It would seem, despite both lead attorneys in the 22 civil lawsuits against Deshaun Watson saying otherwise, that the odds-on favorite for the outcome of this saga would be Watson's settling with the slew of female accusers. It would put a swift end to the litigation, and seemingly open the door for the Texans to move Watson to another team, possibly before the 2021 season.
However, both Tony Buzbee and Rusty Hardin have been steadfast, publicly at least, that their side is telling the truth and they are willing to go to trial. Stories of mediation discussions several weeks ago have surfaced in recent days, but that never materialized. Instead, at the very least, the wheels of going to trial continue to churn, and as it turns out, the two sides have agreed on a timeline of key dates in a "Docket Control Order," filed in the 113th Judicial District Court of Harris County on May 7, 2021.
Here is a copy of the filing, followed by highlights and thoughts on what this all means:
Here are the big takeaways from this document:
Deshaun Watson will not be deposed until February 22, 2022, at the earliest
As of Monday morning, Deshaun Watson's stance on remaining a Houston Texan had not changed — he wants to be traded, and does not plan to attend offseason activities, per Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network:
#Texans star QB Deshaun Watson won’t attend OTAs and still wants to be traded, per sources.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) May 24, 2021
Watson has denied wrongdoing related to recent lawsuits, which have slowed the process of sorting out his future. But his position hasn’t changed: Watson wants out of Houston.
So what does it mean that the two sides agreed to a deposition date for Watson that comes AFTER the 2021 season is over, and the Super Bowl has been played? Well, with neither side addressing this document publicly, we are left to speculate. It could mean that Watson is confident that the NFL will allow him to play the 2021 season with these lawsuits and potential litigation hanging over his head. If Watson is going to move forward and fight these allegations, this timeline represents true risk that he could miss 2021, with Roger Goodell not necessarily suspending him but putting him on the Commissioner's Exempt list until the litigation plays out. Then, if a suspension comes after that, in 2022, we are talking about Watson missing all or parts of TWO seasons. This feels unlikely, but we don't know how adamant Watson truly is that he didn't do the things he is being accused of. Does he feel strongly enough to possibly miss more than a year of football? That's the question.
The plaintiffs can begin getting deposed on September 13, 2021
The schedule for the 22 plaintiffs getting questioned by Hardin and his staff is far more imminent than Watson's deposition, but still not happening anytime soon. The plaintiffs would begin getting deposed on September 13, which is the Monday after the NFL regular season begins. At that point, who knows where Watson is? If some team is willing to take on the risk of trading for him, then the drama surrounding these depositions becomes their problem, not the Texans' problem, although admittedly, the Texans are operating like a team that's already washed their hands of Watson in terms of truly supporting him in any way.
If this does go to trial, a setting for the trial date is still nearly a YEAR away
The other key date, besides February 22 of next year, is May 2, 2022. That's the final milestone on this document, and it includes a status hearing where it would appear a trial date would be set. So we are talking about nearly a full calendar year elapsing before we even see this whole thing wind up in court. With the backlog in the court system, who knows when that trial start date would be? It's really difficult to imagine Deshaun Watson actively playing NFL football while a trial of this magnitude lurks in the background, which is why it is important to remember that....
A settlement could still occur at any time, and then this timeline is moot
I still see a settlement (or more accurately, 22 settlements) as the most viable outcome in all of this, if Watson truly wants to get traded and move on with his football career. A trial has the potential of exposing a whole bunch more ugly allegations or embarrassing details, and certainly the legal bills for Watson, which already have to be piling up significantly, in a trial scenario, would choke a horse.
If we take this latest document filed at face value, and presume that Watson is willing to go to legal war and fight for his reputation — remember, Rusty Hardin has said in a previous that all 22 of these plaintiffs are "lying," his exact words — then he has to be comfortable with the fact that he might be asked by the league to sit and watch the 2021 season from the sidelines while the wheels of justice slowly grind. Also, keep in mind, none of what we've outlined here even mentions the police investigations that are ongoing, as ten of the plaintiffs have gone to the police with complaints.
I feel like I've said this in closing out every article we've had here about Watson, and I'll say it again —- this feels like it's a long way from being over. Meanwhile, the Texans actually began OTA's yesterday. Indeed, the sport of football, however that's going to look for the Texans in 2021, rolls along.
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