NFL teams preparing for a potential trade pursuit of Deshaun Watson are now focusing on two key aspects of his future following Friday’s grand jury decision to pass on indicting the Houston Texans quarterback on sexual assault allegations.
First, multiple teams considering a trade for Watson told Yahoo Sports that Tuesday’s deposition in the quarterback’s civil litigation will be pivotal because Watson is expected to give it without invoking his Fifth Amendment right to refuse to testify against himself. In his previous deposition, which was taken on Friday, Watson’s attorney Rusty Hardin advised him to invoke the Fifth and decline answering questions by invoking the Fifth. Watson is currently facing 22 civil lawsuits alleging a range of sexual misconduct or sexual assault.
Hardin previously told Yahoo Sports that Watson would continue to invoke the Fifth in depositions until grand jury proceedings — which were tied to criminal complaints against the quarterback — had been settled. Now that the grand jury process has been completed without an indictment, teams expect Watson to answer questions under oath for the first time Tuesday. That deposition won’t be public, but NFL teams and league investigators will attempt to gather information on Watson’s testimony as franchises consider a trade pursuit and the NFL continues its investigation into the allegations.
“We want to know what he’s going to say,” one team official told Yahoo Sports. “That’s going to be important for us and I assume probably anyone else who gets involved [in trade talks].”
Of the teams that are vying for a meeting with Watson, the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers are expected to meet with Watson by the end of this week. Other franchises could still express interest in meeting with Watson in the coming days, including the Seattle Seahawks, Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons and Cleveland Browns, among others.
A source familiar with the requests — as well as Watson’s willingness to speak to specific teams — told Yahoo Sports that the Texans are continuing to seek “five assets,” which will most likely amount to three first-round draft picks and either two second- round selections or starting-caliber players. Multiple sources have also indicated that Houston continues to prefer trading Watson to the NFC, but that could extend to AFC teams that are not in the Texans’ division.
While Watson is still expected to meet with NFL investigators as part of their probe into the allegations against him, any testimony in the civil trials can also be used to determine whether a suspension is warranted under the league’s personal conduct policy. The NFL had told Watson’s legal camp that it would pause its investigation to allow a Houston Police Department investigation and grand jury proceedings to operate without interference. Now that the criminal investigation and jury deliberations are complete, the NFL is free to move forward in its own probe.
All of that leads into the second aspect that teams are weighing when it comes to Watson’s future: a potential NFL suspension that could be shaped by Watson’s depositions. Two teams considering a pursuit of Watson told Yahoo Sports they are already factoring in a potential suspension as part of their decision-making process. Specifically, the teams believe Watson is likely to face a six-game suspension under the NFL’s personal conduct policy, which can be liberally applied to players in instances of alleged assault and do not require a legal verdict of guilt.
However, they added that a Watson suspension could also be lengthened or shortened by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, on the basis of other information that comes to light before a determination is made. That information could come from the depositions of Watson and his accusers in the civil cases, from the interviews of some of the accusers by NFL investigators (which have already occurred), or from Watson’s interview with league investigators.