Although Watson is on the team’s roster, he’s facing 22 civil lawsuits with allegations of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior. Watson asked for a trade in January, before the lawsuits were filed, because he wasn’t happy with the direction of the team was going. It remains to be seen whether another team will trade for Watson amid the ongoing lawsuits.
Here’s a look at the Texans’ quarterback situation and where things stand in Houston:
Why did Watson report to training camp?
It’s pretty simple: He didn’t want to get fined $50,000 for each day he didn’t report. The new CBA, which went into effect in 2020, says fines for holdouts can no longer be forgiven.
The Texans chose to cancel their mandatory minicamp in June. Watson would have been fined $95,877 had the Texans held minicamp and he did not show up.
Two sources who were at the facility on Sunday when Watson reported said it was clear the quarterback’s stance on being traded had not changed and that he reported so he would not be fined.
General manager Nick Caserio and coach David Culley were clear in January they had no intention of trading Watson. But as the lawsuits were filed in March and April and Watson’s legal situation played out, it became increasingly clear the quarterback would eventually be traded.
It remains to be seen if that’s this week, before the Nov. 2 trade deadline or after the season once slots for draft picks have been set. Still, don’t expect Caserio to trade Watson just to get him off the roster if the return value isn’t there. The Texans’ price for trading Watson has been a combination of five high draft picks and starting-caliber players, two league executives told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen.
Where do the lawsuits stand now?
After a lot of public sparring between lawyers Rusty Hardin (Watson’s attorney) and Tony Buzbee (the attorney for the 22 plaintiffs), it has been quiet as the sides go through the discovery phase.
According to the docket for the case, if these lawsuits continue to trial, depositions are set to begin in September. The plaintiffs would be deposed before Watson, who can’t be deposed before Feb. 22, 2022, per the court schedule.
Without a settlement, the lawsuits would not be resolved until after the 2021 NFL season.
What about any criminal charges?
Ten women have filed complaints with Houston police about Watson, Hardin told ESPN’s John Barr on Monday. According to Hardin, eight of the women are among the 22 women who have filed civil lawsuits against Watson; two of the women have not filed civil lawsuits against the Texans quarterback.
Houston police would not comment on either the investigation or the number of women who have filed complaints.
What’s next for Watson?
On Wednesday, the team will take the field for the first time during training camp. Watson is not expected to be out there, according to two league sources. Before practice starts for the Texans, here are a few options for the team and Watson:
The Texans trade Watson: The Texans already have had preliminary discussions with other teams but don’t believe they have received a serious offer, according to sources.
Although the talks have not reached a significant stage as of Monday morning, the Texans are willing to trade Watson before the start of the season if they find the right match, according to sources.
Commissioner Roger Goodell puts Watson on the exempt list: If Goodell puts Watson on the exempt list, it would prevent Watson from playing but allow him to be paid. The CBA says Goodell could put Watson on the list under three circumstances:
“First, when a player is formally charged with: (1) a felony offense; or (2) a crime of violence, meaning that he is accused of having used physical force or a weapon to injure or threaten a person or animal, of having engaged in a sexual assault by force or against a person who was incapable of giving consent, or having engaged in other conduct that poses a genuine danger to the safety or well-being of another person. The formal charges may be in the form of an indictment by a grand jury, the filing of charges by a prosecutor, or an arraignment in a criminal court.”
Watson has not been charged with anything that would fall under those circumstances. It does also include, “an investigation leads the commissioner to believe that a player may have violated this policy by committing any of the conduct identified above, he may act where the circumstances and evidence warrant doing so.”
“… Third, in cases in which a violation relating to a crime of violence is alleged but further investigation is required, the commissioner may place a player on the commissioner exempt list on a limited and temporary basis to permit the league to conduct a preliminary investigation.”
The Texans excuse him from practice or have him practice inside: Houston could decide they don’t want the distraction of having Watson at the facility and either keep him inside (away from the media and fans) or excuse him from being there all together.
Watson is suspended: This seems unlikely given where the lawsuits stand and the short time before practice starts on Wednesday.
Watson stops showing up: Again, also unlikely, after Watson already reported Sunday because he didn’t want to get fined.
If the Texans trade Watson or he’s not available, what’s Houston’s plan at quarterback?
Taylor is expected to start the season for Houston, barring a Watson trade that brings a quarterback to Houston. The biggest question is how long will he start for the Texans? In 2022, Houston is going to have to make a decision about its quarterback of the future, and to do that, it needs to see what it has in Mills. If Houston struggles at all early in the season, expect to see Mills getting playing time.
Where could the Texans trade Watson?
The Eagles are an interesting potential trade partner because they have multiple first- and second-round picks in 2022.
According to reporting by ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, Denver is a team that intrigues Watson as a possible destination, but while the Broncos have been noncommittal on anything other than preparing Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater for the season, they are monitoring the quarterback landscape. Watson is eager to join the Broncos, former teammate (and current Bronco) Kareem Jackson said in June.
From Carolina’s perspective, Watson, who starred at nearby Clemson, could be a surer thing than recently acquired Sam Darnold, though the Panthers already picked up Darnold’s 2022 option for a guaranteed $18.8 million.
Meanwhile, Miami could be Watson’s preferred destination, sources told ESPN in January. The Dolphins also have three first-round picks in the next two drafts. Watson does have a no-trade clause in his contract, so he could choose to veto a trade the Texans are willing to make.