The Houston Texans didn’t just waste a year of quarterback Deshaun Watson’s career, as defensive end J.J. Watt was caught saying while the two walked off the field following their 41-38 loss to the Tennessee Titans. It was the Texans’ fifth loss in as many weeks and finally brought an end to their lowly (and dramatic) season.
Houston didn’t have many highs, and the team unquestionably had a lot of lows. The Texans saw their star wide receiver—one of the best receivers in the NFL—traded away for pennies; and the laughable mastermind behind such a trade, head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien, was fired weeks later. Houston could barely scrape together wins, defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars twice, the New England Patriots, and the Detroit Lions with each opponent facing their own set of problems.
Now, the one thing working for the Texans and the only player to come out of the season unscathed despite the handful of wins that abruptly brought an end to consecutive AFC South titles, 10-plus win seasons, and playoff appearances could find solace elsewhere was Watson. Watson pieced together one of the best seasons of any passer in the league; while it’s been widely said that Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers has done more with less in what could be his third MVP season, there’s no other passer working against the conditions Watson has to produce a season of this caliber. He’s proving that wins aren’t a quarterback stat, and, if the rumors are true and he does eventually request a trade, he could put the onus rightfully on Houston to ensure he’s set up for the NFL-standard of success.
Watson finished the 2020 season with 4,823 yards, 33 touchdowns, and just seven interceptions. His 112.4 passer rating is second to Rodgers, according to The Football Database, and if it weren’t for the Texans’ failures as an organization, he would be a serious MVP candidate. Watson has hit career highs across the board and was the league leader in passing yards and yards per attempt (8.9); his 70.2% completion rate was the third-highest falling tenths of a point behind Rodgers and the New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees. What’s most impressive (and equally concerning)? Watson did all of this while getting sacked at the second-highest rate. His 49 sacks were just one behind Philadelphia Eagles’ Carson Wentz; any time a team has done as poorly a job as the Eagles, there’s a great cause for concern.
All season long calls to “Free Watson” were widely shared, and there was a consensus among anyone who dared to watch the Texans that these circumstances were entirely unfair to this passer. How Watson hasn’t requested a trade sooner is the ultimate show of loyalty, and maybe a little blind faith that Houston brass will finally support the player it gave a whopping four-year, $160 million extension to this past offseason.
The Texans have already tried and again failed to appease Watson. In an effort to effectively build around him, Houston vowed to consult Watson during its search for a new head coach. Watson isn’t part of the formal search committee or named to the team of advisors, but this was welcome news to a player this organization has done a grave disservice to. The Texans, however, seemed to have already fumbled this opportunity. After Watson praised Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, touting the sought-after head coaching candidate for his genius, Houston is the only team with this vacancy that didn’t request an interview with Bieniemy.
With the Texans disappointing Watson for the umpteenth time, the rumored potential request could serve one of two purposes: Watson could get out of Houston for good and land in an organization that values him beyond throwing a big ole bag of money at him. Or Watson could force the Texans’ hand. The former is a little tricky. Watson’s cap charge would be $21.6 million if Houston goes through with a trade. The only way to justify this is an unprecedented draft haul, and the only legitimate offers would be from teams like the San Francisco 49ers—who would be working through more salary cap troubles to make this happen—Indianapolis Colts, and New England Patriots.
Watson doesn’t have to leave to prove his point; after all, the Texans proved that they need him now more than ever. But they have to be willing to listen and then do as their quarterback says (or at least attempt to)—and once again, that task has been too difficult.