The Texans will evaluate their entire football operation -- including the future of head coach David Culley -- in the coming days as they embark on a critical offseason that could yield a long-awaited trade of quarterback Deshaun Watson before free agency opens in March, sources say.
Houston is 4-12 in its first season under Culley, 66, who took over a team in transition and has been viewed as a potential bridge to the future. First-year general manager Nick Caserio has embarked on a total overhaul of the roster and salary cap, and Watson hasn't played this season amid 22 allegations of sexual misconduct and a longstanding trade request.
Sources say Culley has the building's respect as a person, and it would've been difficult for any coach to win big in his position. But some players have grown frustrated with some in-game decisions and communication issues, and multiple key veterans have been released or disciplined during the season. If Culley is retained, he'll need to address those issues and will likely make changes to his staff, per sources.
In his public comments, Caserio has consistently said all evaluations will come after the season. The expectation is the Texans decision-makers will meet and take their time before deciding how to proceed. Is Culley part of the vision for the Texans' future? If not, there's a case for moving on and bringing in the next coach now, so that person can have input as the Texans continue reshaping the roster -- with potentially unprecedented assets once an anticipated Watson deal is complete.
Multiple teams were willing to offer packages including three first-round picks and two third-round picks for Watson, 26, before the trade deadline, sources say, but the lack of resolution to Watson's legal situation scuttled the chances of finalizing a deal.
The target now is to trade Watson before the 2022 league year begins on March 16, maximizing the flexibility the Texans have in free agency and the draft. And some clarity on the serious legal matters Watson faces could be coming soon.
The Houston prosecutor handling 10 criminal complaints filed against Watson is expected to make clear her stance on any potential charges sometime in the next several weeks and turn over the case to a grand jury, sources say. Depositions have also begun for the 22 women who accused Watson of sexual misconduct in civil court; Watson's deposition can take place no sooner than Feb. 22 and a pre-trial conference is set for May. Watson has denied wrongdoing.
The NFL also has an open investigation into the allegations against Watson under the league's personal-conduct policy. Though Watson hasn't played for the Texans this season, he has not been suspended or placed on the Commissioner's Exempt List, meaning he remains free to play and has been collecting his $10.54 million salary. His salary jumps to $35 million next season on a deal that runs through 2025.
Watson has a no-trade clause and waived it this season only to his preferred destination, the Dolphins. In essence, he has veto power. However, the Panthers also showed renewed interest in a potential Watson trade before the deadline in November, and other teams figure to be interested as well, pending further information on the legal cases and possible league discipline.
Watson has no issues with Culley or Caserio, but he has made clear he won't play another snap for Texans owner Cal McNair, in part because he felt misled about the hiring of Caserio. And at this point, sources say Watson is in no hurry to figure out his new NFL destination, since 2022 training camp is still over six months away.
The Texans have already begun moving on at the position, using a third-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft on quarterback Davis Mills, who has shown flashes of his potential in 12 games (10 starts), including recent wins over the Jaguars and Chargers. They're expected to explore the QB market this offseason as well.