Sean Pendergast

With Criminal Charges Avoided, What's Next For Deshaun Watson?

With criminal charges now out the window, how quickly does the trade market ramp up for Deshaun Watson?
With criminal charges now out the window, how quickly does the trade market ramp up for Deshaun Watson? Photo by Eric Sauseda
I said last week, when it was announced that a Harris County grand jury would be hearing evidence from the district attorney on the slew of criminal complaints against Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, that Friday could be the most pivotal day in the nearly year long legal saga in which Watson has been embroiled.

With the grand jury choosing not to pursue criminal charges, Friday lived up to the hype. The threat of Watson going to jail was always a much bigger impediment to a trade than the civil lawsuits, despite the national media barely reporting on the criminal side of things. (It's been a weird year for national media coverage of this whole thing. I'll just leave it at that.) The expectation is that a trade of Watson prior to the draft in April, or maybe even coinciding with the start of the league year this week, is very real.

So let's do a little reset, and do some "Deshaun Trade 101" educating. I feel like I've done some version of this post on a monthly basis for over a year, but as I mention above, it's much more relevant and real after Friday's news. Here we go:

Why is there all of a sudden this buzz about Watson actually being moved?
I mentioned it above, but I'll reiterate in more detailed form here. Watson has been facing a legal onslaught from three different fronts — the 22 civil lawsuits (I'll lump them together as one "front"), the 10 criminal complaints (again, lumped together as one "front"), and the NFL and whatever suspension they may hand down. The civil lawsuits have gotten, by far, the most coverage, for two reasons — first, they were the trigger mechanism in all of this, and second, the steward of the lawsuits is Tony Buzbee, who would swap out red blood for publicity if he could put into his veins.

The fact of the matter is that the criminal side was always the bigger obstacle to a trade, because it's the one thing that impacts Watson's availability. If you go to jail, you can't play football. You CAN play football while settling or working on civil lawsuits (even 22 of them, I suppose), as long as the NFL lets you. The NFL, though, takes its cues on suspensions from the criminal justice system, not civil suits. If Watson were indicted on Friday, there would have been some response from the NFL.

Now, with no indictment, the NFL could still suspend Watson. After all, the league HAS been doing its own investigation. However, it is much more likely to be a cosmetic "slap on the wrist" of just a few games, and it wouldn't shock me if the punishment were somehow centered around COVID violations Watson committed in the year he was getting these massages, most of which coincided with the height of the pandemic. Bottom line, if teams know Watson's availability, even if it comes with a small suspension, one of them will pull the trigger on a trade.

Which teams are in the mix for a trade?
Lots of them. One thing that hasn't changed, as far as we know, is that Watson is good at football. One of the best at his position, the most important position in team sports. The market of teams wanting Watson should be robust. Now, with Watson's "no trade" clause in his contract, it's a more nuanced market than normal "supply and demand," and we'll get to that in a second, but for what it's worth, here are the latest odds on where Watson lands:
I would add Cleveland, Philadelphia, and the New York Giants as possibilities to enter this fray, as well. Cleveland has reportedly been doing lots of due diligence on Watson, Philly wanted in on the Watson talks last season, and the Giants own the fifth and seventh picks in the draft. Their owner has said they aren't trading for Watson, but he can change his mind.

Wow, that's a lot of teams! Do the Texans play any of those teams next season?
Here is the list of Texans home and away opponents (WATSON suitors in BOLD):

HOME: Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Washington, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Los Angeles Chargers, Cleveland

AWAY: Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Dallas, New York Giants, Las Vegas, Denver, Miami, Chicago

Actually, it's a fairly tame schedule in terms of "likelihood of facing Watson in 2022."

The one looming concern not enough people acknowledge....
When Deshaun Watson signed his gargantuan contract extension back in September 2020, it was a day of celebration, where both sides, Watson and the franchise, were seemingly thrilled to be attached at the hip through 2025.  So the fact that Texans EVP Jack Easterby, who negotiated the deal, gave Watson a "no trade" clause, allowing Watson to veto any trade involving him, flew under the radar. After all, at that time, why would the Texans ever want to trade Watson?

However, now, here we are, and that very clause, the spirit of which is to prevent a team from trading a player somewhere he doesn't want to go, is now available for Watson to use as a weapon in his DEMAND to be traded. So when you see hypotheticals involving, say, Philadelphia sending their THREE first round picks next month to the Texans in a trade, know that Watson can simply scuttle that deal with a text or a phone call. "Nope, don't want Philly. Try again, Nick."

Now, my guess is that the efforts to move Watson will be a little more collaborative than that. I would hope so, at least. The worst case scenario is that Watson narrows his list down so exclusively that it prevents the Texans from extracting maximum value for him. The Texans' only weapon in that instance would be saying "Fine, we are not trading you," and they pay him to sit again, but that would be miserable for everyone. Nobody wins in that scenario. The best case scenario is that Caserio, before negotiating with any team seriously, goes to Watson and his agent, David Mulugheta, and says "give me a list of teams that you're okay going to," and from there, Caserio creates a market that gets the Texans a great package of assets to speed up their rebuild, and Watson moves onto his next chapter.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast