When DeShaun Watson reworked his rookie contract with the Houston Texans a year before expiring, he did it with the expectation that he would have his top receiver at his side for the years to come. Instead, during the 2020 offseason, the Texans shipped star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals for aging and declining running back David Johnson.
“I definitely was hurt when we let Hop go,” Watson said. “That’s my brother. That’s my dawg.”
That was the beginning of the public rift between Watson and the Texans. Right now, the relationship between Watson and Houston looks irreparable with the star quarterback asking for a trade. In a press conference on Thursday, March 11, new Houston coach David Culley tried his best to put the coffee back in the kettle.
“I don’t know about him not wanting to be a Houston Texan, what I hear from the outside,” Culley said. “I just know that he’s a Houston Texan. He’s ours. We’re committed to him, and we’re going to go with that.”
Culley said the team and the organization are locked in keeping Watson as the face of the franchise.
“We are very committed to Deshaun as our quarterback,” Culley added. “He is our quarterback. He’s the only guy we’ve got under contract at this time right now. Nick (Caserio) and our personnel department are in the process of looking at other guys out there right now, and we’re going through that process daily, and we’ll continue to do that.”
While Watson received a hefty $156 million four-year contract with one of the largest guaranteed salaries at his position, the Texans and then general manager and head coach Bill O’Brien refused to do the same for Hopkins. Instead, they shipped the stud wideout to Phoenix in what would simply be the beginning of the end for O’Brien as horrendous decision after decision was made by the former coach leading to the current turmoil that now has the franchise on the edge.
Drafted 13th overall in the first round in 2017 out of Clemson, Watson joined a Texans team that had been the laughingstock of the NFL for nearly a decade. Fresh off his national championship victory, the rookie came into the league proving he was up to the task of turning the franchise around. Now, nearly five years later the franchise quarterback wants out of Houston and may possibly sit out a year if he is not dealt this offseason.
A situation that has escalated from bad to worse to absolutely downright horrific, the Texans organization and owner Bob McNair face a self-created problem that began years ago.
When the team handed personnel decisions to O’Brien in the form of making him the general manager, the moves prior to this decision and the ones made afterward by the head coach proved to be true blunders.
Hired back in 2013 on a five-year deal, O’Brien took over a team that was coming off a 2-14 season and holding the number one overall pick going into the 2014 draft. With that first overall pick, the team selected defensive end Jadeveon Clowney out of South Carolina. This decision proved to be a bust as Clowney rarely stayed healthy during his time in Houston.
In a draft year where players like Aaron Donald, Odell Beckham Jr, and Khalil Mack were all taken later in the first round, the pick by the new Texans head coach could be seen as an omen for the team’s future moving forward.
Despite being able to turn the franchise around following that 2-14 season, O’Brien failed to make moves that would benefit the organization in the long-term. By leveraging future first-round draft picks in a multitude of failed trades, the head coach wiped away any hopes of rebuilding the team through the draft.
Instead, O’Brien brought in over-rated players from Miami in the shape of offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Kenny Stills for two future first round picks. He then followed this by acquiring Duke Johnson from the Cleveland Browns for a third-round pick, a deal that the Browns were more than happy to make in order to get rid of the bust pick they made with the running back.
Then remember that number one overall pick back in 2014? Well, O’Brien made an even worse trade by shipping the defensive end to Seattle for a pair of sneakers and some cap space. The cherry on top to cap off the plethora of terrible decisions was when O’Brien shipped off Hopkins and a second-round draft pick to the Cardinals.
“I would say the deal with Arizona was a deal that we felt was in the best interest of our team,” O’Brien said at that time. “DeAndre Hopkins was a great football player here. He made so many plays for us. We love DeAndre Hopkins. But he had three years left on his deal and he wanted a raise. And we weren’t going to be able to go in that direction. We felt like we had a great offer from Arizona that involved picks. That involved an excellent three-down running back who is hungry and humble and just can’t wait to get started. David Johnson is going to be a great addition to our football team.”
This trade sent ripple effects throughout the NFL questioning the competence level of the head coach and whether or not he truly had a grip on the locker room. It became very clear that O’Brien was attempting to throw anything at the wall to see what sticks, not realizing that his fate was already sealed with the move.
O’Brien’s destiny was decided only four games into the 2020-2021 season, as the team fired the general manager and head coach after the team went winless to start the season.
For Watson, this move was seen as an opportunity to get more involved in the hiring process of the next head coach, something that the star quarterback desperately wanted to be a part of. Instead, the organization shut Watson out during the hiring process of both the team’s new general manager and head coach.
Despite voicing his opinion believing that Watson will remain with the team, Culley faces a tough sell in trying to keep the quarterback in Houston.
“I don’t know about him not wanting to be a Houston Texan, what I hear from the outside. I just know that he’s a Houston Texan. He’s ours. We’re committed to him, and we’re going to go with that,” Culley said.
The question now becomes whether or not Watson shares this same commitment as his new head coach moving forward. While Watson has not publicly come out and shared his thoughts on being traded, he reiterated these feelings to his new head coach during their first meeting after he was hired.
For Houston, this saga is simply another setback for an organization that has struggled to keep its star players happy throughout the years. Now they face the difficult decision of either reloading and rebuilding the team for years to come or attempt to mend a relationship that is severely broken.
While the Texans do hold the leverage by virtue of Watson’s contract, the star quarterback has made his intentions clear as the game of chicken continues between the two sides. That means a commitment has to come from both sides. As of now, it appears to be a one-sided affair. But Jack Easterby, executive vice president of football operation of the Texans, said the commitment is mutual from Watson as well as the team.
“Well, he’s a Houston Texan,” Easterby said. “Again, I know that I feel like the commitment we’ve made to him, I feel like that same commitment will be there with us also moving forward.”
Featured image caption: Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) looking to make a play against the Los Angeles Chargers in a game played at Dignity Health Sports Park on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019. Watson passed for 337 yards and three touchdowns to lead Houston to a 27-20 win against the Chargers.