The NFL trade deadline is a little more than a week away, and the most pressing question is about the future of disgruntled Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Watson demanded a trade in January. What complicates his future in the NFL, however, are the 22 civil lawsuits against him that stem from sexual misconduct or sexual assault allegations from a total of 23 women.
The trading deadline is 4 p.m. ET on Nov. 2.
Here’s what we know about the situation surrounding Watson.
What is the status of civil lawsuits against Deshaun Watson?
Twenty-three women have accused Watson of sexual misconduct or assault and 22 of them have filed civil lawsuits against him. According to the suits, the alleged incidents occurred at a variety of locations in four different states. Most of the women, who filed the lawsuits using the pseudonym “Jane Doe,” are described as licensed massage therapists, estheticians or business owners.
Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, in April called the allegations “meritless,” though he did acknowledge that there were “sometimes consensual encounters” during Watson’s massage sessions. When later asked by a reporter to clarify, Hardin said “we’ve never run from it” and the question “has always been about consent.”
The Houston Police Department also announced in April that it would be investigating a complaint against Watson after a report was filed. The New York Times later reported in September, citing documents obtained, that Houston Police has spoken to at least 10 women about the allegations against Watson.
What about the NFL’s investigation into Deshaun Watson?
The NFL indicated it would be investigating Watson’s case to determine whether there was a violation of the league’s personal conduct policy.
In August, Hardin said the NFL had not yet contacted Watson. It is unclear whether that has remained the case in the months since, but Hardin said Watson would cooperate.
The NFL also confirmed in August it would be reaching out to Watson eventually as part of the investigation.
What has Deshaun Watson said about the complaints?
Aside from a social media post March 16, Watson has not publicly commented on the suits filed against him. But in that March statement he posted on Twitter, he denied the allegations and said he looked forward to clearing his name.
Which teams have been linked as possible destinations for Deshaun Watson?
The team most frequently and prominently tied to Watson as a potential suitor is the Miami Dolphins, who fell to 1-6 Sunday after a 30-28 loss against the Atlanta Falcons. While the Dolphins have a young passer in second-year pro Tua Tagovailoa, multiple reports indicated team owner Stephen Ross wanted to bring in a star-caliber player at the position.
On Monday, however, NBC Sports reported that Ross was not pushing Miami’s front office to make a trade for Watson at the moment.
Dolphins coach Brian Flores, meanwhile, has reiterated as recently as Wednesday morning that “Tua is our quarterback.”
The Carolina Panthers had also been linked to Watson after The Athletic reported that the team was expected to be involved in trade talks after a 25-3 loss to the New York Giants. On Wednesday, however, NFL Network and The Athletic both reported that the Panthers were no longer expected to pursue Watson.
One final point: Watson has a no-trade clause in his contract, which means he ultimately will dictate which team he wants to play for and will have to approve any potential deal. NFL Network reported that, as of Wednesday morning, the Dolphins were the only team for which Watson has waived his no-trade clause.
What are the Texans looking for in a trade for Deshaun Watson?
On Sunday, Fox Sports reported that Houston was looking for at least three first-round picks, as well as two additional picks. In a vacuum, that price makes sense for a player of Watson’s caliber. A three-time Pro Bowl player who is 26 years old, Watson has all the physical gifts to do well.
Yet the implications of the pending civil and criminal cases against Watson complicate this situation. At the moment, there is no guarantee he would even be available to play in the future, as the league could consider suspensions or discipline against him, pending the outcome of those cases. Teams considering parting with such a massive amount of draft capital have to weigh the potential risks.
Will Deshaun Watson land on commissioner’s exempt list?
At the NFL owners meetings Tuesday in New York, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league was not at the point where it was ready to make a decision about placing Watson on the commissioner’s exempt list.
“We don’t have all the access to that information at this point in time,” Goodell said. “We pride ourselves on not interfering in (the legal process). We’re being as cooperative as we can to make sure we get all the facts, but that process is still ongoing. And until that process isn’t ongoing and we have enough data and enough information to make a determination on whether he should go on the commissioner exempt (list). We don’t feel that we have that necessary information at this point.”
Under the NFL’s personal conduct policy, the league stipulates that a player can be placed on it “when a player is formally charged with a crime of violence, meaning that he is accused of having used physical force or a weapon to injure or threaten another person, of having engaged in a sexual assault by force or a sexual assault of a person who was incapable of giving consent …” The policy goes on to state that those “formal charges may be in the form of an indictment by a grand jury, the filing of charges by a prosecutor, or an arraignment in a criminal court.”
But Goodell also has the authority to place a player on the list “when an investigation leads the Commissioner to believe that a player may have violated this Policy by committing any of the conduct identified above, he may act where the circumstances and evidence warrant doing so.”
In the past, the commissioner’s exempt list has been used in similar circumstances when a player has been facing criminal or off-field issues that could result in disciplinary action. Putting the player on the list would allow him to remain on his team, though he would not count against the active roster used for game days. In essence, it is paid administrative leave. If placed on the list, the player will not be allowed to practice or participate in games until removed.
The NFL has not placed Watson on the commissioner’s exempt list because the Texans made it clear they would not consider playing him this season after Watson demanded a trade in January. Watson had been present during the team’s training camp, but Houston kept him mostly away from participation in practices. In each game this season, the Texans kept Watson on the inactive list.
If he is traded, however, the team that acquires him would almost certainly want him to play, so the league would need to make a determination on his status. On Sunday, NFL Network reported the expectation is that Watson’s case doesn’t fall under the language used for the commissioner’s exempt list and he would not be placed on it if he were dealt before the deadline.