Despite a report that Deshaun Watson trade talks were “heating up” between the Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles, multiple sources close to the teams and quarterback told Yahoo Sports that Watson’s NFL future remains in limbo and there has been little movement on the trade front.
A primary factor for the standstill: It appears the crawling criminal investigation into Watson has become a major concern for trade suitors.
Two NFL teams that reached out to the Texans regarding Watson told Yahoo Sports this week that they remain deeply concerned about an ongoing Houston Police Department investigation. Both teams were particularly concerned when Watson’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, declared last month that at least two new women had filed complaints with the HPD regarding the Houston quarterback. By Hardin’s account, 10 women have now met with Houston police, eight of whom have filed civil lawsuits against Watson. The two most recent complaints with the HPD come from women who have not filed litigation against Watson to date.
That’s a significant development for Watson because it now creates a second group of women that Hardin’s defense team will have to tend to, including the 22 women who have filed civil complaints alleging sexual misconduct (all through attorney Tony Buzbee), and at least two others who have chosen to speak with police despite not retaining Buzbee to represent them. That development, coupled with the totality of the allegations against Watson, is generating serious consternation from teams.
As one general manager put it to Yahoo Sports: “There are still a lot of unknowns. Everything that has already happened — that’s a big concern, but I’m also thinking about what happens after you trade for him. How much more is out there? What don’t we know? What happens if you do the trade and then 10 more women surface? Where does it end? I don’t know how you can trade for him without some kind of protections for that.”
While the Houston Police Department has declined to comment on the Watson investigation, sources close to Hardin and Buzbee said Thursday both lawyers believe the current number of complaints against Watson could eventually lead the Harris County Prosecutor’s office to impanel a grand jury. If that happens, Watson will face potential indictment and prosecution if the grand jury decides there is enough evidence for Watson to be charged with a felony. As it stands, it appears at least two of Watson’s civil lawsuit allegations could rise to the level of felony sexual assault, an important point, as grand juries are not seated to make determinations on misdemeanors.
Should a grand jury indict Watson, it’s believed the NFL would place him on the commissioner’s exempt list, which the league office has declined to do despite having spoken to a handful of Watson’s accusers. The NFL’s decision to allow Watson to play in training camp was initially viewed by potential suitors as a boost to his tradability, despite the first of his civil suits on track for jury trial next offseason. But teams were wary about the criminal investigation into Watson even before two additional women filed complaints with the police.
To date, the NFL has not interviewed Watson in its investigation into the civil suits and criminal complaints against him. Sources close to both lawyers said they believe Watson will be requested to do so by the league at some point after the conclusion of his criminal investigation — which means the process of sorting out Watson’s legal and football future could take months or more.
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