For most of the NFL, tonight is Draft Weekend, Day 1, in which the first round will kick off at 7 p.m. local time, and finish up somewhere around midnight or so. For a handful of teams, the draft begins Friday night in Round 2. For one team, though, the draft begins later into the evening on Friday, in Round 3. That one straggler of a team is none other than your Houston Texans.
Thanks to the Laremy Tunsil trade back in 2019, the Texans are without a first and second round pick in this draft, the second time in four years that has happened. In the 2018 draft, the Texans had traded away their second round pick to dump Brock Osweiler on Cleveland, and traded their first round pick, also to Cleveland, to move up and take Deshaun Watson.
A lot has happened since then, and Watson is, appropriately, right at the epicenter of most of it. None of the Watson-related action is good right now for the Texans. The four-year quarterback is facing 22 civil lawsuits alleging various degrees of sexual misconduct with massage therapists. The mystery and unknown surrounding Watson's future has made it, presumably, impossible to trade him and begin the Texans' rebuild tonight with some high draft capital.
According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, that's exactly what would be happening had Watson not found himself in this massive legal skirmish:
This is the week the Texans planned to trade quarterback Deshaun Watson for a draft haul that would have accelerated their rebuilding process.
With eight teams showing interest in Watson, the Texans were expected to grant his trade demand sometime before Thursday night’s first round of the three-day draft.
Unless a team is willing to trade for Watson without knowing the outcome of the 22 civil suits accusing him of sexual harassment and assault — as well as an NFL investigation that could result in a suspension — he will still be a Texan after the draft.
If that’s the case, Watson’s trade value will diminish substantially because five teams that were interested are expected to use first-round picks on quarterbacks.
Before Watson was besieged with legal problems, the Jets, Dolphins, Panthers, Broncos, 49ers, Patriots, Bears and Washington had shown interest.
OK, the key parts we need to explore in advance of tonight's draft — "unless a team is willing to trade for Watson without knowing the outcome of the 22 civil suits" and the list of eight teams with interest in Watson before the lawsuits began flooding his figurative inbox. All has been silent on the Watson legal front for nearly a week, which Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk points out, might be an indicator that a settlement, and subsequent trade, could be coming:
If a settlement-then-trade scenario is happening, the sooner it unfolds, the better it will be for all involved. The fact that the two lawyers at the center of the controversy, Tony Buzbee and Rusty Hardin, have fallen silent during draft week makes it hard not to wonder whether we’ll soon be hearing about the cases being resolved, followed by news of Watson being traded to a new team.
So let's take one last swing at this before the draft tonight — what are the chances that any of the eight teams McClain listed above makes a last second run at trying to acquire Watson, likely at some degree of discount over what they would have had to forfeit to the Texans before the lawsuits began flying. Here we go...
100 percent OUT on trading for Watson: NEW YORK JETS, SAN FRANCISCO 49ers
The New York Jets would have been the perfect trade partner for the Texans — a big city suitor to whom Watson would have likely approved a deal, and a team that happened to have four first round picks in the next two drafts. Alas, the Jets seem focused on using the second overall pick on BYU's Zach Wilson as their next signal caller. The Niners, on the other hand, are equally focused in on a rookie quarterback with the third pick (which is actually, originally, the Texans' first round pick, dealt away in the Tunsil trade), but they haven't tipped their hand as to whom that is. Also, they had to actually trade away two future first round picks to move up to the third overall pick, so they have no capital left to do a reasonable Watson deal.
ALMOST 100 percent OUT on trading for Watson: MIAMI DOLPHINS, CAROLINA PANTHERS
The Dolphins were also a prime trade partner for the Texans, with multiple first round picks and second year QB Tua Tagovailoa as the bait. They could still do that deal, and actually have extra first round picks now from moving back in the first round in the trade with the Niners, but they appear set to move forward with Tua. Similarly, the Panthers were all about trading for Watson before the lawsuits happened, and they've moved on by trading three picks for Sam Darnold. They could still do a Watson deal, one that might involve Darnold becoming a Texan, but that seems highly unlikely.
Hail Mary for Watson POSSIBLE: DENVER BRONCOS, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS, CHICAGO BEARS, WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM
So we are left with four teams that could try to take on some of the unknowns surrounding Watson's future. (Will he be suspended by the league? Will there be criminal charges? Is he going to trial on the civil suits?) Also, they'd be taking on a potential P.R. nightmare if things break the wrong way legally for Watson. That said, in the NFL, if you don't have a franchise quarterback, you become desperate, and desperate times call for desperate measures.
Denver traded a sixth round pick for Teddy Bridgewater on Thursday, but that shouldn't be enough to prevent a last ditch phone call to Caserio about Watson. New England is probably talking to Caserio on a daily basis, if for no other reason than the two sides are super familiar with each other from Caserio's two decades at New England. Washington and Chicago are two teams with rabid fan bases who are starved for great QB play. They pick 19th and 20th overall, respectively, so the trade packages would not be ideal, but Caserio may be ready to take a less than ideal package just to move on from Watson and all the drama.
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