The Houston Texans playoff hopes for 2020 are mathematically dead, thus making the calendar year 2020 of Texans football, which began with their blowing a 24-0 lead in Kansas City in a playoff game and likely ending with, say, a 5-11 record, the perfect metaphor for the ACTUAL year of 2020 — heartbreak, anger, disappointment, and hope for something better next year.
With three largely meaningless games (in the big picture, at least) remaining, attention from Texan fans this week has zeroed in on the question "Should the Texans shut down Deshaun Watson for the remainder of the season?" Now, mind you, Watson is not in a physical condition where this normally even be debated. He is healthy. However, there are fans (and media members, and possibly even people within the Texans, who knows?) who think that keeping Watson safe from injury the final three games is the better tactic than trying to win those three games with their starting quarterback.
My cohost on the Texans' postgame show, former NFL quarterback Clint Stoerner, laid out the most detailed bullet points as to why shelving Watson makes sense:
Considering interim head coach Romeo Crennel had Watson in the Bears game still throwing (and still getting sacked) right up through the final play, Stoerner makes a compelling case. In fact, it's a compelling enough case to where 63.5 percent of nearly 1,700 respondents to my Twitter poll agree with Stoerner:
One person who disagrees with Stoerner? Deshaun Watson himself. Here he is following Sunday's loss to Chicago:
Add me to the list of people that want to see Watson play the final three games of the season. Before I lay out the reasons why, be sure to note this — if he is healthy, Watson WILL play on Sunday. And the Sunday after that, and the Sunday after that. Putting players on the shelf before the final week of the season is rare enough in the NFL to where I can't think of an example of one team doing it.
So let's start there — here are four reasons why Watson should play the final three games of the season, aside from the basic premise of sports, that the goal of any game played anytime, anywhere is to put your best foot forward to WIN THE GAME:
4. Deshaun is cognizant of the respect for him around the league
As I stated earlier, this is NOT the norm in the NFL, for guys to sit multiple weeks just to NOT get hurt in a lost season. Sadly, it is in the NBA, and it's watered down their sport significantly. (They call it "load managing.") So if Deshaun Watson (and/or J.J. Watt, for that matter, because some fans want to rest him, too) were to accept essentially a three game paid vacation at the end of the season, I think there would be players around the league who would lose respect for him (for them, again with J.J.), and I think Deshaun knows that. It's very evident in that soundbite above, he would see skipping the final three games as a middle finger to football, in general. Respect of his peers is important to Watson.
3. One of the stated missions of the Texans is “create memorable experiences"
Team president Jamey Rootes has stated many times, including in his new book on business management, that the Texans three pronged mission is to (1) win championships, (2) do great things for the city of Houston, and (3) CREATE MEMORABLE EXPERIENCES. I put that in all CAPS because that's what we are addressing here. Rootes takes great pride in being the steward of one of the most fan-friendly organizations in sports. Even with only 15,000 or so in the building in Week 16 and Week 17, I doubt the folks who get tickets for Christmas were anticipating the "memorable experience" of A.J. McCarron at starting quarterback. If it comes, the call for Watson to sit, most certainly, won't come from the business side of the Texans' building.
2. A head coach prospect might see management mandating Deshaun be benched as a NEGATIVE
One of the reasons people say “bench Deshaun” is so he doesn’t get hurt and make the head coaching vacancy less attractive, but would the organization mandating, from on high, a benching of Deshaun Watson actually reflect POORLY on the vacancy? A potential head coach might look at Cal McNair telling Romeo Crennel to sit Deshaun Watson and ask himself "So what is he going to ask ME to do when I am trying to win games down the stretch of a potential non-playoff season? Or what, in general, are the boundaries of what this owner will demand of me?" Benching Watson may reflect poorly on the job opening.
1. The all NFL needs teams to treat late season games as meaningful
It’s kind of part of the code of the NFL for teams to put their best foot forward in late season games, even when you’re out of it. That means, if players can play, regardless of what caliber of player they are, they play. There are several teams battling the Colts, the Texans' opponent this week, for a playoff spot in the AFC right now. Is it fair to the Browns, Dolphins, Ravens, and other that the Texans roll over and just sit healthy players? I liken it, in fantasy football, to the fantasy owner whose team starts out 1-9 and then they just stop managing their roster and starting lineup every week. Is it fair to the contending owners that teams who play the checked-out owner get an automatic win because that scrub owner doesn't care about fielding a team anymore? Of course not. It's sports. You try to win.