Sean Pendergast

Tale of the Tape, Disgruntled Player Category: Deshaun Watson vs. James Harden

It's been a lonely training camp for Deshaun Watson so far in 2021.
It's been a lonely training camp for Deshaun Watson so far in 2021. Photo by Sean Pendergast
Since Tuesday morning, the 2021 Houston Texans have been in somewhat of an uncharted territory. For the first time since he was rehabbing a torn ACL that ended Deshaun Watson's rookie season in 2017, the team has been conducting practice without its franchise quarterback. On paper, the Texans are being quiet about why Watson hasn't been at practice since Tuesday — he was out again Wednesday — but the wink-wink reason among media types seems to be centering around a minor foot issue.

Whatever the case, there is a good chance that this is the last we've seen of Deshaun Watson as a uniform-wearing Houston Texan. He would like to get traded to another team as soon as possible, and the Texans would love nothing more than to accommodate him. There is the not-so-small issue of 22 civil lawsuits (not to mention possible punishment from the NFL and HPD) that need to be resolved.

When Watson showed up for training camp last week, it was a surreal feeling, and the conjecture began almost immediately as to the whether or not Watson could do what James Harden did to the Rockets last fall — be so truculent and miserable that the team has no choice but to take whatever offers they can get for a star player.

Most of the media was skeptical as to whether Watson had that "Harden club" in his figurative golf bag. Say what you will about the sloppy (possibly illegal) nature in which Watson has handled his private life, but he has always been regarded as a good teammate and someone who takes his craft very seriously. Now, with the two sides all but divorced, let's see what parts Harden's "get traded" playbook Watson was able to execute.

Watson would come to practice and leave practice by himself
A very gregarious individual throughout his first four seasons with the Texans, Watson would not only make his way to the practice field from across the street by himself last week, but he would often be dressed in a  hoodie with the hood up and a COVID mask on. It was very much a "lone wolf" type of vibe.

Watson would leave as soon as practice ends, like REALLY fast
After each practice, standard procedure has been for the quarterback group to head to one of the side fields and continue to get in extra work throwing the football. This training camp, the other quarterbacks (Tyrod Taylor, Davis Mills, Jeff Driskel) would take part in that effort, while Watson would hightail it back to the locker room immediately.

Watson would spend most of practice way away from the team, by himself
The only part of the practice in which Watson was an active participant was individual drills and light throwing. When it came time for competitive drills — 1 on 1, 7 on 7, 11 on 11 — Watson would take a knee and watch by himself, oftentimes VERY detached physically from the team, like 20 to 25 yards away from the nearest Houston Texan. Again, a "lone wolf" thing.

Watson's body language was AWFUL
As you can probably imagine, based on the descriptions of Watson's conduct above, his body language throughout all of this sucked. Also, when it came time for the next drill, whereas Watson used to be the the one sprinting to the next station, he would barely jog, sometimes walk, and always be the last one to arrive at the next drill.

So, all of these things are probably more just annoyances than outright acts of defiance. For what it's worth, the Texans' coaches and players don't seem distracted one bit by Watson's sullen and downtrodden demeanor. They've all got jobs to do, jobs to win.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with "10" being "a full on James Harden revolt," Watson is probably barely at a 2 or 3 right now on the rebellion scale. Indeed, if Watson were to channel James Harden in full, he would probably need to do the following:

Show up at practice again, and find a way to add 25 pounds of fat around his waist
Harden showed up at Rockets camp looking like he was wearing a fat suit underneath his warmups. I don't know that Watson has the body type to pull this off, but he does own multiple cheesesteak outlets here in town, so food supply shouldn't be a problem.

Trash his teammates as being "not good"
At one point, early in the 2020-2021 season, after several very uninspiring individual and team performances, Harden just flat out said that the team wasn't good, and had no chance at competing for a title. While it ultimately may have been accurate assessment, it violated every chapter of the "being a good teammate" handbook. For Deshaun, he would actually have to SPEAK publicly to accomplish this, and my guess is that his lawyers have him muzzled right now.

Fly to Atlanta and party with rappers
Remember when James Harden left training camp, flew to Atlanta, and partied with Lil Baby? I do, and it violated several NBA COVID-19 rules, at the time. Atlanta would be a logical place for Watson to head if he were wanting to go off the reservation — he is from nearby Gainesville, GA — but all he would be doing would be racking up fines and engaging in the dreaded "conduct detrimental to the team," which would all of a sudden give the Texans a great degree of control in this tug o' war.

CONCLUSION: Watson's ability to channel James Harden and force a trade are severely hindered, and my guess is that he is still a Houston Texan, come Week 1.

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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