Falcon Points

How the Patriots signing of Cam Newton impacts the Texans in the AFC pecking order

Photo by Getty Images.

We start this off with the same disclaimer we will be using for the foreseeable future: If there is a season.

The New England Patriots made a big move Sunday night, offsetting the news of their latest cheating punishment by signing Cam Newton to a one-year deal. It was the rare sports news in a world without much sports.

Newton gives the Patriots a huge boost, if he is even close to healthy. He will also be with the best coaching staff he has ever had. The ability to run gives the Patriots an element they never had under Tom Brady, and quarterbacks with that skill often elevate the running backs they play with. While New England still lacks offensive weapons, the signing shows what Bill Belichick wants his team to be: A run-first, ball control offense bolstered by a terrific defense.

For those quick to write the Patriots off after losing Brady, one thing remained: The best coaching staff in football. They will find the most effective ways to use Newton. And they were very good last year with a diminished Brady.

The big question is what does it mean for the Texans?

After a questionable off-season, it remains unclear where they fit. They are certainly behind Kansas City and Baltimore, part of that second tier of contenders that needs some luck to compete with the big dogs. But the Newton signing might push them down a spot. While still a threat to win their division, a revamped Patriots team adds yet another road block in their path to be better than that.

The division itself will likely come down to a three-horse race with the Phillip Rivers-led Colts, Titans and Texans. All of those teams are in that next tier behind Kansas City and Baltimore. It would not be a shock to see any of them win the AFC South. But could any of them get by the Patriots in the playoffs? And now that Texans-Patriots game, which looked like a Texans win on paper, could easily be a loss, which could impact the AFC South race.

The Titans were able to beat New England in the playoffs last season, but this Patriots team could look like a better-coached, better quarterbacked version of last year's Tennessee team. If Rivers can learn to protect the football, the Colts certainly have a good enough roster to do it, but that is a big if.

As for the Texans? The same questions remain. Can the new additions replace DeAndre Hopkins' production? Can Anthony Weaver improve a defense that was terrible last season and did little to improve in the off-season? Can David Johnson turn back the clock and be an effective running back again? If the answer to all those is yes, then they can compete with anyone not named Chiefs or Ravens.

If not? It's likely the Patriots will remain what they have always been - ahead of the Texans in the AFC.

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So where do we stand now with the matter of Deshaun Watson? Composite image by Jack Brame.

After 16 months of insisting that he wouldn’t settle out of court with an ever-increasing number of women accusing him of sexual misconduct – “all I want is my good name back” - Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson suddenly and surprisingly decided to pay off the women to drop their civil lawsuits against him on Tuesday.

Well 20 of the 24 women, anyway.

“We are working through the paperwork related to the settlements. Once we have done so, those particular cases will be dismissed. The terms and amounts of the settlements are confidential,” said Tony Buzbee, the attorney representing Watson’s accusers.

Analysts say by settling most of the cases Watson, while not admitting guilt, Watson took a positive, major step toward getting his football career back on track. He sat out the entire 2021 season when he was a member of the Houston Texans.

And perhaps that’s the most stunning aspect of the entire Deshaun Watson scandal. That settling 20 of 24 lawsuits claiming sexual misconduct is a major step toward, if not redemption, at least getting his life moving forward.

What about the four cases alleging serious and disgusting sexual misbehavior pending in the legal system? Imagine if we didn’t know that at one time there were 24 similar allegations against him – and news broke that four different women accused Watson of unwanted, aggressive sexual acts. We’d be horrified. If the four women were telling the truth, we’d be talking about a sexual predator on the loose.

But now that Watson has settled with 20 of his 24 accusers, we’re practically considering the remaining cases as “only four.”

Do you hear yourself talking? Only 4? The only good thing about 4 … is 24.

So where do we stand now with the matter of Deshaun Watson?

It’s possible that the remaining four holdout accusers will agree to accept a settlement to avoid rolling the dice in a trial that won’t reach court until next year. Now that the First National Bank of Deshaun Watson is open for business, hard negotiations to wipe the remaining four cases off the docket can begin.

While the 20 settlements already reached are confidential, that’s not stopping fans and analysts from guessing how much Watson paid the women. And let’s not forget Buzbee, who we can assume will get a big chunk of change for his work. Considering that previous reports show that Watson offered $100,000 to the women last year, that is a reasonable starting point for the bidding now.

I spoke with one attorney with knowledge of the Watson case. He believes the women will be paid between $100,000 and $200,000 depending on the level of their accusations.

If I were sitting in the audience at the Price is Right, I’d be shouting “higher!” My guess: up to $500,000 each, paid in installments. Let’s crunch the numbers, 20 times half a million equals $10 million. Watson is scheduled to earn $230 million, fully guaranteed, over the next five years from the Browns. He can afford it. It’s an accuser’s market.

If the other four don’t settle, the cases eventually will go to court, and the women could lose. It’s in the financial interest of both sides to settle. So let’s throw another $2 million on the fire.

The NFL already says that Tuesday’s announced settlement with 20 of the accusers won’t affect any punishment, if any, the league hands down for Watson. Most in the media are guessing a six-game suspension on the low end, up to another year on the sidelines for Watson on the high end.

Again, I’m screaming “higher!” Technically higher. The last thing the NFL wants is to announce a punishment and later more women come forward with accusations of sexual misbehavior. Or Watson continues to solicit non-NFL affiliated masseuses on Instagram and acts inappropriately. While experts think Buzbee may be “out of the Deshaun Watson business,” there’s nothing to stop other lawyers to hop aboard the Watson money train. It’s a headache the NFL doesn’t need, especially in light of other punishments the league has handed down that now seem light.

My guess is that the NFL will suspend Watson indefinitely with an agreement to review the matter in one year. If there are no more serious and credible accusations, no additional lawsuits, no other concerns, then Watson will be OK’d to play the 2024 season.

No matter how this plays out in the future, there is plenty of wreckage left behind. Watson is now a broken brand. It’s estimated that he once had upwards of $10 million in product endorsements. It’s difficult to imagine that any company would want to be in the Deshaun Watson business now.

The Cleveland Browns, while relieved that Watson is on the road to playing for them at some point in the future, look like a cutthroat team willing to trade its soul for victories. When announcing their acquisition of Watson, team officials said they did extensive and thorough investigation into Watson’s character and legal issues. Not too many are buying that.

The Texans, while not accused of being pimps or accomplices for Watson, do appear to be enablers or they looked the other way during Watson’s masseuse spree.

Local media in Cleveland and Houston won’t be nominated for any Pulitzers for their investigation into the Watson case. It took the New York Times to lower the boom on Watson, that he solicited 66 women, not all of them licensed masseuses in Texas, over 17 months – not the 45 women over five years as Watson admitted to – to work on him, some of the massages in a hotel room paid for by the Texans.

Is the whole sordid case coming to an end? Let’s see if the NFL decides to punish Watson. Let’s see if more women come forward with accusations against Watson. Let’s see if the four remaining women accept a settlement.

As the great American philosopher Yogi Berra once said, it ain’t over till it’s over. And it ain’t over yet.

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