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Opinion: Texans are a disaster and star Deshaun Watson is unhappy – but there is a path that may save team

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What it will take for the new Texans GM to save a dysfunctional organization

Sports Pulse: Will Deshaun Watson leave before the new GM has a chance to make changes

SportsPulse, USA TODAY

It’s hard to believe that this time last year, the Houston Texans had just concluded only the fourth double-digit win season in franchise history. Based on the overall growth exhibited by the team during the regular season and postseason, the future seemed bright despite a 51-31 loss to eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City in the divisional round of the playoffs.

But perhaps we should have taken a closer look at the tea leaves from that defeat. The epic collapse that saw the Texans blow a 24-0 second-quarter lead and surrender 41 unanswered points before losing by 20 now seems like an omen for what the coming year held in store.

Through a long list of poor decisions, both by management and ownership, the Texans have gone from contender to utter chaos in one calendar year. 

Texans brass watched as then-head coach/GM Bill O’Brien shipped off another franchise cornerstone (wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins) for mediocre compensation and then awarded quarterback Deshaun Watson one of the richest contracts in NFL history. Then Houston fired O’Brien after a 0-4 start.

As the Texans went 4-8 the rest of the season, internal conflict swelled as owner Cal McNair leaned heavily on controversial executive Jack Easterby – the former New England Patriots “character coach” who came to Houston in a similar capacity and steadily gained power.

Now the Texans find themselves in a position where Watson, the only good thing they really had going for them, is so angered by the organization’s dysfunction and handling of the general manager and head coaching search that he wants out, according to reports. Some around the league believe he has played his last game in a Texans uniform.

Faced with the possibility that Watson could seek to force his way out of Houston just four months after signing his four-year, $156 million contract, the Texans’ hopes for a rapid turnaround now dangle by a thread.

New general manager Nick Caserio, hired away from the Patriots two weeks ago, has inherited an unenviable soap opera. But he may hold the keys to salvation.

The 45-year-old Caserio has long been regarded as a bright football mind as he climbed the ranks from Patriots coaching and personnel assistant to director of player personnel while working hand-in-hand with Bill Belichick, who has final say on all personnel decisions.

Caserio’s hiring, according to some reports, frustrated Watson because McNair had given Watson the impression he would welcome the quarterback’s input when selecting the next GM and head coach but then did not consult Watson. Watson also was angered the Texans hadn’t interviewed his top choice for head coach: Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, whom Patrick Mahomes strongly recommended to Watson.

Caserio can’t help what happened before he got to Houston. He can’t help the fact that his new bosses are woefully inept and have ruined the trust of the Texans’ most prized player, an iconic athlete nearly every franchise would covet.

But the new GM’s best chance to save the franchise is to do everything in his power to win over Watson. 

Despite reports that portray bleak prospects of Watson remaining in Houston, one person familiar with his thinking told USA TODAY Sports they believe the relationship could be salvaged. It would take a great deal of action, however. The person spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the topic.

Caserio no doubt understands that because of Watson’s elite-level talent and massive contract, which includes a no-trade clause that only Watson can waive, the quarterback possesses great leverage. So Caserio must convey to Watson that despite the fact the Texans are owned by a family whose late patriarch once described his players as inmates, Caserio himself greatly values Watson not only as an athlete, but as a person and a football mind.

The first step should involve a face-to-face meeting. No matter where Watson is spending his offseason, Caserio should go there, listen and attempt to learn. Then he must communicate to Watson that the quarterback is the focal point of his plans. Caserio must also explain how he intends to position Watson to win Super Bowls in the prime of his career.

Caserio and the Texans on Monday were scheduled to hold a virtual interview with Bieniemy. 

The optics are less than ideal because the Texans didn’t request the meeting with Andy Reid’s top assistant until news leaked of Watson’s frustration. But at that point, Caserio wasn’t on board and wasn’t leading the head coaching search as he is now. 

Caserio must convey to Watson an understanding of why he views Bieniemy as a top candidate. There’s no guarantee Bieniemy would even want to sign with such a turmoil-riddled organization. It’s also important for Caserio to explain to Watson what he values in the other candidates he has interviewed (Buffalo defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, Baltimore assistant head coach David Culley and Indianapolis defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus).

Caserio should explain how he aims to fortify the roster around Watson despite no first- or second-round draft pick and while the team is currently more than $10 million over the salary cap. 

Because the Texans have gone to the Patriots’ well three times now (O’Brien, Easterby and Caserio), Watson could be wary of the new GM. However, Caserio does boast credibility and even more extensive experience and success in his role than did O’Brien and Easterby.

Fortunately for Caserio, time is on his side. The new league year doesn’t start until March, so he can use the days and weeks between now and then to cultivate his relationship with Watson and put action behind his words. If Caserio can keep Watson in a Texans uniform, he’ll claim his first big victory as general manager.

However, if his efforts fail and Watson has indeed made up his mind that the damage is irreparable, Caserio must settle for the next-best thing: pursuing a trade that yields the Texans the greatest haul of draft picks and players to expedite the rebuild. That would require the franchise taking yet another step backward, but if executed correctly the new resources could help springboard Houston toward brighter days.

But Watson is a rare talent. Teams don’t easily replace players like him. 

For the organization’s greatest chance of success, and for the sake of the city and fan base that passionately embraced Watson, Caserio needs to get the quarterback on his side. 

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