HOUSTON – The Houston Texans took a step toward overcoming their 4-12 season and previous regime by hiring former Patriots player personnel director Nick Caserio as general manager on Thursday.
But instead of celebrating the hiring, Texans CEO Cal McNair reportedly upset his quarterback Deshaun Watson with the hiring process.
According to Adam Schefter, McNair paid executive search firm Korn Ferry hundreds of thousands of dollars but ignored their recommendation to choose Pittsburgh Steelers’ vice president of football and business administration, Omar Khan, or ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Louis Riddick – both minority candidates – instead for Caserio, close in spirit to Texas executive vice president of football operations Jack Easterby.
With McNair and Caserio focused on finding the right head coach, they have to worry about making adjustments with their franchise quarterback because he had no say in the search for the general manager.
How did we get here?
Watson’s frustration with the Texans’ organization began in March when the team traded DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals to replace David Johnson without informing the quarterback of the deal before it took place.
While many believe the Texans didn’t get enough value for an All-Pro receiver – the Texans also got the second overall pick in 2020 (who became DL Ross Blacklock) and the fourth overall pick in 2021 and sent a fourth overall pick to Arizona (who became DL Rashard Lawrence) – former head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien was right about one thing: Watson didn’t need Hopkins to make big numbers.
Will Fuller V set career records in receptions (53), yards (879) and touchdowns (8) in 11 games before being suspended, and the addition of Brandin Cooks (81 team catches and 1,150 yards and six TDs) helped Watson finish with an NFL record of 4,823 yards on pass, 33 touchdowns on pass and seven career interceptions.
The frustration returned – and intensified – after the Texans hired Caserio last week.
Error! The file name is not specified. Even without DeAndre Hopkins, Deshaun Watson had his best statistical season ever and set career records in all major passing categories in 2020. Carmen Mandato/Getty Images
In November, a month after the Texans fired O’Brien, McNair had dinner with Watson. They discussed the direction of the franchise, McNair told ESPN, and wanted Watson’s advice on choosing the next head coach. McNair told ESPN in November that he welcomes Watson’s input, respects his opinion and wants to make the star quarterback happy.
Later, Watson and his agent David Mulugeta met with McNair for Zoom again to discuss possible candidates.
However, on Thursday, the day the Texans announced the hiring of Caserio, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Watson was unhappy with the process because he offered information on potential candidates for the general manager position, but the Texans did not review or consult with those approved by their franchise quarterback, according to league sources.
Whether there was miscommunication or McNair misled Watson about the quarterback’s involvement in the recruiting process, Watson no longer answers McNair’s calls.
I understand that Deshaun obviously feels out of touch with the process, but he and I have had several visits and I understand his position for meeting with the candidates, McNair said on Friday. I’ve contacted Deshawn about hiring Nick, and I’m anxious to see when he gets back from vacation.
How serious is the situation?
On Sunday, Schefter reported that Watson’s anger level was at 2 after the Texans traded for Hopkins. … This time it’s ten.
According to Schefter, Watson learned through social media that the Texans plan to hire Caserio. Although several reports have expressed his dissatisfaction, Watson’s only response to hiring a general manager was a tweet sent after the fact that some things never change…..
– Matches, X-factors and other for each team
– Experts predict surprises, QB under pressure
– Mythology for 14 teams in the playoffs
– Schedule, brackets, TV time and other
– What went wrong for teams that didn’t make the playoffs.
Watson said after the season that the organization needs a complete culture change. By hiring Caserio, who spent 20 seasons in New England, Watson might think the Texans are back on par with O’Brien, who spent five years with the Patriots before becoming head coach at Penn State. O’Brien spent two seasons with the Nittany Lions before leaving for the Texans.
The Texans also have an Easter service that has spent six seasons in New England. Easterby was one of a group of Texans who went to pick up Caserio for the interview, and McNair said he learned Jack [Easterby]’s reactions to Nick [Caserio] as a leader in the process of hiring the Chief Executive.
After O’Brien was fired, Easter was put in charge of the staff, but McNair made it clear on Friday that Easter will not be on the list or in free agency.
It’s a GM job that Nick [Caserio] is doing, and he’s going to be looking for Jack [Easter] to do some of these other things that Jack has done very well in the past, McNair said.
According to multiple sources, Watson has not responded to text messages and calls from McNair and other members of the organization, but is on vacation. The team hopes, according to the source, that Watson will weigh in on the search for the franchise’s next head coach.
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According to a league source, Watson has been assured by the organization that his opinion will be considered in the search for a head coach.
Watson did not publish the list of head coaches he wanted to consider, but he did talk to McNair about it during the Zoom call. At his end-of-season press conference, Watson said he had discussed with McNair the possibility of keeping offensive coordinator Tim Kelly as long as possible. Watson credits Kelly with taking his game to the next level over the past two years.
His knowledge of football is very, very brilliant, and he’s really helped me get my game [there], especially this year, the best football I’ve played in my career, Watson said in early January.
Watson publicly stated his admiration for Leaders’ offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who received a recommendation for Watson from Patrick Mahomes. According to multiple sources, the Texans did not ask Beniemi for an interview.
What are the capabilities of Watson?
Game for Texans: This seems to be the most likely scenario for Watson, who signed a five-year, $156 million contract in September, making him the second-highest paid quarterback (with a $39 million AAV) behind Mahomes.
The new year of NFL competition begins on the 17th. Mars and not much will happen between now and then. The best case scenario for the Texans is that McNair and Caserio talk to Watson and get on the same page. The Texans want Watson to be involved in the hiring of the head coach because McNair knows how important it is to make this move in order to not further ruin Watson’s NFL career.
Error! The file name is not specified. The NFL films of J.J. Watson and J.J. Dodd will be shot after the conclusion of the Texas season. We wasted one of your years. AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith
Make the deal: According to a team source, the Texans will not trade Watson, although there is certainly a chance the quarterback will decline to participate in optional team events and mandatory mini-camps this spring (if they are held in person due to the ongoing COWID-19 pandemic).
If they trade it, how does it work? Watson’s contract contains a non-reciprocity clause, meaning he has the final say on any agreement. According to Schefter, if the Texans traded Watson, they would incur $22 million in labor costs. For a team expected to exceed $17 million in 2021, that’s a lot of money for a player who isn’t on the roster. Even if the Texans had received significant seed money for Watson, the team still would have had to cut costs and would have had difficulty building using free agency.
Of course, if the Texans knew they were calling on Watson, there would be a long list of interested teams around the league. It’s even hard to estimate a price for Watson because it’s such an unusual situation.
Sit down: Because Watson is under contract, the Texans have no business being in this situation. If he misses, the team can fine him up to $40,000 a day for each day missed during training camp. If he doesn’t show up at the beginning of the season and misses games, he risks losing even more money.
Retire: In an extreme case, the 25-year-old Watson could choose to retire rather than play for the Texans if they refuse to trade him.
When a player retires, it usually works the same way as his release. The guaranteed money on Watson’s payroll would count toward the cap, but Houston could do without. For example, when quarterback Andrew Luck retired in 2019, he and the Indianapolis Colts reached an agreement in which the team decided not to return $24.8 million to its former quarterback.
When Watson resigns, his rights are preserved by the Texans. He couldn’t retire and sign with another team (unless Houston cut him off while he was retired) because contracts are billed by season, not by year.