Earlier today, in the aftermath of the news that Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt requested his release and got it, I made a factually accurate observation on Twitter: Quarterback Deshaun Watson has asked to be traded, and his request hasn’t been granted; Watt asked to be released, and the team immediately complied.
Obviously, the situations are very different. Watson is ascending, Watt is descending. Watson is 25, Watt is nearly 32. The Texans weren’t going to pay Watt $17.5 million in 2021, the Texans just signed Watson to a long-term deal less than six months ago. Many responded to the tweet (some politely, some less than politely) by making that observation.
There’s a nuanced point lurking in the comparison. The Texans had absolutely no obligation to release Watt today, more than a month before the start of the new league year. They could have cut him on March 17, just before 4:00 p.m. ET. They didn’t. He asked to be released, and they quickly gave him what he wanted.
The Texans also could have tried to trade Watt. It would have required Watt to reduce his salary dramatically, but the Texans could have at least attempted to do it. By letting Watt’s agent shop the player and determine what a team would give the Texans for Watt and what a team would pay Watt, it’s possible that the Texans could have gotten something/anything for Watt.
It wouldn’t have been easy, but the Texans could have tried. Last year, for example, the Panthers held the contract of quarterback Cam Newton (drafted the same year as Watt) while trying to trade Newton. It was unlikely that the Panthers would have gotten anything for Newton, and they didn’t. But they still tried, holding his contract and preventing Newton from getting to the market as quickly as possible.
The Texans, put simply, did Watt a favor. They extended him a gratuity. He asked for a head start on the open market. He got what he wanted. Quickly, cleanly, and without any resistance.
Yes, the Texans ultimately would have cut Watt on March 17 absent an unlikely trade agreement. By rule, they had every right to wait until then. The point is that they partially waived their rights as a favor to Watt. Will they be waiving any of their rights as to Watson, who like Watt would like to move on?
That’s the real point. Teams have plenty of discretion when it comes to their contractual rights. The Texans exercised discretion to do Watt a favor. The Texans have shown no inclination to exercise their discretion to do Watson, who like Watt would like to continue his career with another team, any favors at all.
They don’t have to. They’re not required to. Just like they weren’t required to do it with Watt.