The Houston Texans organization has decided it can live with paying Deshaun Watson to sit out this season amid his trade request and 22 sexual assault civil lawsuits against him. That's been the calculus (or rather, arithmetic) general manager Nick Caserio has been considering for months now.
If the Miami Dolphins never matched his price, he wasn't dealing Watson. He stuck to that through the trade deadline, even as the embarrassment ate at team owner Cal McNair.
As of 4:01 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Caserio can sit atop his 1-7 Texans team and enjoy the warm glow of his power position. He held strong. He didn't give up his team's most important asset for cents on the dollar. He avoided setting any bad precedent within his club.
But this is Caserio's gamble. It feels as though people have thought, 'Okay, Watson will just get dealt for what Houston wants come March.' And maybe he will. Perhaps some quarterback-needy team will give Houston its three first-round picks plus two second-round picks or some equivalent of all that.
Perhaps those 22 civil suits will be buttoned up in one way or another. And the 10 criminal complaints will be taken care of. And the police investigation over. And no grand jury summoned. And punishment from the league decided. And... and...
The consensus outlook on the eventual Watson deal assumes that all of that is taken care of. Except "that" is a mountain of very serious allegations that, so far, has been taking its time through the legal process. It's assumed these cases will reach their conclusion by the start of free agency in mid-March -- and Watson is determined to have no non-disclosure agreements if settlements are reached -- but what if they aren't? What if teams hoping to trade for Watson are ostensibly in the same spot in March that they were in two weeks ago?
Caserio was admittedly hamstrung in where he could trade Watson. The quarterback and his representation never waived his no-trade clause for any team other than Miami. The Carolina Panthers, at various points in the past nine months, were extremely interested in making Watson their franchise quarterback, but they were never given permission to speak to Watson directly, which severely limited how strongly they could pursue the player with such serious allegations against him.
So it was, and has been, Miami or nothing. And Caserio walks away from the deadline feeling good about not taking a "bad" deal. But, again, it assumes whatever deals he could have made will still be there -- or be even better -- in the offseason.
If Watson's legal issues worsen, so does his value to interested teams. The introduction of Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson in the trade market next offseason could also hurt the value. Losers of the potential Rodgers and Wilson sweepstakes will still be faced with the specter of drafting from this poor crop of draft-eligible quarterbacks, and that's one bit of leverage Caserio and the Texans can hold on to.
And another thing: What happens when there's a shakeup in Miami? If and when GM Chris Grier and/or head coach Brian Flores are relieved of their duties, will the newcomer have the same interest in Watson? Yes, Dolphins owner Steven Ross has been extremely interested in Watson, but would he force his new hire to make the deal if that GM is against it?
The Texans have proven today that they won't get pushed around, and it's a good show of strength if, as I said, you're willing to eat the embarrassment of paying Watson not to play. But assuming that the same or better deals will be out there in five months, or that Watson's legal situations will be resolved, or that Watson will waive his no-trade clause to other teams because you can wait him out, is a gamble.
"Nick could take this all the way to draft night," one league source told me over the weekend. "And if he pulls this off, he looks like a genius."
And that's true. But leverage can be a funny and fickle thing.