The Texans & DeShaun Watson have a broken relationship – it's time to end it
By Charlotte Wilder
FOX Sports Columnist
The Texans made their own bed, and they need to let Deshaun Watson get out of it.
In case you haven’t been following the train wreck in Houston, here’s what’s going on. The Texans, a football team that somehow managed to make the playoffs in three of the past five seasons despite itself, are refusing to trade their star quarterback.
Watson asked for a trade in January after a year’s worth of frustrations. They all stem from the fact that the front office’s actions have made it clear the organization isn’t interested in Watson’s opinion about, well, anything. In March, then-head coach and GM Bill O’Brien dealt away DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans’ star wide receiver and Watson’s favorite target, for running back David Johnson, a 2020 second-round pick, and a 2021 fourth-round pick. That was … a bad deal for Houston, made worse because O’Brien *also* sweetened it by sending a 2020 fourth-round pick to Arizona.
No one thought to ask Watson how he felt about this. The team informed him after the ink was dry. A breach of trust such as that is hard to come back from, but Watson still signed a contract extension before the 2020 season -- even after the Hopkins trade. And in a testament to just how good Watson is, losing Hopkins didn’t affect his numbers. Although the Texans went 4-12, the QB finished the season with the most passing yards in the league. He put up a career high in passing touchdowns (33) and a career low in interceptions (7).
It was frustrating to watch someone as talented as Watson stuck in Bill O’Brien’s failing system. But somehow, even after the Texans fired O’Brien, things got worse.
Houston’s chairman and CEO Cal McNair forked over hundreds of thousands of dollars to a search firm that advised him to hire Omar Kahn or Louis Riddick, two candidates of color, to be the team's next head coach. McNair ignored that advice and hired Nick Caserio instead.
Once again, Watson wasn’t consulted. And he — quite understandably — wasn’t happy about it. Imagine if your bosses told you time and time again that you were the future of the company, but when it came to deciding what that future looked like, they left you in the dark.
When it happens twice? It’s even harder. Watson tweeted this after the Caserio hire.
The part of this whole situation that makes zero sense is that not only are the Texans being unfair to Watson, but they also seem to be shooting themselves in the foot. It certainly looks like they’re heading for a rebuild, considering they let star defender J.J. Watt out of his contract after the season. If a rebuild is happening, the team would get many players and future draft picks by trading Watson. Meanwhile, holding on to him could — although it shouldn’t — lower his trade value, which is incredibly high. Quarterbacks this good simply don’t get traded in their prime.
But the fact that quarterbacks this good simply don’t get traded in their prime is precisely why the Texans were always going to make this difficult. If they haven’t cared about what Watson has thought so far, why would they start now? They know how good he is. Other players know how good he is. On Thursday, the Bears’ Tarik Cohen tweeted this ...
... and when I asked former Ravens running back Mark Ingram where he wanted to play, he said he’d go wherever Watson went.
Houston is clinging to someone who has made it clear he’d rather play for the Jets — the JETS!!!! — than the team he’s currently on. Do you know how bad it has to be for someone to actively try to play for the Jets? Watson might as well say he’d rather drive a car that breaks down every four minutes than the one he currently has. He has to really hate his car.
The problem clearly isn’t that Watson is on a struggling team. He isn't complaining about doing the hard work it would take to get better. The problem is that he’s on a struggling team that has made it clear it isn’t interested in listening to him. It's a team that keeps making decisions that will not, in any way, shape or form, ease the struggle in the next few years.
Instead, the Texans are playing a game of Pride Chicken with Watson, and the longer it goes on, the uglier things are going to get. Even though Watson has a no-trade clause in his contract that gives him some control over where he goes, the team still holds all the power and decides if he goes at all. Houston seems to be hoping that Watson will cave first and reluctantly agree to suit up come September. Otherwise, the Texans will have to watch one of the best QBs in the game dig in his heels and sit on their bench until they agree to trade him.
Watson has public support on his side. In January, fans gathered in hopes that the quarterback would stay, and he had to ask them to go home because of COVID.
Fans seem to understand that it was the Texans who pushed him to this point. I’ve interviewed Watson a few times over the past few years, and he has always been very sweet and a little shy. Watson has done so much for the Houston community, as well as for his hometown in Georgia, and has been a good soldier in the organization since he was drafted in 2017.
For him to be this public about wanting to leave, things have to be pretty bad.
On the simplest level, the Texans' strategy is a terrible one. The best way to get someone to want to play for you — to work hard for you — is to make them feel valued. This is basic psychology and basic management. Hell, it’s basic "being a human 101." Show someone you care, and they might care back. Make it clear that you don’t care, and they probably won’t.
It’s mystifying how Houston can make this series of moves, expect Watson to play for the team and expect the team to be good. Because Watson probably won’t play, and no matter what, the team won’t be good.
This is a literal lose-lose, and the front office is being too stubborn to win.
Charlotte Wilder is a general columnist, reporter and co-host of "The People's Sports Podcast" for FOX Sports. She's honored to represent the constantly neglected Boston area in sports media, loves talking to sports fans about their feelings and is happiest eating a hotdog in a ballpark or nachos in a stadium. Follow her on Twitter @TheWilderThings.