Deshaun Watson shows black NFL stars are fed up with autocratic team owners
Power structures in professional football have been around for decades. But players now rightly want a say in how their teams lead Deshaun Watson in a playoff game last year. He is one of the most explosive talents in the league. Photograph: Christian Petersen / Getty Images The problems at the Houston Texans can be neatly summed up by Cal McNair’s press conference to introduce the team’s new general manager, Nick Caserio. Jack. Pseudo. 99. 4. Throughout the mess, the CEO of the franchise and the son of the late owner, Bob McNair, rocked the people most important to the success of the franchise: Jack Easterby, executive vice president of football operations ; Caserio, the new general manager; JJ Watt, “99”, the team’s star defensive player; Deshaun Watson, “4”, the team’s quarterback. McNair was trying to show a united front. Words like “collaboration” and “team” and “culture” were thrown around. But that only served to show the division: the men in suits were friends – Nick and Jack. Players in uniform were numbers. Deshaun Watson has none. He’s ready to attack the Texans’ power structure, force a trade out of Houston, and help redefine owner-front-office-player dynamics in the NFL. Prior to the hiring of Caserio, Watson was confident he would have a say in the future direction of the team, according to a recent report from ESPN. He was able to attend talks with the general manager and the head coach. The team appreciated his contribution. Or not. “The reports of Deshaun Watson’s dissatisfaction with @HoustonTexans are accurate,” Chris Mortensen reported. “Sources close to the QB say he’s still angry at the team’s insensitivity to social justice, including hiring practices, after the franchise failed to interview OC bosses Eric Bienemy. last week. Watson may have ignored the decision to trade Jadveon Clowney. He was irritated by the decision to treat DeAndre Hopkins for a heap of nothing during the last offseason, but not enough to require a trade. He stayed on the sidelines as former head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien set all around him on fire as he exited the building – stripping the franchise of much needed assets. He missed out on the ensuing Game of Thrones storyline which saw a former team pastor, Easterby, emerge as the franchise’s all-powerful. But this former preacher who hired his friend to help lead the team, and this duo who reneged on Watson’s request, questioned the quarterback’s future. What we are seeing in Houston is a series of culture wars. The traditional “shut-up-and-play” model versus the “It’s my career, I’m talent, I want more control” attitude that has grown in a post-LeBron landscape. It is competence against incompetence. He’s a young black athlete during a moment of racial judging across the country gaining momentum at the all-white hierarchy. Interview all candidates, Watson said. Hire the best person for the job, not the pastor’s buddy (funny that). Rule by competence, not by relationship or religion. Watson wanted the team to interview Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy. The Texans haven’t even requested an interview with Bienemy. By the time they finally agreed to Watson’s request, once his anger had made its way outside the building, it was too late: the window to request formal talks with coaches still in the playoffs had passed. McNair and his friends botched it. That Bienemy is a black coach who has been overlooked for head coaching gigs for too long clearly bothers W atson. In a period of racial recognition across the country, Watson wanted to use his voice and influence to empower a black candidate. He wanted to have his say. The Texans shut him up. You can disagree with Watson if you wish. The player must play. The coach must coach. GM should GM. And the owner can choose them all. You could point out the power dynamics of the best dynasties in sports. Most worked top to bottom. The player was subordinate to the coach / general manager. But times are changing. Featured quarterbacks examine the player empowerment movement in the NBA and decide they want a piece of the action. Not the nonstop movement. Not even super-team building (a real salary cap discourages him). But being a partner of decision-makers, not aid. To work with management, do not associate with the rest of the clique. The pressure is different; shouldn’t the privileges? The coach-quarterback relationship should be more of a collaboration than an autocracy – at least when the team is confident they have a great quarterback on their hands. And Watson is really great. This is important to note. Even in a brutal year, Watson threw 33 touchdowns and nearly 5,000 yards. And that wasn’t the case with a quarterback assessing his stats on a bad team in garbage time: Watson finished fifth in DYAR, a measure of a quarterback’s overall worth for his team with the wasted time. This is just the second time in 12 years that a quarterback has finished in DYAR’s top five and failed to lead his team to the playoffs. In short: no quarterback has done more with less. And the outlook is bad. The Houston cape sheet is a mess. The asset closet has been laid bare by a series of ill-conceived trades. Heading into 2021, the Texans have the darkest situation in the league: They pay for a permanent contender but field a team that stinks. Culture stinks. The effort stinks. And there is little talent on either side of the ball, or the ability to attract talent without compromising the few encouraging pieces already on the roster. Here’s a quick look at each team’s estimated salary cap space for 2021 compared to their 2020 record Top right = good track record, good heading position Top left = good record, bad heading position Bottom right = bad record, good heading position Bottom left = disaster 3Wo7luqCJg – Jason_OTC (@Jason_OTC) January 11, 2021 Watson could be forgiven for looking at the other top young quarterbacks in the league and thinking, really? Give me a decent team and I’ll be in the MVP discussion. Give me a good team and I will be a cultural phenomenon. Give me a strong, well-run organization and maybe I could be the NFL’s answer to Michael Jordan after all. The move won’t be easy for Watson. The price will be high. Four first-round picks were the number mentioned. But Watson holds some of the cards: His contract has a no-trade clause. Houston can’t move him anywhere without him waiving that clause in order to facilitate a deal, an unusual power for a young player. The destinations are obvious. All needy quarterback teams will be interested, as will a bunch of non-needy teams. Watson’s contract is structured to place almost all of the salary cap in Houston in 2021, whether he’s on the team or not. With creative accounting, any team in the league will be able to add Watson during the offseason, then reconfigure their books as 2022 approaches. Most teams in the league should be interested given the talent, age. and Watson’s price. Of all the destinations, Miami remains the most logical solution. Over the past two seasons, Miami makers have orchestrated a quality rebuild. They tore up the roster, rebuilt it in the image of head coach Brian Flores, and turned a 2019 tanktastic into a 10-6 record in 2021 while cutting and changing quarterbacks. The Dolphins also remain one of only two teams in the league, at the time of writing, with a minority general manager and head coach. In Washington, Ron Rivera holds both positions at the moment. The Dolphins have two first-round picks in the upcoming draft. If they add Tua Tagovailoa to the deal, their first-round pick from a year ago, it’s basically three picks. Tack on a 2022 first-round pick and there are your four picks, while only compromising two future draft classes. For a player of Watson’s caliber, that’s a small asking price. These players only arrive once in a lifetime. The Texans blew it off. Now it’s up to the Dolphins to take advantage of this and, in doing so, redefine the current power structures of the league. Both practically and visually.