The Cleveland Browns made it official, issuing statements in the wake of their blockbuster trade for three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Browns make Deshaun Watson trade official
In those statements, owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam, general manager Andrew Berry, and coach Kevin Stefanski acknowledged Watson’s unresolved legal situation that includes 22 active civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct. No settlement discussions are happening at this time, per attorney Rusty Hardin. Watson’s third deposition is scheduled for Tuesday.
Watson maintains his innocence and was not charged with a crime after a Harris County grand jury declined to return any indictments on nine criminal complaints presented a week ago by the district attorney’s office. Watson and a 2024 fifth-round pick were traded to the Browns for three first-round draft picks, a 2023 third-round pick, and a 2024 fourth-round pick. He was also signed to a $230 million fully guaranteed contract for the highest guaranteed deal in NFL history.
“We spent a tremendous amount of time exploring and investigating the opportunity to trade for Deshaun Watson,” Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam said in a statement. “We are acutely aware and empathetic to the highly personal sentiments expressed about this decision. Our team’s comprehensive evaluation process was of utmost importance due to the sensitive nature of his situation and the complex factors involved.
“We also understand there are still some legal proceedings that are ongoing and we will respect due process. It was pivotal that we, along with Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski, meet with Deshaun to have a straightforward dialogue, discuss our priorities, and hear directly from him on how he wants to approach his career on and off the field.
“He was humble, sincere, and candid. In our conversations, Deshaun detailed his commitment to leading our team; he understands and embraces the hard work needed to build his name both in the community and on the field.
“Those in-depth conversations, the extensive evaluation process, his dedication to being a great teammate and devotion to helping others within the NFL, within the community, and through his charitable initiatives provided the foundation for us to pursue Deshaun. We are confident in Deshaun and excited about moving forward with him as our quarterback and supporting his genuine and determined efforts.”
Browns had strongest roster of teams interested in Watson
Berry negotiated the record-breaking deal with Watson’s agent, David Mulugheta of Athletes First, after meeting with Watson in Houston along with Haslam and Stefanski.
They went back and forth after Watson initially eliminated the Browns and Carolina Panthers from consideration and had narrowed his choices to the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints. Watson then pivoted to the Browns, who had the strongest roster and made this huge, unprecedented offer.
“We look forward to having Deshaun as our starting quarterback,” Berry said. “We have done extensive investigative, legal, and reference work over the past several months to provide us with the appropriate information needed to make an informed decision about pursuing him and moving forward with him as our quarterback.
“Deshaun has been among the very best at the position, and he understands the work needed to re-establish himself on and off the field in Cleveland. We are confident that he will make positive contributions to our team and community as we support his return to football.”
Confidence in joining Browns roster
Watson led the NFL in passing yards in 2020 with 4,823 yards. A former first-round draft pick from Clemson — where he won a national championship — Watson has passed for 14,539 yards with 104 touchdowns, 36 interceptions, and a 104.5 rating. He has 1,677 rushing yards with 17 touchdowns.
“Our organization did a tremendous amount of background on Deshaun,” Stefanski said. “We understand the concerns and questions that exist but are confident in the extensive work Andrew and his staff have done to feel confident about him joining our organization.
“It was important for us to meet with Deshaun in person as part of our team’s evaluation process, we had a candid conversation regarding his approach to coming into our organization and community. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to coach Deshaun, he is ready to put in the hard work needed to help our team improve and make a positive impact in our community.”
Watson was on the Texans’ roster for the entire 2021 season and was paid a $10.54 million base salary. However, he didn’t play in any games and was nearly traded to the Miami Dolphins. The deal unraveled at the league deadline over Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’ insistence that Watson settle all litigation against him.
‘Clarity’ gained for Watson, Texans
During a Saturday press conference at NRG Stadium, Texans general manager Nick Caserio struck an upbeat tone as he looked forward to the future.
“Deshaun has clarity on his end, relative to what his future holds from a football standpoint,” Caserio said. “I think there are some things still on a legal front that probably have to take place, but just clarity for him individually, I think clarity for our organization in terms of what the expectation is moving forward. Felt like that opportunity, and we felt it was the right time, so that’s why we went ahead and made a decision that we did. I think we’re excited about moving forward.
“Again, the most important thing is clarity. Everybody has clarity. Everybody just has an understanding of where we stand. That’s the most important thing for all of us to understand and recognize.
“We managed the situation probably as best as we could, and I tried to probably take the burden and responsibility onto my shoulders because, ultimately, it was going to be something that I was going to have to deal with and handle. Try to take it off the players. Try to take it off the coaches. And let them focus on the things that they do well, which is playing and coaching football.”
No-trade clause loomed large
The presence of Watson’s no-trade clause was a key factor in this high-stakes deal. His agent was able to use the leverage and land a contract that includes a $45 million signing bonus and a $1 million base salary, which reduces Watson’s financial exposure if he’s suspended by the NFL under its personal conduct policy. The NFL hasn’t concluded its investigation and will need to interview Watson before investigator Lisa Friel presents her findings and recommendation to Commissioner Roger Goodell.
The no-trade clause in Watson’s $156 million original contract extension was pivotal as it created something of a free agency situation. The Texans only allowed teams making a legitimate offer of at least three first-round draft picks to meet with Watson. It was a collaborative process.
Beyond the Browns, Saints, Panthers, and Falcons, the Philadelphia Eagles continued to monitor throughout the process and were one of the more aggressive potential suitors last offseason with general manager Howie Roseman even sending an investigator to Houston, according to league sources.
Yet, Watson wasn’t inclined to waive his no-trade clause for the Eagles and nothing ever developed. One league source noted that Watson is friends with Hurts and wouldn’t have wanted to take away his starting job by supplanting him. The San Francisco 49ers called about Watson last year and had interest, per sources. However, they decided to move forward with Trey Lance as they’ll eventually trade veteran Jimmy Garoppolo.
“I would say there was a fair amount of teams, but what we tried to do was bring the teams that had a legitimate interest, and that was based off the compensation that was presented,” Caserio said.
“Going back to the earlier questions, I think there was a certain threshold that I had established in order to make it a legitimate discussion, and if we got to that point then we could engage further. I don’t want to get into the exact number, but there was a few more, however many teams than what everybody was reporting towards the end.”
Outside of Watson, no other players were included in the trade
Caserio downplayed reports of players on other teams being involved in potential trade scenarios. The Browns didn’t send the Texans any players in the trade. The Texans did have interest in Saints offensive linemen Erik McCoy and Cesar Ruiz and Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell, according to league sources.
“I would say other than three first-round picks, I would say probably the rest of it was a little bit of speculation,” Caserio said. “You just try to look at what makes the most sense. Not to go stock market here, but the market is the market. So, whatever the market says, you can’t create the market. The market is whatever the market is.”
Caserio has been in touch with Watson since the trade was finalized. The Texans have moved on, and so has Watson, one of the most dynamic players in the NFL and the league’s passing yardage leader two seasons ago.
“We’ve had some communication. I shot him a text, just wish him well,” Caserio said. “He’ll probably do good things for the city of Cleveland. It’s kind of ironic he’s going to the place where I grew up, but he’s a great player. He’ll do a lot of great things for the city. I certainly wish him well in his future endeavors.”
After the grand jury decision, an emotional Watson reacted to the legal matter
“Definitely a very emotional moment for me,” Watson said. “I know we’re far from being done handling what we need to handle on the legal side, but today is definitely a big day. I thank my lord and savior Jesus Christ for letting the truth be heard. I thank everyone that was a part of this, of seeing and hearing both sides. That’s what my team wanted was to have a fair slate of us telling our side of the story and letting the conclusion come down to what happened today and that’s what the grand jury decided.
“I’m going to keep fighting to rebuild my name and rebuild my appearance in the community. We’re going to continue on the legal side to handle what we need to handle, but also ready to get back on the field, been prepping for that, and ready to go for that. I thank my family, all my close supporters that’s been behind me this past year. I thank my team for keeping me up this past year. I’m going to continue to keep pushing forward to build my name to where it was, if not better.”