The Houston Texans’ precipitous fall from grace continues.
Unhappy franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson met with the team’s new head coaching hire, David Culley, last Friday and informed Culley at the meeting that he had no intention of suiting up for the Texans ever again, sources told ESPN.
Culley was hired from the Baltimore Ravens last month and during his first press conference in his new job, he indicated that when he took the job he was expecting Watson to be on the roster in 2021.
Unfortunately for the first time head coach, that may not be the case. Watson has been frustrated by a very poorly run Texans organization for some time now, and he has had little to no communication with the team since the season ended and he demanded a trade. Everything apparently boiled over for Watson with the hiring process that resulted in the appointment of Nick Caserio as general manager in early January.
Watson’s Friday meeting with Culley would have ostensibly been the first conversation the two had, and it did not go as Culley planned. Watson remained unmoved and informed the head coach that nothing had changed on his end, and he was still demanding a trade.
After winning 21 games and the AFC South twice in a row during the previous two seasons, the Texans were god awful in 2020, finishing with a 4-12 record as they fired head coach Bill O’Brien just a month into the season. During the 2020 campaign, the Texans ran for the second least yards (91.6 per game), Watson was sacked more than any QB not named Wentz (48), and the defense gave up the third most yards per game (416.8).
Watson won the first playoff game of his career in 2019, so following that up with a season like that 2020 stinker was surely not where he saw his career progressing. Despite all of this quarterback drama, the Texans are still sitting ahead of the Jacksonville Jaguars with +1000 NFL odds to win the AFC South.
The smart NFL pick for that market would obviously be the Indianapolis Colts (+100) or the Tennessee Titans (+115), but if Watson does end up playing for Houston this season, there is every chance they return to the pinnacle of the AFC South with him at the helm, so Houston at +1000 could be a sneaky good NFL pick.
Watson’s trade demands also come less than a year after the 25-year-old signed a four-year, $156-million extension with Houston last summer that runs through 2025, which complicates things. If the Texans were to trade Watson this offseason, he would still count $21.6 million in dead money against their cap, whereas if he stays he would cost them only $15.94 million.
Snagging the Clemson alumnus this season instead of next would also be hugely valuable for whichever team gets him: this is the last year that he will be on his rookie deal, which pays him just $10.54 million for the 2021 campaign. After that, the extension kicks in and his salary balloons up to $35 million in 2022, $37 million in 2023, and $32 million 2024.
Considering those salary cap realities, it is wholly possible that the two sides head into the season in a stalemate, a la Le’Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh Steelers—though we would expect Watson to have much more success post holdout than Bell did.
If Watson did decide to sit out minicamp he could be fined $95,877, if he continues holding out, the team can fine him up to $50,000 for every day of training camp that he misses, and if the holdout runs through the preseason, the team can dock Watson $620,000 for each preseason game he misses.
Despite the rest of the team turning to shambles all around him, Watson kept cool and put up a career year in 2020, setting career highs in passing yards (4,823, also a franchise record), passing touchdowns (33, also a franchise record), and completion percentage (70.2), while also setting a new career-low for interceptions, with just seven.
Any team this side of the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be lucky to have the Gainesville, Georgia native, so it’s no wonder that the Texans are holding onto him for dear life.
The same cannot be said for veteran running back Duke Johnson and center Nick Martin, who’s releases the Texans announced on Friday.
Johnson had been acquired from the Cleveland Browns before last season in exchange for a third-round pick and put up 484 scrimmage yards and two combined touchdowns on 77 carries and a career-low 28 receptions as he struggled to find his niche within Houston’s offensive scheme.
The 27-year-old still has a ton of spring in his step and very low mileage on his body and his pass-catching skill set makes him a perfect third-down back, so expect another team to snap him up shortly.
Martin will hit the free market after five seasons and 62 starts for the Texans. After missing all of his rookie year with a foot injury, Martin started every other game he could for Houston.
Also a 27-year-old, Martin signed a three-year $33-million deal with Houston in 2019, which could somewhat explain why the team decided to cut him loose: the Texans will now take just a $2.5 million cap hit in dead money instead of having to pay the center the $7.25 million he was owed on his salary.