It’s been almost six months to the day since the trajectory of Deshaun Watson’s NFL career changed drastically, potentially forever.
On March 16, the first of 21 women came forward with claims of inappropriate behavior against Watson. Since then, 22 civil lawsuits have been filed against the remarkably-talented Gainesville High graduate who was starting quarterback for the Houston Texans from 2017-2020.
It all hit home Sunday with the start of the NFL season, that the luster may never return for the Houston Texans quarterback, who in 2020 re-signed to a $177 million dollar deal ($111 million in guaranteed money) to remain QB1 for the Texans.
In Week 1, Houston started Tyrod Taylor at quarterback as it rolled to a 37-21 win against Jacksonville on Sunday.
With Watson, the two-time Heisman finalist at Clemson, now relegated to the bench for the Texans, it’s almost certain he’ll never play again for the franchise that used a first-round draft pick on him in 2017.
It makes for a very melancholy feeling for a large swath of the fans here in Gainesville and Hall County, who have cheered for Watson as he rose to the highest ranks and also believe he will be fully cleared of any inappropriate behavior in his personal life.
Once a rising star in the league, Watson, who threw for a league-best 4,823 yards in 2020, was silent during all of Houston’s training camp.
Legal posturing has been extensive between his lawyer, Rusty Hardin, and the plaintiffs’ attorney, Tony Buzbee, the past six months.
People who are not directly involved with the former Red Elephants’ tight circle of friends and family would be purely speculating as to where his preferred destination would be in the NFL.
No criminal charges have been filed against Watson, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen in the future.
The wheels of justice move slow, especially in a high-profile case that has so many variables in play.
Watson is rich, famous and a public figure, which also makes him an easy target for litigation.
I hope none of the claims against Watson are true, but I’m am also not naive to the fact that allegations by that many women could all be without some merit.
I’m a shameless supporter of seeing local talent, with good character, make it big.
Since Watson burst onto the scene as a freshman for Gainesville in 2010, he’s always displayed the most gracious and friendly demeanor, especially for a once-in-a-lifetime football talent.
Still, nobody has gotten to the truth in this saga where Watson’s character is under the microscope of a national spotlight.
It might be a long time before there’s a resolution, meaning Watson’s career is essentially on pause, while it plays out.
What makes the football situation with Watson even more uncertain is he’s made it clear he wants a trade and also has leverage with a no-trade clause in his contract, giving him power on where he plays next.
Watson was unhappy with the direction of the Houston Texans organization, largely due to questionable moves with talent, before any women came forward with claims that Watson acted inappropriately in his private life.
However, that doesn’t mean Houston doesn’t control the price tag, which is rumored to be three first-round picks and a pair of second-round talents (either in future draft picks or current roster players).
Watson’s ability to return to the field without a permanently-tarnished reputation hangs tenuously in the balance of the outcome of a high number of claims of his inappropriate behavior, during massage sessions in the Houston area.
Watson, who turns 26 Tuesday, should have any and all opportunity to address his accusers.
Public silence on the matter by Watson shouldn’t be construed as guilt.
Already, Watson has paid a big price in the court of public opinion.
His endorsement deal with Nike was terminated less than a month after allegations started to mount, while others (Rolex, Beats by Dre and many Houston-area businesses) have since ended for Watson.
Will Watson return to the field in 2021? Probably not.
Is his career over in Houston? Yes, barring a stunning turn of events.
While the first six months of this saga surrounding Watson has raised far more questions than answers, hopefully the next six months will bring some resolution to all involved.
If Watson is innocent, he should be able to resume his football career, despite the seriousness of any and all allegations.
Bill Murphy is sports editor of The Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.