WHO'S TELLING THE TRUTH?

Here’s how dark a worst-case scenario for Watson, Texans could really get

A drawn-out legal battle could last months. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

The number of women filing civil lawsuits claiming that Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson sexually assaulted them now stands at 14. And counting. The lawsuits are available for the public to read on the Harris County district clerk's website. The details are graphic and paint Watson as an entitled, aggressive sexual predator. Twelve of the incidents allegedly occurred in 2020. Two allegedly happened this year, one as recently as this month. Tony Buzbee, lawyer for the women, say more women have come forward about unwelcomed sexual encounters with Watson and more lawsuits may be filed.

Watson insists that the allegations are false and he has always treated women with the "utmost respect." If these lawsuits ever reach court, it will be left for a jury to decide who's telling the truth: Deshaun Watson or 14 or more women.

He says, they say.

It would appear that Watson's lawyer Rusty Hardin has one job now: make this all go away and fast. Deshaun Watson's reputation, image and desire to be traded away from the Houston Texans are taking a daily beating, from which there may be no rescue unless Buzbee's tortuous, steady drip, drip, drip of lawsuits stops.

While a courtroom battle between Hardin and Buzbee would make great theater, with salacious testimony involving sex and celebrity, the rich and powerful against the poor and defenseless, it's in the best interests of both sides to resolve these lawsuits privately, out of the public's glare.

Here is one possible scenario: Watson and his accusers reach a financial settlement and sign non-disclosure agreements. Watson does not admit guilt. After teams lower their trade offers, he will play one more year with the Texans during which he is jeered mercilessly at road games. The Texans will trade him after next season.

That's a possible best case scenario for Watson.

Buzbee insists the lawsuits are not about money. "I personally don't need it, and the women don't want it," he said during a press conference. The lawsuits all seek minimal compensatory damages. That could change if Hardin calls and says let's make a deal.

Of course, Watson is presumed innocent of all these allegations. Civil lawsuits are not arrest warrants or guilty verdicts. Anybody can sue anybody for any reason. However, Watson needs to end this now, before the Houston Police Department and Harris Country district attorney decide to conduct an investigation and possibly file criminal charges. While a criminal case could proceed despite an out-of-court settlement and without the cooperation of the accusers, it is less likely.

"The sooner Rusty makes the civil cases go away, the less likely the criminal investigation would ever reach critical mass," said lawyer Brian Wice, Channel 2's legal analyst and winner of the 2016 "Percy Foreman Attorney of the Year" award.

While Hardin and Buzbee are two of the most famous and successful lawyers in the U.S., and both would love to notch a win against the other in court, neither wants this case to get that far for a simple reason …the loser has too much too lose.

If a jury sides with Watson, then Buzbee and the accusers have a lot to explain. Was this a frame job against a young, accomplished athlete? Who came up with this plot? There will be questions of whether the Houston Texans were involved in the takedown of Watson. It is stunning to listen to sports talk radio in Houston and hear fans accuse the Texans, specifically team owner Cal ("or Hal," according to Buzbee) McNair and his spiritual advisor Jack Easterby of colluding with Buzbee and the accusers. It is not a theory shared in the national media.

If a jury were to decide against Watson, that would destroy a glittering NFL career and possibly expose him to a criminal charges where a guilty verdict could compel him to register as a lifetime sex offender.

A drawn-out legal battle could last months, well past Texans training camp and the start of the 2021 NFL season. The NFL is not the NBA. An NBA team plays 82 games, so each game is less important than football's 16-game schedule. An NBA player can miss occasional games because he has to be in a courtroom. An NFL player, especially a star quarterback, can't miss games for non-injury reasons and weekday practices are critical to prepare for Sunday.

The NFL is conducting a separate investigation to determine if Watson violated the league's personal conduct code. While there are no guarantees, and again Watson is presumed innocent of all these allegations, a fast out-of-court settlement may help him avoid suspension or other punishment.

According to NFL insiders, several teams still are interested in trading for Watson. However, "interested" and willing to trade equal value are two different things. Any team trading for Watson while he is under investigation for sexual assault can expect howls of protest from social justice groups, ticket holders and fans. If teams can get Watson for pennies on the dollar, though, they might be willing to absorb bad publicity in exchange for winning.

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All systems go for the Astros!Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

10 days ago I noted that the Astros had finished an amazingly lengthy schedule stretch that would have needed to harden up to become powderpuff soft.
I Tweeted this:

Well, seven wins against just two losses later, whip up is what they did. Sweeping four games from the Mets in which the Mets never led at any point? Not exactly payback for older Astros' fans who remember 1986, but sweet nevertheless. Taking three of five from the Yankees in all compelling games looked like a fabulous precursor to a highly possible third Astros-Yankees American League Championship Series matchup in six years.

Despite their present 48-27 mark the Astros are still seven games behind the Yankees and their crazy 56-21 ledger. The Yanks are absolutely catchable though. Not because the Astros are the flat out better team, nothing indicates that. It's the schedule. There are four losing teams behind the Astros in the AL West. Behind the Yankees in the AL East, three winning teams (Red Sox, Blue Jays, Rays). Even the woebegone for years Orioles are much improved, with the best last place record in Major League Baseball (as a reference point, the Orioles' record is 10 games better than AL West laughingstock Oakland). Over the coming dog days of summer the Yanks have the substantially higher intradivisional hurdles. The plot reeeeally thickens if the Astros sweep the doubleheader with the Yankees at Minute Maid Park slotted July 21 right out of the All-Star break. That's it for regular season matchups between them.

The Astros enter the weekend exactly as far ahead (seven games) of the AL Central-leading Minnesota Twins as they are behind the Yanks. That's a very strong position for the Astros to secure a bye past the best-of-three Wild Card Series. Remember, with the newly expanded postseason format byes go to the top two division winners in each league.

Now for the Astros it's back to a marshmallow opponents parade. They have 16 games remaining before the All-Star break, all vs. losers: six with the Angels, six with the A's, four with the Royals. Let's reasonably posit that the Astros successfully take out the trash more regularly than they did in the 34 game stretch. 12-4 is certainly plausible. That would get the Astros to 60 wins at the break with a record of 60-31, which would be on pace for a season total of 106.8 wins. Let's round up. 107 wins is the franchise record they set in 2019.

This team is outstanding, but still can use an offensive upgrade. The lineup just had its best month of the season but that didn't take a whole lot. Alex Bregman has finally perked up some. Yuli Gurriel, not so much. Martin Maldonado, pretty much unperkable. Heed this James Click: more potent lineups than the 2022 Astros came up short in the World Series in both 2019 and 2021.

Barring a huge second half of the season, Gurriel should not be in the Astros' 2023 plans. I'd say the same for Maldonado but he is on course to have a five million dollar option next year become guaranteed. He's played in 54 games this season, the option vests at 90. Ideally he's a backup. At the risk of some charging heresy, Maldonado's defensive imperativity (is that a word?) is overblown. Pitch-framing metrics do not rate him highly. He does not eliminate opposition running games. One, very few teams run much at all. Two, Maldonado has thrown out 26 percent of would be basestealers this season. Jason Castro has thrown out 25 percent. The big one last. With Maldonado behind the plate this season, Astros' pitchers' earned run average is 3.23. With Castro, 2.37. Would that hold up for Castro if he was the primary catcher? No chance. But sample size issues accepted, that Maldonado's defensive savant-ness renders his offensive ineptitude inconsequential? Nah. Certainly not in a lineup not up to recent past Astro teams.

Two weeks ago, this column covered Yordan Alvarez's chance at the greatest individual offensive month in Astros' history. Yordan's June ended with his scary collision with Jeremy Peña that knocked both out of Wednesday's matinée at the Mets and kept both out of Thursday's win over the Yankees. That was a harrowing smash as opposed to the delightful smashes that Alvarez busted out all over June. He finished batting .418 with an OPS of 1.346. Real and spectacular, but not quite ultimately as awesome as Jeff Bagwell's June or July 1994, or Richard Hidalgo's closing month of the 2000 season.

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