A week after a Harris County, Texas grand jury dismissed nine criminal cases against him, Deshaun Watson agreed to waive his no-trade clause to facilitate a trade to the Cleveland Browns for the Houston Texans.
To acquire Watson, 26, the Browns will give up three first-round picks and two more picks, offering the significant return the Texans were looking for one of the most talented young quarterbacks in the NFL.
Watson hadn’t played since the end of the 2020 season with the Texans, when he asked for a trade. Weeks after that request, 22 women accused Watson of sexual misconduct during massage appointments in civil lawsuits that remain unsolved. Their complaints described a series of actions, including Watson exposing himself, deliberately touching therapists’ hands with his genitals, ejaculating on them, and sexually assaulting them.
Watson has denied any wrongdoing and his attorney, Rusty Hardin, said all sexual acts that occurred during massage appointments were consensual.
There is no indication when the NFL will complete its investigation of Watson for potential violations of his personal conduct policy. League investigators were awaiting a resolution in the criminal cases to question Watson but have already spoken to several of the women who have filed complaints against him.
Watson would also have met the Falcons, Panthers and Saints this week. Because Watson had to waive his no-trade clause before a deal could be reached, the trade talks played out more like a bidding war, even as the 22 lawsuits against him continued to move forward. Watson also sought to have his new team guarantee his compensation, but the Browns went further by giving Watson a new five-year, fully guaranteed $230 million contract, a person with first-hand knowledge of the terms of the deal. agreement confirmed. This person requested anonymity because the team had not announced the terms of the contract.
Between meetings with NFL teams, Watson was filed Tuesday for two of the civil lawsuits. Tony Buzbee, the attorney for the 22 plaintiffs, said in an interview Tuesday night that Watson did not invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in Tuesday’s depositions and answered questions under oath for the first time. Buzbee said last Friday’s grand jury decision did not affect his clients’ desire to move forward with their civil cases, and there were no further settlement conversations. He added that no NFL team had contacted him for case information or to seek to speak with any of the women.
Baker Mayfield, the Browns’ 2018 No. 1 overall pick, posted on Twitter Tuesday night what was essentially a farewell letter to Cleveland after news broke of Watson’s reunion with the Browns. Mayfield was the starting quarterback for the Browns when the franchise broke its 17-year playoff drought, but the team hadn’t sought to sign him to a second contract. He’s not part of the Browns’ trade package but is expected to move to another team.
The Watson trade will end a standoff between Watson and the Texans that dates back to early 2021, when the quarterback asked to be moved to a new team after becoming disillusioned with the direction of the franchise.
Watson signed a four-year, $156 million extension with the team in September 2020, but he and the Texans went to a 4-12 record while Bill O’Brien was fired as coach and manager. general mid-season. Watson’s rift with the team deepened when team executives failed to deliver on their promise to include him in the search for a new coach and general manager. The Texans walked out of the search firm they were working with to hire general manager Nick Caserio, an executive linked to Jack Easterby, a former character coach in New England, who took on an outsized role in the operations of team soccer.
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Watson was eligible to play in 2021 and earned his full base salary of $10.5 million from the Texans, but he was inactive for every game.
The NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy states that players may face disciplinary action even without a criminal conviction if they engage in prohibited behavior, including sexual offenses and any conduct that poses a danger to safety and well-being of another person. Jameis Winston was suspended for three games in 2018 after an Uber driver said he grabbed her in the crotch. Kareem Hunt was suspended for eight games in 2019 after a video emerged that showed him shoving and kicking a woman in a hotel. No criminal charges were filed in either case.