Sean Pendergast

Four Suddenly Relevant Deshaun Watson Questions for the Houston Texans

With Tyrod Taylor injured, the Deshaun Watson questions jump to the forefront again.
Photo by Eric Sauseda
With Tyrod Taylor injured, the Deshaun Watson questions jump to the forefront again.
Through about five and a half quarters of football in this 2021 season, things were going about as well as the Houston Texans could have expected them to go. The first four quarters of football were spent dominating the Jacksonville Jaguars, and with 7:05 to go in the second quarter on Sunday, quarterback Tyrod Taylor scooted into the end zone to give the Texans a 14-7 lead over the heavily favored Cleveland Browns.

Life was good, the Texans were thriving, and the furthest person from anyone's mind was Deshaun Watson, listed as the third string quarterback on the depth chart, but away from the team while his legal situation plays out. On top of that, once the legal situation (and the 22 civil lawsuits it involves) does work itself out, the Texans' plans are to trade Watson.

The one great distraction from the overriding drama surrounding Watson would be winning football, and leading 14-7 over the Browns, the Texans were playing winning football. The only problem was that, on that touchdown run, Taylor tweaked his hamstring, and minutes later further aggravated it, and now he is on the shelf with this injury and rookie Davis Mills is the likely starter for Thursday night's game against the Carolina Panthers.

And just like that, the questions on Deshaun Watson immediately bubble to the surface of the consciousness of Texans fans. David Culley said Monday that Watson will be deactivated again on Thursday this week, but it's logical to ask questions about Watson's desire and availability to eventually play for the Texans, what with his (a) being good at football and (b) occupying a roster spot.

So let's get to the four most suddenly relevant questions about Deshaun Watson's present and future with the Texans:

1. Is Deshaun impressed enough with the Texans through two weeks to change his mind about playing for them?
One of many complicated things about Watson's situation with the Texans is that he can simultaneously be far more impressed with the on field product than he thought he would be, and yet still be extremely dissatisfied with the franchise. By all accounts, Watson's issues have not been with his surrounding cast, even though it was unequivocally one of the worst in the league in 2020. Watson's issues are with upper management, and by "upper management," I mean ownership and possibly Jack Easterby. Look, if Watson isn't at least somewhat impressed with what the Texans have cobbled together these first two weeks of the season, given the disaster Nick Caserio and David Culley inherited from Bill O'Brien, then he's just not a very sharp evaluator. Chances are, though, the Texans have not done enough to sway Watson one bit. Which brings us to the Texans' side of this equation....

2. He is on the roster, so why don’t the Texans ask Deshaun Watson to play this Thursday?
OK, this is where it starts to get interesting. First, we must acknowledge two legitimate reasons they WOULD NOT ask him to play (knowing full well that the team will never confirm either of these publicly). First, they appear to want to trade Watson, at some point, so playing him in an NFL game would expose him to injury, and an injury would damage the Texans' most coveted asset for other NFL teams. Second, there IS a chance that the Texans just don't want anything to do with Watson anymore as the face of their franchise under ANY circumstance, given the salacious nature of the allegations against him and the somewhat creepy way he's admitted to handling the massage part of his personal care.

Now, if the Texans were to ask Watson to play, then it gets really interesting, because in all likelihood, he does not want to play for them. So if Watson said "No thanks," the Texans would have a case to suspend him for conduct detrimental to the team. If he were to say "YES," well that brings up a whole other question...

3. Would the NFL step in if the team announced Watson was starting on Thursday night?
There is a conspiracy theory out there that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has not placed Watson on the Commissioner's Exempt List (sort of a paid leave purgatory for NFL players being investigated for wrongdoing) because he doesn't have to. The Texans have essentially given Watson a paid leave in the way they're handling him. The problem for the Texans is that Watson is occupying a roster spot, and if he were on the CEL, the Texans would get a roster exemption for Watson. So the question becomes, if the Texans announced this week (or any week, while the NFL is still investigating) that Watson was playing, there's a belief that would force Goodell's hand in placing Watson on the CEL. One thing is for sure — the chess game in all of this would be fascinating, if indeed the Texans decided to ask Watson to play.

4 Hey, the Dolphins sucked this weekend, and Tua Tagovailoa got hurt again… so is Nick Caserio’s phone ringing?
Oh, and then there's the possibility of a Deshaun Watson trade still lingering out there. I doubt a trade gets done as long as, at the very least, the police and NFL investigations remain open. The 22 civil lawsuits are an obstacle, as well, but not to the point where they'd keep Watson off the field, if the police and NFL have cleared Watson (or in the NFL's case, at least announced what his suspension will be). However, some teams may get desperate, and the Dolphins have long been the team most closely tied to Watson trade talks. It's worth noting that the Dolphins lost oft-injured starting QB Tua Tagovailoa to a rib injury this past Sunday, AND they lost 35-0 to Buffalo. It's not a reach to think that Nick Caserio's phone is ringing this week, but the offer needs to be market value for Watson, or talks will go nowhere.

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