Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot reported on Friday that the Browns remain all-in on Watson and won’t look to escape the $230 million deal they signed Watson to, or void the trade with the Texans. Cabot reported the Browns have not changed their view of Watson, and they have not yet begun considering whether to leave the contract.
“The Browns and all of us that know Deshaun are still totally behind him,” Rusty Hardin, Watson’s lawyer, told Cleveland.com. “These latest claims by [plaintiffs’ attorney Tony] Buzbee change nothing, and they are totally false, and that will ultimately be what everyone concludes when they hear the evidence.”Watson has denied any wrongdoing, and sources told Cabot nothing in the latest revelations has prompted the Browns to consider voiding the extension or the trade with the Texans.
MORE: Everything you need to know about the Deshaun Watson legal situationThis report comes as Watson faces increased scrutiny over the various sexual misconduct and assault claims from massage therapists who have come forward over the past year. Two civil lawsuits added over the past month brought the total up to 24 active claims.
The Monday Morning Quarterback’s Albert Breer said on The Pat McAfee Show that the 23rd lawsuit was expected by the league and the Browns, but he said the 24th was “at least a little bit of a surprise to the league.”
“I’m not sure Deshaun told the Browns, and I think there’s going to be some questions about how up-front Deshaun was,” Breer said. “And I don’t know whether he was completely up front or he hid the fact that this incident happened at all, but I think that that’s a pretty big thing.”
Then The New York Times dropped a major report that found Watson received massages from more than 66 women during a 17-month period and had a nondisclosure agreement for massage therapists to sign that was given to him by the Texans’ director of security.
After The Times’ report, Buzbee added the Texans to the 24 civil lawsuits against Watson, claiming that the latest report showed the Texans facilitated Watson’s conduct.
MORE: What to know about Texans’ reported involvement in massage encounters
Watson had signed a four-year, $177.5 million extension before the 2020 season with the Texans to keep him with Houston at least through 2025. The extension was set to begin in 2022.
Before that four-year contract could even kick in, Cleveland gave Watson a new extension that overrode the previous deal, giving him $230 million over five years after he was acquired in March. The entirety of the deal was guaranteed, meaning Watson would have the largest guaranteed contract in NFL history. Two of the women who accused Watson of sexual assault told Soledad O’Brien on HBO’s “Real Sports” that the Browns were “rewarding bad behavior.”
The Browns traded three first-round picks, a third-round pick and two fourth-round picks for Watson.
MORE: Browns defend decision to acquire Watson from Texans
The Browns do have some options in their deal with Watson. Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reported in April that Watson’s deal contains both “typical club protections” and other exceptions that would allow the team to void the deal if anything happens after the signing of the deal or if he is charged, indicted, convicted or pleads no contest to felonies or misdemeanors.
Cabot reported that it is almost certain Watson will be suspended, but said the amount of time for which he’ll be suspended remains the question.
Two grand juries have declined to indict Watson on any criminal charges, but Watson is still embroiled in what will be a lengthy legal process. Watson will have at least 24 trials (assuming none of the suits are dropped or settled and no additional ones are filed). Cleveland.com previously reported that none of the initial 22 lawsuits would go to trial between Aug. 1, 2022 and March 1, 2023, ensuring these cases will linger throughout the 2022 season.
The NFL has yet to announce any discipline for Watson as it continues to investigate the allegations. Commissioner Roger Goodell said on May 24 the league is “nearing the end of the investigation,” per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, though that came before the two additional lawsuits or The Times’ report.