The Houston Texans want nothing more than to rid themselves of this Deshaun Watson problem and receive full value for a quarterback facing sweeping allegations of sexual impropriety and assault. That much is clear.
But their ability to accomplish that goal remains difficult at best, regardless of this weekend's media cycle, and time to shed Watson before the start of Week 1 is running out. A weekend full of leaks and strategic spitballing certainly got the football world a-chattering about the Texans' defrocked starting quarterback, but color me a skeptic about it actually making the superstar anymore likely to be on another roster in the next 10 days.
Because the larger reality is that nothing has actually changed about his lingering situation. There isn't any new information available about the reality of what precisely went on between Watson and the more than 20 women bringing allegations against him. The NFL hasn't further clarified anything about its investigation. Nothing has advanced as far as a grand jury and any pending charges. None of those factors is bound by the football calendar.
So what did change?
Oh, the NFL preseason wrapped up, roster cut-downs loom, and one team that has been aggressive in its intent to assess all potential QB options added a third passer to the mix via trade, with the Eagles landing former Jags starter Gardner Minshew. Anything else? Oh, just more consternation in Houston about their woeful roster and hopeless 2021 campaign, one in which far and away the best player on the team continues to do basically nothing football related on a daily basis as the season approaches in a bizarre arrangement that threatens to undermine any semblance of "competitive balance."
What's changed? This inconvenient arrangement between the Texans and their $39M quarterback is about to get even more awkward as the NFL transitions from a training camp schedule today and shifts into regular season mode in preparation for Week 1. Having Watson do his own thing, hanging out in purgatory, is one thing when all you are playing is exhibition games. It's very different to have the highest paid player in franchise history hanging out on the sidelines or in the stands or watching from home while you play games that actually matter in the standings and will directly impact the fortunes of other clubs as well and could end up factoring into playoff tiebreakers, etc.
So, yeah, the Texans are increasingly motivated to try to get out of that situation. But tell me again why any other team is that much more motivated to land him now than they would have been before camp started, when you actually had a full camp and preseason to get him vested in your system and acclimated to your locker room? This ain't like swapping out a kicker. Remember how long Jimmy Garoppolo sat after his midseason trade to San Francisco, despite the 49ers woeful predicament at the QB position?
Why would anyone be any more inclined to meet the Texans' price now than they would have been then? Again, as far as Watson's civil and legal issues, what more do we know? If anything, if you look at the usual suspects in terms of potential suitors, the Eagles added a QB, Sam Darnold was impressive in the preseason finale and Tua Tagovailoa has had a nice camp and preseason.
Certainly, Watson is superior to all of them, but his mental state under these circumstances would have to be a concern; some of his alleged behavioral traits, as a face of the franchise, would give any owner pause; and the uncertainty about him facing any jail time or loss of time due to a suspension is as much up in the air now as it was all spring and summer. Yes, real football is about to be played, but that doesn't mean this wouldn't still be a particularly challenging and untidy transaction to make.
Excited for the biggest NFL schedule in history? Follow along on the CBS Sports app and get the latest insights from our team of NFL insiders, plus news from our team of experts, as well as data insights on every player. If you already have the CBS Sports app, make sure to favorite the your favorite team so you don't miss a thing!
The Texans lowering their expectations via trade compensation and exploring contingencies that alter those draft picks based on Watson's playing status and availability could help them eventually pull this off, but we are talking about an All-Pro QB in his prime; the difference in him being exonerated or missing four or six or eight games while suspended can be the difference between contending for a division and picking in the top 10 (except you won't actually have that top 10 pick because of the trade itself unless there are significant contingencies built in). Oh yeah, and he has a no-trade clause that can further muck things up.
What if other allegations come out a year from now about Watson's behavior while a Texan? The new team just assumes that risk, I suppose? Think about Watson's reputation prior to this, and how shocking this is to so many people.
Again, this is a player who is set to take home $35M, $37M, $32M and $32M over the next four years. Yeah, the salary cap is going up and all of that, but for many owners this would be the biggest acquisition they have ever made, and certainly, if completed this week, the most controversial. And you are not even sure exactly what you are getting at this point, and when anything close to a normal set of circumstances about Watson's short- and long-term playing prospects will be at hand. The NFL is loathe to get ahead of the legal process here, but we know how quickly the disciplinary process can change (Ray Rice went from about to return from a very brief suspension to essentially banished from the league for life within hours of a surveillance video surfacing). None of that is lost on anyone sitting in any ownership suite in this league.
Of course, transformational talent tends to trump all, or almost all, in this league. I'm not naïve enough to think Watson can't be dealt even under these circumstances. It only takes one owner and it only takes one phone call. But beware artificial timelines and keep in mind the timing of all of this and how the only team that is actually being squeezed here is the one still paying Watson and the only team facing the most unusual potential roster moves and probing questions right now is the Houston Texans.
Their rookie GM and head coach have to navigate this unpleasant terrain on a daily basis, and 53-man rosters are about to be set. Texans ownership has to discern how to hide or stash Watson, whether to allow this façade of a "hold-in" to continue while paying him full salary. They have to determine if at some point this is conduct detrimental to the team, or if at some point coming to some other arrangement with Watson's camp best allows them to move on without the specter of their former franchise quarterback hanging over every practice and media session (Non-Football Injury list, or some other creative arrangement?).
If anything, the clock is ticking on them. And at some point their motivation to move on might result in an unusual NFL transaction with a multitude of contingencies and a package of draft picks far less than what the Texans would have initially hoped for. But right now, in most of the NFL, hope still springs eternal, everyone is undefeated and the glow of parity is as bright as ever.
Everywhere but Houston, that is.