Deshaun Watson

Teams Inquiring On Deshaun Watson, Texans Not Budging Yet

As the Deshaun Watson drama with the Texans continues to unfold, the league’s other 31 teams are surely paying close attention. There have been increasing reports that the two sides could be headed for divorce, as we heard over the weekend that many in Houston’s building believe Watson has played his last snap for the team. 

We’re still in the very early stages, but it sounds like teams are beginning to circle in anticipation of a potential frenzy. Teams have already begun calling the Texans and inquiring about Watson, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports (Twitter video link). As Rapoport cautions, the Texans still haven’t budged or shown a willingness to engage in talks yet, and he also notes that Watson still hasn’t formally requested a trade.

Interestingly, Rapoport says to “keep an eye on” the Panthers in the event that Watson becomes available. He highlights new owner David Tepper’s bold approach, as well as the failure of Teddy Bridgewater to establish himself as the franchise guy this season. That would be a huge splash from Matt Rhule, and Rapsheet says if it reaches the point where the Texans shop Watson then Carolina should not be discounted.

It’s not surprising that teams are already making exploratory calls, and if Houston really does decide to trade Watson it could take a while for things to get sorted out because of the size of the package that would need to be coming back.

If Watson were to be dealt, it would take multiple first-round picks and likely solid players as well, at a minimum. We’ll keep you posted as we hear more on this ever-evolving situation.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Deshaun Watson, Texans

Things could be coming to a head with Deshaun Watson and the Texans. After a couple of weeks of drama, there is now “a growing sense from people in and around the Texans’ organization” that Watson “has played his last snap for the team,” Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets.

It felt impossible to believe when trade chatter about Watson first started, but it now seems like there’s a real chance Watson is dealt before the 2021 season. In case there was any doubt about the dysfunction within the building, Schefter said in a separate tweet that a source told him “it’s gone from the least desirable head coaching job (opening) to the most undesirable head coaching job in the NFL. That’s a fact. That’s how that job is now looked at by everybody.”

It’s a pretty grim state of affairs in Houston right now. It looks like Houston’s management, led by owner Cal McNair and recently hired GM Nick Caserio, could opt for a full-blown rebuild, trading Watson for a bounty of draft picks to restock the cupboard that was left bare by former coach/GM Bill O’Brien.

All of that being said, it’s still far from guaranteed that the team has given up on mending the relationship. One source of tension between the two sides was the team leaving Watson out of the search process for coach and GM after previously promising him input. There had been reports that Watson favored Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy, but the team only opted to put in an interview request for Bieniemy recently, leading many to decry it as too little too late and merely an attempt to pacify Watson.

But Caserio has apparently done “thorough homework” on Bieniemy, sources told Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (Twitter link), who adds that it’s “not an empty interview request by any stretch.” Fowler also calls Bieniemy “firmly in the mix” for the job, so it sounds like he’s got a legit shot. By the sound of Schefter’s tweet, if the Texans and Watson are headed for divorce, it might be hard for them to convince any top candidate to leave their respective coordinator post.

If Watson really does become available, there will be no shortage of suitors. It’d likely take a king’s ransom to pry him loose, so teams like the Jets and Dolphins with an abundance of draft capital would immediately become favorites. We’ll surely hear a lot more about this situation in the coming days and weeks, and we’ll keep you posted every step of the way.

Cal McNair On Watson, Caserio, HC Search

The Texans have faced scrutiny from several angles over the past two years. While Bill O’Brien bore the brunt of the criticism, the organization has continued to encounter issues since O’Brien’s dismissal.

CEO Cal McNair made another attempt to address concerns Friday. McNair said he has texted with Deshaun Watson since it became public the quarterback was unhappy. Watson expressed disappointment the Texans did not keep him fully in the loop regarding their decision to hire Nick Caserio as general manager, and McNair confirmed the franchise QB will have input regarding the next Texans head coach.

That’s the intent. We want him in the loop and part of the process,” McNair said, via Fox 26’s Mark Berman. “Deshaun and I connected over texts since he’s returned from vacation, and I believe in dealing with the personnel issues directly with the players — but in conjunction with our general manager. Deshaun, it’s no secret that he’s disappointed in the communication during the [GM] hiring process.

Following Caserio’s lead, McNair said he has no desire to trade Watson. The four-year veteran has been connected to a potential trade request, despite signing a $39MM-per-year extension last summer, shortly after the reports of his dissatisfaction surfaced. Watson is believed to be far more upset about recent Texans events than he was when the team traded DeAndre Hopkins without informing him of the decision.

He’s our quarterback,” McNair said. “I’ve liked Deshaun and watched him since he played at Clemson. I’ve believed in him and his leadership in (winning a) championship in college, and I think he can lead our team to championships here. 

We went to the second round of the playoffs and he was a good leader. This year, the flip side of the coin, our record wasn’t nearly as good, but he was still the same great leader. We believe in him. My mom loves him. He’s a great person. He’s a Texan.”

Watson has made it known he was a fan of Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who was initially left out of Houston’s HC interview requests. But the Texans have since requested a meeting with the third-year OC. McNair said this delay was related to Caserio taking over the search process. The Texans have been connected to several names, but hiring the longtime Patriots exec caused an understandable delay in their search process. Due to the Texans waiting until after the Chiefs’ bye week to submit a Bieniemy interview request, they will be unable to meet with him until after Kansas City’s season concludes.

We were waiting on Nick’s list of coaching candidates,” McNair said. “Nick added him to the list. Other candidates had been recommended. Like all the candidates, they are Nick’s and my choices.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Texans Request Interview With Eric Bieniemy

Well, they finally did it. The Texans have requested an interview with Eric Bieniemy for their vacant head coaching job, a source told Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter link).

Houston’s interest in Bieniemy, or lack thereof, had become a point of major controversy over the past week, as it was reported that Deshaun Watson was very unhappy with the team over their handling of their coaching and GM searches. Watson had been assured by owner Cal McNair that he’d be involved in the process and kept in the loop, but then the team didn’t even interview any of the GM candidates he suggested and didn’t tell him they were hiring Nick Caserio.

The team had also to this point refused to even interview Bieniemy, unlike virtually every other team with an opening, who is reportedly a favorite of Watson. That had culminated in reports that Watson could eventually demand a trade. Clearly Caserio, and to some extent McNair, want to keep Watson happy, and this is a good step in the right direction toward mending the relationship.

It was reported that Watson had no problem with Caserio, only that he was left in the dark, so it’s entirely possible those two will have a good relationship moving forward. Bieniemy, of course, is currently the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator serving under Andy Reid.

He’s been a hot candidate this cycle, and Rapsheet also tweeted that the Texans are only now truly ramping up their search now that Caserio is in place. We heard yesterday they were going to speak with Ravens assistant head coach David Culley, and with Bills DC and former Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier.

They had already interviewed several candidates before Caserio’s hiring though, so their attempt to now cast this as the beginning of the search doesn’t ring entirely true. Either way they won’t be able to interview Bieniemy right away, as Tom Pelissero of NFL Network tweets that since the initial anti-tampering interview window has closed, the team will have to wait until either the Chiefs lose or after the Super Bowl, whichever comes first.

Deshaun Watson Considering Trade Demand?

Multiple reports over the past few days have indicated that quarterback Deshaun Watson is unhappy with the Texans, and Chris Mortensen of ESPN.com has thrown his hat into the ring. Mortensen says that the rumblings about Watson’s displeasure are accurate, and that Watson could even demand a trade (Twitter links).

In addition to Watson’s concerns about how the Texans’ GM search unfolded, which we have already detailed, Mortensen says the three-time Pro Bowl passer continues to be concerned about the team’s insensitivity to social justice issues. In Watson’s view, that insensitivity manifested itself in the team’s decision to not interview Chiefs’ OC Eric Bieniemy, who is black, one of the hottest head coaching candidates in this year’s cycle, and a personal favorite of Watson’s (though Mortensen clarified in a later tweet that Watson’s anger is not “strongly connected” to social justice matters and is more related to the state of the franchise).

And according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, Watson is not just upset by the fact that owner Cal McNair did not consider the GM or head coaching candidates that Watson endorsed, despite assurances that he would at least take his quarterback’s opinions into account. McNair, who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to have the search firm Korn Ferry assist with the GM and HC hunt, ultimately disregarded the firm’s GM recommendations. Korn Ferry tabbed Steelers vice president of football and business administration Omar Khan and current ESPN analyst Louis Riddick as the two most viable candidates for the GM position, but McNair instead forged ahead with Nick Caserio, whom he had been targeting for some time.

Schefter went on to say that Watson, whose anger level on a scale of 1 to 10 was a 2 when the team traded wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins last year, is currently at a 10. While Caserio said in his introductory press conference that Watson is the Texans’ quarterback — thereby implying he would not trade him — Watson could certainly make life difficult for Caserio if he chooses to do so.

Interestingly, a Watson trade would not be as damaging to the Texans’ books as one might think, given that the Clemson product just signed a massive extension earlier this year. A trade would leave Houston with just $21.6MM in dead money for the 2021 season, and as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk writes, multiple GMs believe the Texans could acquire up to three first-round picks in a Watson deal.

Watson does have a no-trade clause written into his new contract, but according to Mortensen, he would consider a trade to the Dolphins. Of course, Houston would have had the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 draft, but it traded that selection, along with its 2021 second-rounder, to Miami as part of the Laremy Tunsil swap in 2019. The Dolphins, who also hold their own first-round selection in this year’s draft (No. 18 overall) have the capital and the cap space to get a deal done.

Mortensen suggests that Tua Tagovailoa would head to Houston as part of a Watson trade, which would be a controversial and career-defining move if Caserio were to make it. Obviously, that is little more than speculation at this point, but it appears Watson’s feelings towards the Texans will be a major storyline of this offseason.

In related news, Korn Ferry named Colts DC Matt Eberflus as one of the top candidates for the Texans’ HC vacancy, according to Albert Breer of SI.com (via Twitter). McNair at least tried to interview Eberflus, but Eberflus turned down the request. Breer notes in a separate tweet that Houston is also eyeing Bills OC Brian Daboll, who has interviews lined up with the Chargers and Jets.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Caserio: Deshaun Watson Is Our Quarterback

Star quarterback Deshaun Watson is not happy that the Texans failed to truly involve him in their search for a GM despite being told that they would do so. That has led to speculation that Watson could request a trade from Houston, but in his introductory press conference, new general manager Nick Caserio tried to quash any such rumors.

“[Watson is] our quarterback,” Caserio said. “I can’t tell you how much respect and admiration I have for him as a player” (Twitter link via Field Yates of ESPN.com).

That’s all well and good, and a trade might be difficult to pull off anyway given that Watson just signed a massive extension that runs through the 2025 season (though there would likely be no shortage of teams willing to take on Watson’s contract and give up significant draft capital to land him, and the dead cap charge on Houston’s books would be a relatively modest $21.6MM). But as Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle writes, Watson remains highly upset, and the team has been unable to get in touch with him. He is on vacation, but it doesn’t sound as if that has anything to do with the lack of communication. Wilson says that Watson is in no mood to hear from the team right now, and that it will be some time before he is ready to talk about his unhappiness.

At today’s presser, owner Cal McNair said the following: “I’ve come to understand [Watson] feels left out of the process. … [H]e and I had several visits and I understood his point of view before meeting with candidates. I’ve reached out to Deshaun and I look forward to him getting back to me when he returns from his vacation” (Twitter link via Mark Berman of Fox 26).

That statement jibes with yesterday’s report that McNair and Watson did indeed meet to discuss GM candidates, but the problem is that McNair did not even consider the names that Watson — who was reportedly representing a large group of his teammates — endorsed. Watson did not necessarily expect McNair to choose one of his candidates, and he does not have an issue with the Caserio hire in and of itself, but he feels as though he was given little more than lip service before McNair charged ahead with the exec he has been eyeing for a long time.

So one of Caserio’s primary orders of business will be to smooth things over with Watson — whenever Watson is ready — and he will also need to find a new head coach. Of course, Watson was also told that he would have input into the team’s HC search, and the fact that the Texans will not so much as interview Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy — who was said to be one of Watson’s top choices — is surely contributing to the quarterback’s displeasure.

Another nugget to come out of the press conference is that executive VP Jack Easterby will remain with the team. Some say that Easterby, who was brought in to improve the club’s culture, has only made it worse, and that he has an inordinate amount of sway over McNair (a notion buttressed by Easterby’s relationship with Caserio, which dates back to their days with the Patriots). However, as McNair has stated previously and reiterated today, Easterby — who had been serving as interim GM after Bill O’Brien‘s dismissal — will return to some of his earlier roles (Twitter link via Wilson). Caserio will have full control over the roster, the draft, and free agency.

As Wilson notes in a separate tweet, Caserio had plenty of positive things to say about Easterby. “Jack and I have had a special relationship,” Caserio said. “He’s helped me a lot personally. He’s someone I’ve always leaned on. I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for [him].”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Deshaun Watson Unhappy With Texans

Despite Deshaun Watson‘s standout season, the Texans went 4-12. They do not have a first- or second-round draft pick this year and have a roster in need at many areas after Bill O’Brien‘s criticized GM tenure.

Watson was told he would have a say in the Texans’ GM and head coach searches. But owner Cal McNair did not discuss the Nick Caserio hire with the quarterback, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, who adds Watson is “extremely unhappy” with the Texans (Twitter link).

The Pro Bowl passer offered input on GM candidates, but the Texans did not consider any of his recommendations, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reports. Watson is not upset about the Caserio hire but is disappointed in the team’s process, Rapoport tweets. It is not exactly unusual for an organization to hire a GM without consulting its quarterback, but Schefter notes Watson and McNair met on several occasions about this hire. Now, Caserio appears to have a key assignment on his hands as he starts his $6MM-per-year job.

Back in October, we heard he was to be consulted about the team’s head coach search. Three months later, the Texans have been unable to reach Watson, Rapoport tweets, and may well be moving forward without Eric Bieniemy — for whom Watson previously advocated. The now-Caserio-run Texans did not request an interview with the Chiefs OC.

Man, it just starts with the energy and just the foundation of this program. There’s no real foundation in view. Everyone sees it. Everyone knows that. Got to have a guy that can come in and stand strong, stand 10 toes down and, (say), ‘Hey, this is the way it’s going to go, and this is the way we’re going to win,'” Watson said earlier this week, via NFL.com’s James Palmer (on Twitter).

That’s what we need. It’s kind of just up in the air right now. That’s what I’m looking forward to, some disciplined responsibility and some good, fun energy that cares about winning championships and winning games but at the same time is coming in to work each and every day regardless.”

Some of this strife dates back to last year, when Watson expressed disappointment the Texans traded DeAndre Hopkins without discussing the move with him. The organization making another big move without Watson’s input is believed to be a much bigger issue with him, Schefter adds. Watson has “quietly broached” the prospect of a trade request, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes. Watson’s contract contains a no-trade clause, which would empower the quarterback to approve his destination — should this saga reach that stage.

Shortly after Patrick Mahomes‘ 10-year extension, Watson signed a more traditionally structured deal — a four-year, $156MM pact. He is signed through the 2025 season. It would certainly be shocking to see the Texans agree to trade their centerpiece player; such a move would certainly be financially prohibitive. The Texans guaranteed Watson nearly $75MM at signing. Watson agreed to the extension after the Hopkins trade and threw for a league-high 4,823 yards at an NFL-best 8.9 per attempt without the All-Pro wideout. The former Clemson national champion passer added a career-most 33 touchdown passes despite the core members of his post-Hopkins receiving corps being frequently unavailable.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

COVID-19 Latest: Browns, Texans, Panthers

The Browns have closed their facility and delayed their flight to New Jersey because of a positive COVID-19 test. They are performing contract tracing ahead of their scheduled noon CT Sunday game against the Jets. While the Browns placed Jedrick Wills on their reserve/COVID-19 list, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reports the rookie left tackle did not test positive for the coronavirus. He and practice squad wideout Ryan Switzer are close contacts. However, Wills is expected to be pulled off the Browns’ virus list in order to start Sunday, Cabot adds. Cleveland indeed activated Wills off its reserve/COVID list but placed linebacker B.J. Goodson on it ahead of Sunday’s game. Goodson tested positive, Cabot reports. The Browns are planning to depart Cleveland at some point tonight, Albert Breer of SI.com tweets.

Here is the latest from the NFL’s COVID-19 front:

  • Deshaun Watson‘s restaurant opening has caused an issue for the Texans. Watson and other Houston players were photographed maskless at the recent indoor event, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (on Twitter). Watson received a $7.5K fine. The Texans levied fines against some of his teammates as well, with ESPN.com’s Sarah Barshop noting Laremy Tunsil, Brandin Cooks and Tytus Howard were among those at the event.
  • Whitney Mercilus now resides on the Texans’ reserve/COVID-19 list, and the Houston Chronicle’s Aaron Wilson reports he tested positive for the virus (Twitter link). This is Mercilus’ second time on the COVID list; he landed there in November as a close contact of then-COVID-positive linebacker Jacob Martin. This will end Mercilus’ season — his ninth with the Texans. Thanks to his December 2019 extension, Mercilus is signed through the 2023 season.
  • The Panthersdustup with COVID earlier this month produced a series of fines. The team handed out fines of at least $10K to players who broke virus protocols during the team’s bye week earlier this month, per Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. Wideouts D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel and Shaq Thompson, Derrick Brown and Greg Little were among those placed on the COVID list.
  • After the Broncos were forced to use practice squad wide receiver Kendall Hinton at quarterback earlier this season, the NFL tweaked its protocol to help teams in the event similar trouble emerges. Players already receiving COVID testing will be permitted to make their debuts for new teams without having to take virus tests six days apart, Pelissero tweets. This would allow for a team to sign a player off another team’s practice squad late in the week and use him in a game in an emergency scenario.
  • Washington fined Dwayne Haskins $40K for breaking COVID protocols for the second time this season but did not suspend him.

Texans Notes: Easterby, Kelly, Cobb

While Texans executive VP Jack Easterby will not become the team’s next GM, recent reports suggest that he will have a significant say in determining who the next head coach will be. And in a comprehensive piece detailing Easterby’s unconventional and sometimes controversial rise through the NFL front office ranks, Jenny Vrentas and Greg Bishop of SI.com suggest that might not necessarily be a good thing.

The article is well-worth a read for any NFL observer, but especially Texans fans. Some of the authors’ sources say that Easterby, who was brought in to improve the club’s culture, has only made it worse, and that he has secured his lofty position within the organization thanks largely to the inordinate amount of sway he has over owner Cal McNair. Indeed, one source said McNair is “blinded” by Easterby, who has also been accused of undermining other key figures — like former head coach Bill O’Brien — and who is said to have been a driving force behind the lopsided DeAndre Hopkins trade (for which O’Brien has shouldered most of the blame).

Of course, Easterby — who declined the authors’ invitation to tell his side of the story — has plenty of supporters as well, and it will be fascinating to see how his role will impact Houston’s HC/GM search and the team’s fortunes moving forward.

Now for more from the Texans:

  • If quarterback Deshaun Watson has it his way, the new Texans head coach will retain current offensive coordinator Tim Kelly, as Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports writes. Kelly has been with the organization since 2014 and was elevated to OC last year. Amidst an otherwise difficult 2020 campaign, Watson is enjoying a career year, and he gives his 34-year-old coordinator a great deal of credit for that. We previously heard that McNair would consider Watson’s input with respect to the HC search, so it stands to reason that he would also value his star QB’s opinion on his OC.
  • The Hopkins trade, along with assorted injuries and suspensions, have decimated Watson’s WR corps. Randall Cobb has been on IR since late November with a significant toe injury, and according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, surgery is a possibility. Cobb, 30, has an outside chance of returning this year, but with the Texans well out of the playoff picture, it probably makes more sense for him to start preparing for 2021.
  • The Texans selected cornerback John Reid in the fourth round of this year’s draft, but even after the Bradley Roby suspension and with Houston already looking ahead to next year, Reid is unlikely to see more defensive snaps, per Wilson. Defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver confirmed as much, saying that while he believes Reid has a great career ahead of him, he is not quite ready for a larger role. Reid has played just 60 defensive snaps on the season, and 32 of those came in Week 1.
  • LB Reggie Gilbert and DL Willie Henry are visiting the Texans, per Wilson. Gilbert and Henry were recently cut by the Jaguars and 49ers, respectively, and Houston will see if they can get anything out of two defenders who at one time showed they might be worthwhile pieces of an NFL roster.

Extra Points: Watson, Tagovailoa, Prescott

The Houston Texans are at a crossroads as an organization. After surprisingly firing Bill O’Brien toward the beginning of the year they were left without a head coach and GM. Romeo Crennel and Jack Easterby have taken over those roles on an interim basis, but the franchise is currently in a bit of a rut and lacking direction. They’re also without a lot of draft picks, including their first-rounder next April, due to trades O’Brien made. As they look to dig themselves out of that mess, owner Cal McNair is apparently leaving no stone unturned.

McNair recently had dinner with quarterback Deshaun Watson, the one thing the team has going for them at the moment, and he picked his brain about what he’d like to see moving forward, McNair told Adam Schefter of ESPN.com. Schefter writes that “McNair wanted to hear Watson’s thoughts and opinions on who should be the next head coach.” Assuming Watson gets legit input, it would be relatively safe to assume the Texans will target an offensive mind. Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy is sure to be a hot name, although there are plenty of other offensive minds as well.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • Tua Tagovailoa‘s honeymoon as the Dolphins’ quarterback came to an end Sunday in a loss to the Broncos. Tagovailoa struggled mightily during the defeat, and was pulled for Ryan Fitzpatrick. Speaking after the game, head coach Brian Flores confirmed Tagovailoa did not have an injury and was benched for performance. That being said, Flores also wasted no time declaring that his rookie will be his starter next week, meaning we’ll have to wait again for our first dose of Fitzmagic. Tagovailoa was 11/20 for only 83 yards before getting pulled during the loss, which snapped Miami’s five-game winning streak. He’ll have a get-right spot against the Jets next week.
  • Fortunately, we’ve got another positive update to pass along on Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. Appearing on the radio Friday, team EVP Stephen Jones said he’s been getting “amazing reports” from doctors on Prescott’s status, via Jon Machota of The Athletic. “Shouldn’t come as any surprise,” Jones said. “He does everything to the nines and the 10s and he just does it the very best. He’s been so diligent in his rehab and that shouldn’t surprise anybody. They said if anything he’s ahead of schedule and rolling. That should come as no surprise. So we expect him to have a full recovery.” Jones also reiterated that Prescott avoided any infections, which can sometimes occur with compound fractures. Everything continues to look good for Prescott’s chances of being ready for Week 1 of 2021.
  • Let’s wrap things up with some punter news. Veteran specialist Jon Ryan has been working out and has drawn interest from teams recently, Tom Pelissero of NFL Network tweets. Ryan is 38 now but clearly has no plans of hanging up his cleats. Pelissero notes he led the CFL in gross punting average last season. He most notably spent ten years as the Seahawks’ punter from 2008-17.