Lopez: Deshaun Watson might have a magic bullet – and it’s awful for the Texans

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The Texans are not the only ones who can play hardball, it seems.

And if CEO Cal McNair and Co. continue to defy quarterback Deshaun Watson’s request for a trade, it might end up blowing up in their collective faces, making the organization look more dysfunctional than it already does.

The NFL has yet to rule whether players will be allowed to opt out of the 2021 season.

The topic came up at the NFLPA’s Zoom meeting Thursday and sources in the meeting say the league still has not determined if players will have the opt-out option for the 2021 season.

Already, multiple NFL events have been cancelled or held via Zoom-type meetings, including cancellation of the NFL Combine. While Covid-19 vaccinations continue at a less-than brisk pace compared to expectations, the league continues to push for full stadiums in 2021.

The Center For Disease Control, however, has yet to offer a recommendation and the NFL’s chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, said only, “I sure hope so” when asked recently about full stadiums in 2021.

If the NFL does not allow full attendance, it’s highly likely opt-outs again will be allowed.

Neither is it expected the NFL will make a determination on attendance before the April 29 NFL Draft, which at best could allow only limited numbers of in-person fans.

If the Texans do not trade Watson before the draft, the best they can hope for in a trade after the draft are 2022 picks and perhaps current players.

In Thursday’s NFLPA meeting, eliminating 2021 Organized Team Activities and again abbreviating training camp and the preseason also were discussed.

What this means for Watson and his agent David Mulugheta is they may have the Texans over a barrel.

If the league allows opt-outs, Watson may well take the option and sit out the 2021 season. If he does, his contract “tolls” – in other words, it basically pauses and he would lose only minimal salary and bonuses.

Last year, players who opted out received $150,000 of their salary, roster bonuses and workout bonuses, but lost their remaining 2020 salary. Once a player opted back in, the contract resumed basically uninterrupted.

From a Texans perspective, it would be worst-case scenario. There would be no Watson, no trade – i.e., draft picks and/or players acquired – and the team still would have cap and roster issues in 2021.

Watson, meanwhile, would not suffer the financial hit of significant fines and long-term lost salary of a holdout.

And if Team Watson really wants to play hardball, they could perhaps even protest or legally challenge the NFL if an opt-out is not allowed. Considering the pace of vaccines and so many NFL events already being cancelled or adjusted, it probably would not be a battle the league would want to have.

Cal McNair, Jack Easterby and general manager Nick Caserio are standing their ground on a very slippery slope.

If you thought the Deshaun Watson saga could not get any uglier, think again.

Both sides are dug-in. But Watson’s camp may have a magic bullet.

John P. Lopez is co-host of In The Loop, weekdays on SportsRadio 610 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. He was a columnist at the Houston Chronicle for more than 17 years and co-authored books on former NFL star Dan Pastorini (Taking Flak -- My Life In The Fast Lane) and 1996 Olympic gold medalist Kerri Strug (Landing On My Feet–A Diary Of Dreams).