Latest on Deshaun Watson’s criminal investigation and why trade chatter is quiet

It’s been a largely quiet three months since Houston police announced they were investigating Deshaun Watson after a series of massage therapists accused the Houston Texans’ star quarterback of sexual misconduct.

A Houston PD spokesman told Pro Football Network Monday that their investigation into Watson is ongoing. The NFL is conducting its own inquiry; ESPN reported recently that Watson is willing to cooperate with the league’s efforts.

What do the Texans do at QB during Deshaun Watson’s investigation?

Even if Watson is never charged, the NFL could mete out its own punishment, including a suspension. Another option is the league placing him on paid leave while the criminal investigation plays out.

So, although Watson remains on the Texans’ active roster, that’s subject to (and likely will) change.

He skipped OTAs and minicamp, and it’s no sure thing that Watson will report when Texans training camp begins later this month. That’s a reflection of the delicate, uncertain time in both his personal life and his career.

Before more than 20 women filed a lawsuit accusing Watson of inappropriate behavior — with some talking to police and some telling the NFL their stories — Watson tried to force a trade out of Houston.

The Texans balked at his request at the time, but then built their roster in a way that suggests they’re open to moving Watson. They signed Tyrod Taylor and drafted Davis Mills out of Stanford. Jeff Driskel is on the team, too.

How does Watson’s investigation affect potential trade talks?

But even if the Texans decide to move on and find a trade partner willing to meet their demands, it’s hard to see how a trade will happen while his criminal and civil issues remain in limbo.

What’s more, there’s a belief in some quarters that the NFL would block any trade involving Watson until this matter is resolved. The fastest way for that to happen, of course, would be for Watson to agree to pay his accusers with a settlement that many expect would include a non-disclosure agreement.

Without subpoena power, NFL investigations rely heavily on the cooperation of victims. It’s not hard to envision that cooperation ending with a paid agreement.

For the sake of this exercise, let’s assume that before the start of the season, both a settlement is reached and Houston law enforcement announce they aren’t charging Watson.

Many around football then expect the Texans to shop Watson and would find that his market is, while diminished, still robust.

Which teams would still be in the Watson sweepstakes?

The Houston Chronicle reported in March — when this scandal was near its peak — that the Eagles, Panthers, Jets, Dolphins, 49ers, and Broncos still expressed some degree of interest in acquiring Watson. (They might have been bargain hunting, as the price tag for Watson is now lower than it would have been before the lawsuit.)

Of those six teams, four have since added potential starting quarterbacks. The Panthers traded for Sam Darnold; the Jets and Niners drafted Zach Wilson and Trey Lance, respectively; and the Broncos signed Teddy Bridgewater.

So that would presumably, although not necessarily, take some of those teams out of the running. But it makes sense for the Eagles, Dolphins, and Broncos to remain interested in Watson.

Of those three, the Eagles have by far the most to offer the Texans. Philadelphia will have three first-round draft picks in 2022 if Carson Wentz either plays 75 percent of the Colts’ snaps or 70 percent and Indianapolis makes the playoffs. The Dolphins, meanwhile, could offer Tua Tagovailoa, Xavien Howard (who wants a raise), and the 49ers’ first-round pick, which they acquired in a series of pre-draft trades.

Any team that deals for Watson would absorb his $10.5 million cap figure. The Eagles and Dolphins would need to clear space to do that. But minor bookkeeping would be a minor inconvenience to land a player widely considered to be one of the five best quarterbacks in the NFL.

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