A piece of unsolicited advice for Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson: It’s time to quietly rescind your trade request, make peace with the Texans, and remain in Houston for the 2021 season.
Watson’s quest to force his way out hadn’t been going well even before the events of this past week. New Texans general manager Nick Caserio has shown no interest in trading his star quarterback, who signed a six-year, $176 million contract Sept. 6. Caserio refuses to even listen to offers for Watson, per reports.
But Watson’s chances of getting traded before this year’s draft took a major hit this past week. A flurry of sexual assault and harassment lawsuits were filed against him by several massage therapists represented by prominent Houston attorney Tony Buzbee.
The number of lawsuits reached seven by Friday afternoon, and Buzbee threatened Friday that at least five more women will file cases with similar accusations. The women accuse Watson of conduct including inappropriate contact; or trying to forcibly kiss a woman; or forcing one of the women to perform oral sex.
“Watson’s behavior is part of a disturbing pattern of preying on vulnerable women,” stated one lawsuit.
Watson said in a statement last Tuesday, “I have never treated any woman with anything other than the utmost respect,” and said on social media that one of his accusers was seeking a six-figure settlement.
Watson’s agent, David Mulugheta, tweeted a message along the same lines Friday.
“Sexual assault is real. Victims should be heard, offenders prosecuted,” Mulugheta wrote. “Individuals fabricate stories in pursuit of financial gain often. Their victims should be heard, and those offenders also prosecuted. I simply hope we keep this same energy with the truth.”
The NFL is investigating to determine if there was a violation of the personal conduct policy. This investigation could drag out for several months — as long as the lawsuits are playing out in court.
This turn of events should make Watson evaluate his position with the Texans. It’s tough to see another team giving up a massive trade package given the legal issues, and it’s hard to believe the Texans would get their most competitive offer for Watson now. The Texans certainly won’t trade him for a discount.
But Watson may not be going anywhere, even without the legal issues. Two league sources I spoke to before the lawsuits were announced predicted that the Texans would simply squat on Watson’s rights and wait him out. Watson is probably one of the five most valuable players in the NFL, especially since he won’t be a free agent until 2026.
“If they do [trade him], it will be one of the greatest mistakes ever in sports,” former Eagles and Browns executive Joe Banner recently tweeted. “Twenty-six [years old], five-year contract, incredible talent, and no questions about leadership, intelligence, drive or work ethic.”
Unfortunately for Watson, the Texans hold almost all of the cards in this standoff, and that was true even before Watson had legal issues.
Should Watson hold out this season, it will cost him more than $20 million. That’s a lot of money for a player who to this date has made $40 million in his career.
Watson would incur about $3.6 million in fines from skipping minicamp, training camp, and preseason games. He would forgo more than $11 million in base salary. He would have to repay $5.4 million in signing bonus money. And most notably, Watson’s contract would toll for a year — so Watson would still be on the books for $11 million in 2022, not the $37 million that he is scheduled to earn.
That’s why the Texans’ best course of action is simply to wait him out. Sure, Watson threatens to hold out now, but what happens come late July, or early September, and he faces $20 million in fines and lost wages? Are things in Houston so bad that Watson is really willing to risk all of that?
If Watson is, then so be it. The Texans signed Tyrod Taylor this past week, and he can hold down the fort for a season. It’s not like the Texans expected to be competitive in 2021, even with Watson.
The Texans would theoretically miss out on a haul of picks for the 2021 draft by sitting on Watson, but that shouldn’t be the deadline to trade him. Even if Watson does sit out the season, he’ll still be a valuable commodity in the 2022 offseason. The Texans will still be able to trade him for a bundle.
So the Texans hold almost all of the leverage, and now the mounting lawsuits complicate matters further for Watson.
Watson’s best course of action would be to quietly rescind his trade request, make amends with the Texans, and remain with the team for 2021. Play out the season, earn your money, get the team back on your side as you fight your legal battles, and try again for a trade next offseason.
I don’t necessarily blame Watson for wanting out of Houston. That team is starting over, was a mess in 2020, and he doesn’t trust the ownership or the front office.
But he didn’t have much leverage in asking for a trade, and now a stack of ugly lawsuits has cast his status in doubt. Watson should cut his losses and resign himself to playing for the Texans for one more year.
Splurging comes with no guarantees
Before running out to buy your Patriots Super Bowl LVI champions T-shirts, a word of caution from Hall of Fame personnel executive Gil Brandt:
“Think your team ‘won’ free agency?” Brandt tweeted this past week. “Congrats. Only one Super Bowl winner in the last 10 years has exceeded $100 million in free agent spending, and only four have been in the top half of the league in free agent spending the year they won it, none inside the top 10. So, again, congrats for nothing.”
And now for a look at a few of the top non-Patriots stories from the first week of free agency:
▪ The biggest winners: Giants defensive tackle Leonard Williams, who got $63 million over three years, with $45 million fully guaranteed over two years; Chiefs guard Joe Thuney, who got a five-year, $80 million deal with a practical guarantee of $48 million over three years; 49ers left tackle Trent Williams, who at 32 got a practical guarantee of three years and $60 million; and all of the elite pass rushers.
▪ Here are the two-year payouts of the top edge rushers in free agency: Buccaneers’ Shaq Barrett, $36 million; Titans’ Bud Dupree, $34 million; Rams’ Leonard Floyd, $32.5 million; Patriots’ Matt Judon, $32 million; Bengals’ Trey Hendrickson, $32 million; Jets’ Carl Lawson, $30 million; Cardinals’ J.J. Watt, $28 million; Lions’ Romeo Okwara, $26 million; Raiders’ Yannick Ngakoue, $26 million.
▪ The biggest losers: Wide receivers. The Bears’ Allen Robinson and Buccaneers’ Chris Godwin were taken off the market with the franchise tag, and teams weren’t thrilled with the top remaining options. Kenny Golladay reached an agreement on Saturday with the Giants; Will Fuller signed a one-year deal with the Dolphins worth $10.6 million; JuJu Smith-Schuster remained with the Steelers on a one-year deal for $8 million; and Curtis Samuel was available for several days before signing a three-year, $34 million deal with Washington. The glut of talent available at receiver combined with the productivity of college players in the draft seems to have depressed the market.
▪ The quarterback market unfolded with a clear pecking order. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Andy Dalton got starting jobs and about $10 million in salary, plus a few million in incentives. I love the Fitzpatrick signing for Washington, who is a perfect fit for what Ron Rivera is building and could make the Football Team dangerous in 2021. Dalton said at his news conference that the Bears view him as the starter, though with Nick Foles also in the fold, Dalton’s grip on the starting job is likely tenuous at best.
Next in the order were Cam Newton, Jameis Winston, and Tyrod Taylor, who got low guarantees and high ceilings. Newton only got $3.5 million guaranteed, will make $5 million if he dresses for all 16 games, and could make $13.6 million if he achieves all of his incentives (highly unlikely). Winston got $5.5 million guaranteed, and can make up to $12.5 million in incentives with the Saints. Taylor got a similar deal in Houston.
Next is Jacoby Brissett, who got $5 million guaranteed and a maximum of $7.5 million from the Dolphins as the backup for Tua Tagovailoa. And last is Mitchell Trubisky, who signed for just $2.5 million with the Bills, plus $2 million in incentives. That’s a smart landing spot for Trubisky, who plays with a similar style as Josh Allen, and will get great coaching from Brian Daboll and Co.
Gilmore’s contract next on agenda?
A few Patriots notes:
▪ It’s obvious that the Patriots need to do something with Stephon Gilmore’s contract this offseason. He’s entering the final year of his deal and is on the books for only $7.9 million. It’s doubtful that a player who made $14.9 million last year, and in the last two seasons has made two Pro Bowls and been named Defensive Player of the Year, will want to take a 50 percent pay cut.
Certainly, a trade is possible. Gilmore will be 31 in September and his value is still high. But considering the Patriots have been loading up on veteran players this offseason, they may be better off trying to sign Gilmore to a contract extension instead.
The Patriots are clearly trying to get back in contention in 2021, and they’ll be a much more formidable team with Gilmore as their No. 1 cornerback.
▪ The Patriots’ deep passing attack was anemic in 2020. They had the eighth-fewest number of 25-plus-yard completions (23); they had the fewest “quick strike” touchdowns in the league (1); and their longest pass of 50 yards was tied for the shortest “long” in the NFL.
Enter Nelson Agholor. Last season for the Raiders, Agholor was second in the NFL with an 18.7-yard average per catch; he was tied for seventh with 77.1 percent of his catches going for first downs; he tied for 14th with 10 catches of 25-plus yards (Damiere Byrd led the Patriots with six); and Agholor was second in the NFL in averaging 13.9 yards at the spot of each catch. Of course, now he needs Cam Newton to get him the ball.
▪ With Patrick Chung retiring and the departures of Joe Thuney, Marcus Cannon, and potentially James White, the Patriots have only 10 players left from the 2016 Super Bowl team: Julian Edelman, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Devin McCourty, Dont’a Hightower, Jonathan Jones, Kyle Van Noy, Matthew Slater, Brandon King, and Joe Cardona. The 2014 Super Bowl team only has Edelman, Slater, McCourty, and Hightower remaining.
Brees was Saints’ salvation
Happy trails to Drew Brees, who retired last Monday after 20 seasons, the last 15 with the Saints. Brees retires as the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards (80,358) — though Tom Brady is only 1,154 behind — and second to Brady with 571 touchdown passes. Brees’s 67.7 completion percentage is also the highest in NFL history for quarterbacks with at least 100 starts.
Brees’s résumé is a bit lacking — he should have won more than one Super Bowl, given all of his big numbers. The Saints had the fourth-most regular-season wins from 2010-20, yet no Super Bowl appearances and only one NFC Championship game.
But I still rank Brees as the greatest free agent signing in NFL history, ahead of Deion Sanders, Peyton Manning, Brady, and Reggie White. Before Brees arrived in 2006, the Saints had the second-worst winning percentage in the NFL (.403) from their inception in 1967 until 2005. Brees transformed the Saints into consistent winners for 15 years, helped win their only championship, and became a hero on the Gulf Coast for saving the Saints and helping revitalize the area following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
Brees will now slide into the TV booth for NBC, where he will call Notre Dame games with Mike Tirico and serve as a studio analyst for “Sunday Night Football.” NBC Sports said there are no plans to have Brees and Tirico replace the current “SNF” team of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, but it’s hard not to read the writing on the wall.
Clear view of broadcast deals
The NFL announced new media deals Thursday that establish the league’s broadcasting parameters through the 2033 season. Here are the important facts to know:
▪ The deals start in 2023 and run for 11 seasons, giving the NFL broadcast and labor peace for the next decade-plus. But the news releases from Fox, CBS, and NBC note that the NFL can terminate the deals after the 2029 season, giving the NFL flexibility to renegotiate in case the media rights landscape changes.
▪ The salary cap will explode with the new TV deals, but not until 2023. The Patriots’ free agency splurge pushed a lot of cap money into 2022, before the salary cap will truly take off. Next offseason will be about restructures and value.
▪ Fox will carry “Thursday Night Football” for the next two seasons before Amazon Prime takes over in 2023, making it the NFL’s first all-digital package. “Our fans want this option and our media partners around the league understand that streaming is truly the future,” said Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who led the NFL in all of its negotiations. NBC will still carry the Week 1 Kickoff game.
▪ Starting in 2023, the NFL will allow flex scheduling for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” starting in Week 12, provided 12 days advance notice. This will make life complicated for fans who plan their weekend around attending the games (especially for away games).
Arizona is one of the country’s biggest retiree states, and the Cardinals continue to be a refuge for aging star players. The team that previously allowed Emmitt Smith, Edgerrin James, Kurt Warner, and Alan Faneca to finish out their Hall of Fame careers signed J.J. Watt and A.J. Green this offseason. Yet curiously, the Cardinals didn’t have room for two of their own legends: Patrick Peterson left for the Vikings, while Larry Fitzgerald may have been nudged into retirement . . . This year’s draft will have slots for 261 players, but only 259 will get drafted. The Patriots forfeit pick 3-77 because of Spygate 2, and the Vikings forfeit pick 7-243 because of an undisclosed salary-cap violation in 2019 with their practice squad. The Raiders were supposed to lose a sixth-round pick and the Saints were supposed to lose a seventh-round pick because of the COVID-19 protocols, but the NFL reinstated their picks upon appeal . . . There were no compensatory draft picks awarded in the seventh round this year, meaning the Buccaneers currently hold the final pick of the draft, a.k.a. “Mr. Irrelevant.” If the Buccaneers hold on to the pick, they would be the first defending Super Bowl champion to draft Mr. Irrelevant since the 2005 Patriots took tight end Andy Stokes out of William Penn.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.