Given the flurry of reports regarding the current unhappiness of Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, it makes sense to take a look at the player’s option.
It also makes sense to look at his options because, frankly, there’s fire beneath the thickening smoke. Although the Texans are trying to downplay the severity of the situation, things currently aren’t good. And although Watson hasn’t asked for a trade yet, it should surprise no one if he does.
So if Watson officially asks to be traded and the Texans, who surely will be hearing from potentially interested teams that have heard enough to make a phone call, decline to move him, what can Watson do?
He can launch a P.R. campaign aimed at getting them to change their minds. If Watson, who surely would be more measured and less inflammatory than Antonio Brown two years ago, makes his desires known in a calm and rational way, he may find plenty of public support. Even Texans fans may hear him out and not be particularly upset, given the overall dysfunction currently engulfing the organization — and in light of the team’s apparent bait-and-switch willingness to let Watson have a voice in this offseason’s major hires.
The Texans can continue to refuse, but if it becomes more and more clear that Watson wants out, the Texans inevitably will get more and more offers for the balance of his contract. The Texans can shout no and no and no and no and all it takes is for Houston to whisper yes once.
If nothing happens before the start of the offseason program, Watson can disengage. While some will say that, when it comes down to it, Watson will do whatever he needs to do in order to be great when the season begins, Watson seems like a guy who doesn’t play games or make idle threats. If he’s done with the Texans and determined to get out, it should surprise no one if he stays away from the offseason program.
And good luck getting ready for the 2021 season with a new coach and no starting quarterback present.
Watson also could boycott training camp. Yes, it would cost him $50,000 per day under the 2020 CBA. Yes, the 2020 CBA also prevents the team from waiving those fines if/when he shows up. But if Watson is sufficiently willing to pay the money in order to get out of Houston, that’s his prerogative.
He also would owe the Texans a portion of his signing bonus, if he refuses to practice of play. He has $21.6 million in unearned bonus money, which applies to each of the next four years at $5.4 million per year. Also, his future guarantees could be voided, if he refuses to show up for camp.
In lieu of holding out, Watson could hold in. He could, for example, be injured, or “injured.” He likewise could do the bare minimum, refusing to show up early or stay late or study film or lead his teammates or do anything other than say, “I just work here.”
When considering what Watson will do, it’s relevant to consider what cornerback Jalen Ramsey did once he decided he wanted out of Jacksonville, because both players are represented by David Mulugheta. In Ramsey’s case, however, the desire to get traded arose during the season. The rules made it virtually impossible for Ramsey to leave the team and wait to be traded.
For Watson, withholding services could be the best option, as long as he never shows up. With Watson already ignoring calls from the team’s owner (and the team’s owner trying to shrug if off), there’s a chance Watson wants out, that he’ll dig in, and that he’ll make it clear to the Texans that, whether they trade him or not, he’s not playing for them this year — or perhaps ever again.
Alternatively, the Texans could do everything they can to undo the damage they’ve done to the relationship. This is on them, and this is one of the natural byproducts of giving the keys to an executive V.P. of football operations/interim G.M. who has no business holding either job.
In assessing what the Texans can or will do to placate Watson, it’s important to remember at all times that the Texans are the team whose founder coined the phrase, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.”