HOUSTON – When quarterback Deshaun Watson and defensive end J.J. Watt -- the two biggest stars in Houston -- walked off the field at Reliant Stadium at the end of a disappointing 4-12 season on Sunday afternoon, they shared a sobering conversation that was picked up by NFL Films cameras.
“I’m sorry we wasted one of your years,” Watt said. “We should have 11 wins.”
Their season had spiraled out of control, from trading star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins before the season began, to an ugly 0-4 start, to the firing of head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien, and culminating with a 41-38 loss to the Titans that will be remembered in league history as the night Tennessee running back Derrick Henry rushed for 250 yards to break the hallowed 2,000-yard mark.
"I'm sorry, we wasted one of your years."— NFL Films (@NFLFilms) January 5, 2021
Watt to Watson after a tough season. pic.twitter.com/mcTVK3ZeJG
Since that game ended, Watson has met with the media multiple times and repeatedly expressed his belief that the Texans organization needed a “whole culture shift.”
“We need new energy,” Watson said. “We just need discipline. We need structure. We need a leader so we can follow leader as players. That’s what we need. We’ve all got to be on the same page. There’s too many different minds, too many different ideas and too many people thinking they have this power, and it’s not like that. We need someone that stands tall, and this is who we follow and this is the way it goes.”
For the moment, Watson likely feels that those remarks fell on deaf ears.
On Thursday morning, Houston officially announced the hiring of former Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio as their new general manager. Caserio is yet another executive/coach poached from the Patriots organization, and he has strong ties to current Texans executive vice president of football operations Jack Easterby. Caserio was also the same man that the Texans wanted to interview for the same job vacancy in 2019 after then-general manager Brian Gaine was fired. At the time, New England blocked Caserio from progressing further into an interview process due to a clause in his contract and used the threat of tampering charges. Houston decided not to pursue Caserio any further, and O’Brien stepped up to fill the void. He served as both head coach and general manager, and that move, as we now know, led to disaster.
Soon after Caserio’s hiring was leaked on Tuesday, Watson posted a vague tweet, claiming “some things never change...” The tweet has since been deleted, but it was quote-tweeted by his personal quarterback skills coach Quincy Avery and accompanied with a bullseye emoji. At the time, it was difficult to ascertain Watson’s motivation, but late Thursday evening, NFL Insider Ian Rapoport revealed that Watson was “extremely unhappy” with Texans owner Cal McNair and the organization for not discussing Caserio’s hire with him personally. In later tweets, Rapoport clarified that Caserio himself is not the issue. Watson is upset with the manner in which he is hired, and reportedly has not spoken with any member of the “Texans brass.”
#Texans QB Deshaun Watson is extremely unhappy with the organization after owner Cal McNair informed him he would be involved in the GM and coach hiring process and provide feedback… but then did neither in the hire of GM Nick Caserio, sources say.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 8, 2021
Watson, who signed a four-year, $160 million extension this offseason, was promised by McNair that he would have more input in the hiring process for both the head coach and general manager this offseason. ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting that Watson had suggested a list of candidates for both positions without an expectation that they would be hired, but that it would be used in the search for the right man. That list was not used in hiring Caserio.
Watson’s ambiguous tweet and the current disfunction at the top of the Texans organization set twitter ablaze with trade speculation, and there are currently reports circulating that Watson has discussed the possibility of requesting a trade with other teammates. Should Watson be traded, the Texans would enter the following season with a $22 million salary-cap hit, but Texans insider John McClain of the Houston Chronicle is discounting that possibility, saying that Watson is “not going anywhere.” That could leave both sides of this disagreement at an impasse and lead to even more turmoil.
Texans fans, players and staff were hoping to turn the page to a new era. Caserio might be the right step in that direction. But it is also clear that the mess he inherits is much more serious and damaging to the organization and its relationship with star talent than it was before this week began.