Deshaun Watson will watch today's Texans season opener against the Jaguars already ruled out for non-football reasons. Barring a dramatic turn, this is the way it will be all season, according to sources close to the situation in Houston.
A franchise quarterback in his prime -- a healthy scratch.
However, this could all change around the time of the trade deadline on Nov. 2. Some of the teams who had some interest in Watson -- the Dolphins, Eagles, Panthers, Broncos and others -- could renew their interest depending on how the season goes, based on conversations with sources informed of the situation.
Watson currently faces 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault and misconduct during massage sessions, as well as 10 criminal complaints. With Watson previously having demanded a trade, vowing never to play for the Texans, and the team holding firm on a trade offer they deem strong enough, this will be reality for Houston. Watson inactive and not playing, awaiting an eventual trade.
If Carolina's Sam Darnold experiment doesn't work out, could they make an early season push? Could others? Watson has a no-trade clause, and clearly has affection for Miami. Could a slow start trigger the Dolphins -- who drafted Tua Tagovailoa in the first round in 2020 -- into action?
Watson is dug in on his request to be traded and not play for Houston. The Texans are dug in on waiting for a strong enough offer, per a source informed of the team's thinking.
Houston received significant offers for Watson over the course of the offseason, including those with multiple first-round picks, according to sources involved in the various discussions. General manager Nick Caserio did not deem it enough to deal a franchise QB in his prime.
And waiting actually makes sense if Caserio doesn't get an offer he wants. If the Texans trade Watson now, that team becomes much better and their draft picks could be worth less than they were before the trade. If Houston waits until the offseason, they will have certainty on what picks they are actually acquiring and -- if Watson will waive his no-trade clause -- will trade him for the most valuable first-rounder they can.
Watson has not been placed on the Commissioner's Exempt List and barring new evidence emerging or new charges being filed, he won't be, league sources say. The league has not yet interviewed Watson for its own investigation into sexual misconduct, and a source with knowledge of the league's investigation said it likely won't until the criminal investigation is wrapped up. It won't interfere with the local police. Essentially, the league's investigation is in a holding pattern.
So when will Watson's legal situation come into focus?
There are 22 active civil lawsuits, and depositions can begin this month. Feb. 22 is the earliest Watson's deposition could begin, and there is a pre-trial status conference in May. That means barring a settlement, this won't be resolved by the 2022 NFL Draft.
As for the criminal situation, involving 10 cases, authorities are likely weeks away from a resolution.
Tom Pelissero contributed to this report.
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