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At one point last month, even as everyone in the NFL with a phone understood the situation was bizarre, the Houston Texans were speaking with potential trade partners for quarterback Deshaun Watson.
And one team said it would be willing to give the Texans “a first-round pick, and a conditional pick that could turn into a first-round pick,” according to an NFL source whose team was involved in the talks.
“But they acted as if we were way off and expected much better.”
Welcome to Week One of the NFL regular season, which means the Houston Texans’ quarterback situation, the most curious in the entire league, has hit a new plateau of weird.
That new plateau includes:
Houston coach David Culley, who has been reticent about telling the media who’s starting in preseason games, volunteering on Monday that Tyrod Taylor is his starting quarterback for the season opener against Jacksonville.
“Well, Tyrod Taylor will start for us at quarterback, for sure,” Culley blurted.
“I just know that is the one everyone is always asking about … it’s come up before. He will start on Sunday.”
And that’s great for Taylor, who is a classic bridge quarterback with 47 starts in 10 NFL seasons. But it means Watson, who has thrown more touchdown passes the last two seasons (59) than Taylor has thrown his entire career (54), is not going to start.
And not going to play.
And not even going to be active on game day.
All while the Texans have spurned at least one trade offer for the quarterback that included one first-round pick and more.
Watson, meanwhile, is going to collect $10.54 million in base salary this season, despite the fact he doesn’t ever want to play for the Texans and the Texans have no intention of ever letting him play for them.
And, remember, that’s just the latest chapter in a growing epic of odd.
This peculiar tale began last winter when national media first reported Watson wanted out of Houston for reasons related to his belief that Houston ownership had broken promises to him.
That part’s not uncommon. Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson also showed their displeasure with their respective teams last offseason. And they probably would have loved being traded to a place of their choosing.
So when Watson, through his representatives, officially told the Texans he wanted out, it was not good or surprising news, but it initially had as much chance of happening as the Seahawks trading Wilson or Green Bay trading Rodgers.
The news of Watson wanting out was nonetheless met with glee around the NFL, as no less than eight teams called the Texans checking in on the quarterback’s availability. And even after four of those teams found quarterbacks in the draft, others kept trying to get the Texans to discuss a possible trade.
The Texans resisted initially — as they certainly should have — because Watson is easily a Top 10 NFL quarterback and is still days from his 26th birthday.
But then Watson’s enormous legal problems came to light.
It began with a trickle as a handful of women, through an attorney, asked Watson to pay damages for what they allege is improper sexual conduct during massage sessions.
When Watson dismissed those claims as extortion, the women filed lawsuits. And the number of women doing so grew to 22, then 23, then back to 22 — all alleging Watson sexually assaulted them or engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior during massage sessions.
Then things got worse.
Eight of those women plus two others who had not filed civil suits spoke to the Houston police and filed criminal complaints.
The NFL has interviewed 10 of the plaintiffs accusing Watson of sexual assault and sexual misconduct as part of its investigation into the matter, the attorney representing 22 of the women Tony Buzbee has said.
The sides have filed legal documents back and forth in court while fighting a public relations battle in the media. At one point, Watson’s side presented the names of 18 women who said they gave Watson massages without incident.
“The following 18 women are voluntarily issuing statements in support of Deshaun — with their names attached,” Watson attorney Rusty Hardin said in a press release, adding the women have collectively “worked with Deshaun more than 130 times over the past five years.”
And despite charges and counter charges, the Texans spent part of the spring still not seriously engaging teams about a trade, although the Houston Chronicle was the first to report the team would require three first-round picks and two second-rounders to move Watson.
“That’s about right, but it’s a negotiation so we figured that would be the starting point,” the NFL source said. “We didn’t think they’d actually be serious about that price with all that’s hanging over his head.”
The Texans, represented in trade talks by new general manager Nick Caserio, are apparently serious.
From their standpoint, the San Francisco 49ers gave up three first-round picks to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for the right to draft Trey Lance, an unproven rookie. They believe Watson, a three-time Pro Bowl player perhaps not yet in his prime, is worth more.
And, by the way, that’s what they told the Dolphins themselves when Miami inquired about Watson, per another source.
But, but, but what about all the legal troubles?
It seems everyone understands they make giving up the significant resources Houston wants for Watson currently impossible. It also seems Houston understands their desire to get top value in exchange for Watson is not currently possible.
So the Texans are going to wait for the legal issues to be resolved. And they know if Watson gets to a point where he has a date certain to return to play, his value will climb.
Because some NFL team is always looking for an elite quarterback.
As it stands, the Denver Broncos, Washington Football Team, Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, Miami Dolphins, Detroit Lions, Indianapolis Colts, and perhaps a couple of others, may or may not be interested in acquiring a quarterback as talented as Watson next offseason.
Such a trade could put the Texans in position to find the new franchise quarterback they need in next year’s draft.
So amid an awkward, perhaps embarrassing situation, with Watson walking the halls of their training facility wishing he were somewhere else, the Texans have decided they can play the long game.
They’re rolling with Taylor, not just as their starter but as their leader — even while Watson remains on the roster.
“He’s the first guy in here, he’s the last guy to leave,” Culley said Monday, referring to Taylor. “Our players see that with him. That’s what you expect out of that position.
“I’ve seen him more vocal than he has been. He’s gone through some things the last two years. And I think those experiences have helped him to this point to put him in a position to help lead our football team, as he did three years ago when I was with him in Buffalo.”