There is an ocean of information—not to mention formal legal proceedings—to wade through before we could even begin to talk responsibly about the idea of Deshaun Watson seeing an NFL field again.
His story has taken on an eerie quiet of late, as the football world has thankfully taken a break from reporting on the relentless wave of trade rumors that preceded the lawsuits of 22 women alleging sexual misconduct during massages over the last two years. Even the most hardheaded among us understand the idea that this must run its course before we return Watson’s primary context to a children’s game.
But with their first draft pick of the Nick Caserio era, the Texans seemed to signal what they thought the landscape might look like whenever we reach that point. By picking Davis Mills, a high-upside quarterback out of Stanford who was once the most sought-after recruit in the country, Houston admitted what we all thought a few months ago for very different reasons: Watson has played his last down of football in Houston, and perhaps in the NFL, for some time.
The first half of that statement was true back when he demanded a trade, even when Caserio and the new staff didn’t want to admit it. Back then, the phone was unplugged from the wall and the team treated Watson’s desires like the flailing of an emotional teenager. One day, it would pass and we would all move on, their public messaging seemed to say. It is all clearly true now, given that the NFL has acknowledged opening an investigation, and that a team so threadbare at every position on the roster decided to use its most significant morsel of draft capital on a quarterback.
A spin through Houston’s team needs heading into the draft was dizzying. Entire position groups will likely fail to reach the cumulative replacement-level threshold necessary for mediocre football. Outside of running back, where a platoon of late-career veterans swung by for a cash grab, the Texans will have a mountainous journey ahead of them to present a passable product in 2021.
Mills, like Tyrod Taylor, did not sign up for this. The situation will be chaotic and ugly. For the better part of a year, they’ll be operating under the cloud of circumstances beyond their control, as the organization struggles to lift itself out of both a disastrous personnel hole of its own making, and a crisis at the position that has mushroom clouded into something beyond its control.
As NFL Network noted during the broadcast, Mills did not have significant contact with the Texans throughout the process. He found out about their “interest” in him the moment most of the sentient football world did: late on Friday night when it was announced on TV. This isn’t subterfuge. This is grabbing a hold of the last sturdy object in the ground as the wind starts to pick up.
For the moment, this will be couched as pragmatism. Sure, if Watson’s situation suddenly clears and his grievances with the Texans magically subside, Mills remains a good player with high upside who can formidably back up a Pro Bowler and ably run Pep Hamilton’s offense. Pay no attention to what’s happening behind the curtain, because this is a move the Texans would have made regardless of the situation!
Of course, we all know that’s not the case. The team that has not come out and admitted, well, anything about their process (or lack thereof) to mollify Watson has said all it needed to say with the first chance it got to turn in a draft card. When the time is finally right to discuss the next phase of Watson’s football life, the hope in Houston is that the Texans will be in a place that doesn’t seem so chaotic, uncertain and wholly desperate as it does right now.
And maybe they’ll even have a blossoming young quarterback plucked out of the draft’s second-tier.
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