of discretion in deciding whether or not to place a player on the Commissioner’s Exempt list, and his decision will be guided in large part by PR considerations. Veteran NFL reporter John Clayton, writing for DenverFan.com, believes Watson may be suspended for a few games but will play in 2021, likening his situation to the sexual assault allegation that was levied against Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger in 2010 (Roethlisberger was ultimately suspended for four games despite no criminal charges being filed).
It would seem, however, that the two matters are very different. For starters, Watson is facing 22 accusers, not “just” one. Plus, by the time Roethlisberger’s suspension was announced, it had already been determined that he would not face criminal charges, and all of the relevant facts had already come to light. But Watson’s deposition is not scheduled until next February, depositions of the 22 plaintiffs cannot commence until September 13, and the criminal investigation is ongoing. So it seems that if the league takes any action between now and a resolution of the lawsuits, it will come in the form of placing Watson on the Commissioner’s Exempt list, not in the form of a suspension.
Obviously, there is no way to know when Watson’s legal situation will be wrapped up. There may or may not have been recent settlement talks between his legal team and the team representing the 22 women who have filed lawsuits against him, but even a best-case scenario for Watson — a dismissal of the suits (which isn’t happening) or a quick settlement that allows him to escape a major financial hit — still leaves the Texans in a bind because of Watson’s previous trade demands.
A settlement, along with minimal or no punishment from the league, would at least allow Watson’s trade market to heat back up. One way or another, it appears that the Texans will be rolling with either Taylor or Mills when the 2021 regular season opens, and new head coach David Culley had a lot of good things to say about Mills during a press conference yesterday.
“Davis Mills, I thought [GM Nick Caserio‘s] staff did a great job of all of a sudden earmarking a guy that fit what a quarterback in the NFL is all about,” Culley said (via the Texans’ PR department). “Obviously he didn’t play as much football as some of the other guys because of the COVID situation in the Pac-12, but we really love what he’s all about. We love all of the intangibles he has. He’s a pro-type NFL quarterback and we feel good to have him. He’s smart. He can make all the throws and we feel good and feel fortunate that we’re able to get him when we got him.”
The Texans would presumably like for Mills to beat out Taylor for the starting job so that they can get a complete picture of what the rookie can do and set their 2022 priorities accordingly. But when Culley was asked how important it is to give Mills ample playing time this season, Culley had something of a predictable answer. “We’re not looking at it like that,” he said. “We’re looking at it like there’s going to be competition at all positions. This is a new football team here. Basically, we’ve created competition all around this football team. Not just at the quarterback position, but basically at all positions.”
At least one NFL scouting director believes Mills could have been a first-round pick in 2022 if he had stayed in school, so there is some cause for optimism for a franchise that appears to be headed for a major rebuild. “Davis Mills, man, the ball comes out of his hand really nice,” the scouting director said (via veteran NFL reporter Aaron Wilson on Twitter). “His release quickness is really good. A lot of people around the league are saying he could have been a first-round draft pick next year if he had stayed in school. Very intriguing.”
When asked specifically about Watson, Culley said, “we have nothing to say about that situation at this time.”