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Deshaun Watson looked at a Week 17 matchup against Tennessee knowing his four-win Houston Texans, on a month-long losing streak, had nothing to play for but draft position that really didn’t matter since they’d already traded away their first- and second-round selections.
He had all the normal bangs and bruises from a disaster of a season that was doomed by front office and organizational missteps.
He could have sat out. He probably should have sat out.
Instead he dropped back to pass 39 times, rushed three times, took four sacks and battled to tie the game with just 18 seconds remaining. He fought like the Super Bowl was on the line, only to see Tennessee win at the buzzer.
The loss didn’t matter. The effort did. If the Texans hadn’t already known that Watson is more than just one of the most gifted players in the NFL, then that game earlier this month should have convinced them he isn’t just a franchise quarterback, he’s damn near the franchise.
Heart. Culture. Competitiveness. Professionalism. Leadership.
All in a 25-year-old who can run and throw like that?
And now the Texans may have lost him.
Houston has reportedly infuriated and frustrated Watson beyond the point of no return by failing to make him feel respected, included and appreciated during the team's search for a new general manager and, so far, head coach. That may trigger Watson to force a trade that could decimate the Texans in the near term.
Watson had every reason to be skeptical of Houston's future before a general manager search went, by Watson’s perspective, astray. While the franchise has been fairly successful of late, it cratered this season.
It went from leading Kansas City in the playoffs last January to a 4-12 season, in part because team chairman, Cal McNair, consolidated both the general manager and coaching job for Bill O’Brien, who is far better at the latter than the former. O’Brien was fired, but not before he traded away star receiver DeAndre Hopkins and the team’s best draft picks this year.
The Texans say Watson was included in the process to hire a new GM, but according to ESPN, “the Texans neither considered nor consulted with [the candidates] endorsed by their franchise quarterback.” A search firm's recommendations were also brushed aside.
Instead, the team hired Nick Caserio of the New England Patriots. This flared up long-held concerns about the continued employment of executive vice president of football operations Jack Easterby, the team’s former chaplain and a one-time “character coach” in New England.
The Watson camp apparently saw the hiring as an inside job, the old boy network in effect when Easterby isn’t even a so-called “football guy.”
Now Watson reportedly just wants out, with leaks through the media making it clear that he’s looking for a fresh start for his fifth NFL season with a franchise he feels can be more of a partner and less of an employer. Reports have Watson not even returning the Texans’ calls anymore.
How much teams should include star players in their operations is an old debate. But as players continue to exert more influence, this one seems fairly obvious.
You don’t easily find guys such as Watson, the player or the person.
His presence in Houston is what makes the Texans’ job attractive to front office and coaching candidates, not to mention free agents, fans, sponsors and so on.
You don’t dismiss someone like that. You certainly don’t choose Jack Easterby over him. This isn’t a player trying to win a power struggle with a proven force such as Bill Belichick or Andy Reid.
A month ago there was no front office for Watson to even fight with. Yet here we are.
And if you are going to ignore his wishes and fail to properly communicate (a standard that is the eye of the communicated, not the communicator), you better check his contract.
Houston gave Watson enormous power when it signed him to a four-year extension earlier this season.
He has the right to not report, which would force Houston to find someone to take him. Yet he also has a no-trade clause, which allows Watson to effectively pick which team he wants to go to, limiting the Texans’ bargaining power.
Why would you fight with the best thing your franchise has going when that same person has an advantageous bargaining position … a position you provided him … in September?
Houston gave Watson an NBA-style contract because it couldn’t imagine a guy who has exhibited nothing but loyalty and commitment using it. Well, now he may use it … like an NBA player.
Watson can, and will, fetch an enormous return – nearly every team in the NFL should try to get a proven winner just entering his prime. Still, in the history of these deals, trading a star, especially at quarterback, rarely gets a full return.
If anyone should know what a QB is worth it should be the Texans, who saw promising playoff teams with great defenses end in part because they had Brian Hoyer, Brock Osweiler, Matt Schaub and T.J. Yates throwing January passes. And they play in a conference with Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield and, soon, Trevor Lawrence.
Yet here we are, on the brink, if not past it, of one of the most colossal organizational mistakes in recent NFL memory.
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