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Inside story of why the Houston Texans didn’t trade quarterback Deshaun Watson, what’s next

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HOUSTON — A day after the NFL trade deadline, with quarterback Deshaun Watson still on the Houston Texans roster, general manager Nick Caserio said the situation hasn’t been a distraction in the building.

But on Wednesday morning, much of Caserio’s 27-minute news conference was taken up by questions about Watson’s future with the franchise, trade discussions with the Miami Dolphins that fizzled out and the “serious” legal situation that Watson is in.

“I don’t really want to comment on something that is out of my control,” Caserio said when asked whether he believed Watson’s legal situation made a trade more difficult to complete. “So, again, we just take it one step at a time and take the information as it comes and try to make good decisions the best we can. In the end, it wasn’t a trade that came to fruition.”

The Texans now cannot trade Watson until the start of the new league year on March 16, 2022, but there are several complicating factors that could prevent a trade from being completed.

On March 16, 2021, one day before the start of the 2021 NFL year, the first of 23 lawsuits was filed against Watson accusing him of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior during massage sessions. There are currently 22 active lawsuits as one was dropped after a judge ruled in April that plaintiffs needed to amend their petitions to disclose their names.

Two months before the first lawsuit was filed — and less than six months after Watson signed a four-year, $156 million contract extension that would keep him in Houston through the 2025 season — the quarterback asked for a trade. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Watson was unhappy his input wasn’t considered in the hiring of Caserio.

Caserio and coach David Culley insisted in their news conferences before the lawsuits against Watson were filed that the former first-round pick out of Clemson would not be traded. However, that discussion shifted after the allegations against Watson came to light.

Once Caserio began having conversations about the possibility of trading Watson, the general manager made it clear he would move on from the quarterback only for the right offer, sources told ESPN. Schefter reported in September that Caserio was looking for a package of six players and draft picks from teams interested in acquiring Watson.

There were a handful of teams interested in the weeks after Watson’s desire to be traded became public, including the Dolphins, Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers, San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Football Team, sources told ESPN. But once teams became aware of the lawsuits filed against Watson, several declined to pursue the trade further.

In the two weeks before Tuesday’s trade deadline, there were reports out of Houston that a deal with the Dolphins was close. But on Wednesday morning, Miami general manager Chris Grier called “90%” of the rumors false.

“We never got to a point where anything was going to be realistic in terms of happening,” Grier said. “It was still us just doing our due diligence, just talking through things. We never got to a point where anything was that close to happening.”

While the Dolphins were interested in Watson, owner Stephen Ross wasn’t comfortable going forward with it, Schefter reported Tuesday. On Tuesday night, Tony Buzbee, the attorney for the 22 plaintiffs, told Fox 26 in Houston there was a “pretty tough effort to try to settle” the lawsuits before the trade deadline.

According to Schefter, Texans chairman and CEO Cal McNair privately told people he wanted the team to separate from Watson before the trade deadline but ultimately left the decision up to Caserio.

Grier said Wednesday that he didn’t want to get into the specifics of trade offers with other teams, but a team source told ESPN the Dolphins weren’t willing to guarantee all three first-round draft picks Houston wanted the package for Watson to be built around.

A no-trade clause in Watson’s contract extension, signed in September 2020, limited Caserio while looking for a trade partner. In fact, Watson would waive his no-trade clause only for the Dolphins, a source told ESPN. The Texans and Panthers did not get very far in trade talks, a source said, because Watson had not agreed to be traded to Carolina.

Last week, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters the league didn’t have enough information about the lawsuits to make a decision on potential discipline for Watson. The information it did have wasn’t enough to place the quarterback on the commissioner’s exempt list.

If Watson is put on the list, he would be paid — as he is now — but not allowed to practice or play. Because Goodell didn’t put Watson on the exempt list, the Texans are carrying him on their 53-man roster and making him a healthy scratch on game day. Watson gets a $620,000 game check each week even though he is deactivated.

If the Texans trade Watson before June 1, Houston would take on $16.2 million in dead money on their 2022 salary cap. If the trade happens after June 1, there would be $5.4 million of dead money against the cap in 2022 and $10.8 million the next year.

Even before Watson was accused of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior, it was going to be a challenging task to trade the 25-year-old franchise quarterback because of his contract. Along with the dead money the Texans would have to eat because of the guaranteed money and the $27 million signing bonus, acquiring Watson would have the potential to decimate an interested team’s draft capital and pool of young talent, considering what Houston would have wanted in return.

What’s next?

If the civil cases were to go to trial, the earliest that could begin is in early May. According to the agreed-to case docket, a status conference would be set for May 2, 2022, and the court would set a trial date.

Even if Watson and the 22 women were able to settle the lawsuits, Watson could still face criminal charges. Ten women have filed complaints with Houston police against Watson, his attorney Rusty Hardin told ESPN’s John Barr in July. According to Hardin, eight of them are among the women who have filed suits against Watson; two have not sued the quarterback.

Of course, if there are criminal charges filed against Watson, the Texans won’t receive the value Caserio was determined to get. But given Houston’s insistence on not accepting a conditional pick, that’s clearly a risk the front office is willing to take.

Although a lot will depend on whether there are criminal charges and/or the lawsuits are settled, there is a huge difference in keeping Watson on the roster in 2022 if a trade is not made. In 2021, the Texans are paying Watson a base salary of $10.54 million. In 2022, they would be paying him $35 million.

ESPN’s Marcel Louis-Jacques contributed to this story.

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Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel suffers setback before Man United clash

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Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel said on Friday that Ben Chilwell has suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury and the next six weeks will determine whether he needs surgery which could rule him out for the majority of the season.

The 24-year-old was forced off midway through the second half of Tuesday’s 4-0 Champions League win over Juventus with a knee problem following a challenge by midfielder Adrien Rabiot.

– ESPN’s Notebook: The inside stories in football

Reports had suggested Chilwell was set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines but Tuchel was upbeat about the possibility of the England international avoiding an operation.

“Ben has a partial ACL tear and the decision is to treat it conservatively,” Tuchel said. “The next six weeks will tell the story if he makes it and will be fully available within this six weeks, or after the six weeks or needs surgery after that.

“Now I only care about the six weeks. The first reaction of his body is very positive so hopefully it stays like this.

“This is the decision after all the examinations and it is a very responsible decision, there is no rush in it and no pressure. This is the reasonable way to do it so all the focus is on the next six weeks.

“We need to talk about it again in six weeks. Maybe we don’t need to talk about it again because everything is fine because this would be the best case. There is a worst case and some shades of grey in between. We have to wait. It does not help if we start now speaking about worst-case scenarios because there is also a best-case scenario.”

Chilwell was in a rich vein of form having forced his way into the first team, scoring three goals in four matches during October and Tuchel added: “There is never a good moment for big injuries and for injuries in general but this for him personally is a very bad moment because he was so involved, so good and so full of confidence.

“He was a huge part in our performances and victories in the last weeks. We are very sad but he is actually at the moment very positive. I just spoke to him some minutes ago. He is very positive because his body reacts very positive to the first treatment and the injury. After a while, you have to refocus on the positive things which is now the next weeks.”

Chilwell later posted a message on his Twitter account and wrote: “Very frustrating picking up an injury in a moment like this when I am really enjoying my football and playing in this team.

“I will do everything I can to get back on the pitch as soon as possible. Thank you for all the messages of support.”

N’Golo Kante is also set to miss Sunday’s visit of Manchester United after suffering a twisted knee against Juventus. Tuchel said it would be “almost a miracle” if he makes the game and instead the midfielder is likely to be sidelined for a few days.

United will be managed be caretaker boss Michael Carrick after the club sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Sunday and although they arrive 12 points behind leaders Chelsea, Tuchel said they could still be considered contenders.

“I was [expecting them to challenge for the title] and maybe I still am,” said Tuchel. “I will never write anybody off, not in this league and not in this game because it is a big club, first of all, but a very experienced and individually a top level group of players.

“This is still the case. Part of the performance from us is to not let them perform because once we let them perform you can see within seconds and minutes in every game the full potential and talent of these players.”

Tuchel also hailed the tactical influence of Ralf Rangnick, who is set to become United’s interim boss but not in time for Sunday’s game.

Rangnick gave Tuchel his first coaching opportunity with Ulm Under 15s when he was forced into early retirement as a player aged 24 due to a knee injury and the Blues boss offered a curious endorsement of Rangnick’s methods.

“He helped me a lot,” Tuchel said. “He was my coach and then one of the main figures to convince me to try coaching.

“He had a huge influence on all of us at this time because he showed us that it is not necessary to follow people to the toilet in football games.

“That was the belief in those days, that the defenders follow their strikers wherever they go. He showed us that it is possible to defend everybody in a zone.”

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Lakers superstar LeBron James doesn’t feel suspension was warranted for altercation with Isaiah Stewart

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Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James doesn’t believe a suspension was warranted for his involvement in the altercation with Detroit big man Isaiah Stewart.

James made a dominant return to the lineup against Indiana, pouring in 39 points to go along with five rebounds and six assists in the 124-116 OT win.

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Postgame, he gave his account of what happened in the incident that incensed Stewart.

“It was a box out in the free-throw line. His elbow got kinda high, if you watch the film it got me off-balance a little bit,” James explained.

“I tried to swimdown on his arm and when I swung down on his arm he got off-balance and the left side of my hand grazed his face. I knew right away, I knew right away I had caught some part of his head so I went over to apologize to him and obviously you guys seen what happened after that. Definitely accidental.”

Stewart made repeated attempts to get at James, requiring multiple staff members to hold him back as blood streamed down his face. Stewart received a two-game ban for the reaction, while James was sidelined for one game.

The Lakers would lose that one game without James, 106-100 at Madison Square Garden to the New York Knicks. LeBrondoesn’t believe he should have missed the contest.

MORE: LeBron James gets couple ejected in Indiana

“I’m definitely not that type of player. I hate to see that, what escalated after that.

“I didn’t think itwarranted…I thought it warranted an ejection because of what happened after that. Having me in the game, the excitement from the fans, what could possibly happen after that, but a suspension I didn’t think was warranted but the league made that call.”

Los Angeles climbed back to .500 at 10-10 on the season with the win against the Pacers, as they try to shake off a slow start to the season. Fellow star, Anthony Davis missed the game against Indiana with a fever.

Davis will have one night to recover before the Lakers host Sacramento at STAPLES Center – tip-off is at 8:30 p.m. ET.

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New Orleans Pelicans’ Zion Williamson cleared for full team activities; still no return timeline

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New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson has been cleared to participate in full team activities, the team announced on Friday evening.

Williamson, who is recovering from a fractured right foot, had his latest set of scans on Wednesday. They were evaluated by Pelicans team orthopedic surgeon Dr. Scott Montgomery and by Dr. Richard Ferkel, a surgeon who has worked on NBA players in the past.

“It’s been a long road to get him to this point,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “Anyone that’s ever dealt with any type of injury like that, it’s hard to come back from. It’s hard mentally. He’s done a great job pushing through. Z has an opportunity now to be a full go in practices, and we’ll have a practice soon. Hopefully that’ll add some juice to our team. He’s a huge part of what we do there.”

The Pelicans said Williamson went through 4-on-4, full-court work on Friday while the team is in Utah for a back-to-back. New Orleans plays Utah on Friday and Saturday before heading to Los Angeles to play the Clippers on Monday. The team will travel back to New Orleans on Tuesday and then play the Dallas Mavericks the following day.

Because of the team’s schedule, it’s likely the Pelicans won’t have a full practice for Williamson to participate in until Thursday.

In a news release, New Orleans said it has yet to determine when Williamson will return to game action.

“It’s more about how he responds to practices,” Green said. “How he responds to the physicality of playing against his teammates. How he responds to getting up and down. Just giving a timeline is tough on that. We want him back as soon as possible. But it’s all predicated on how he feels after workouts, and the medical team will work diligently with him and we’ll go from there.”

Williamson has yet to play in a game this season because of the fractured foot. In his absence, the Pelicans have gotten off to a 4-16 start.

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