Deshaun Watson traded to Browns for three first-round draft picks, lands $230 million fully guaranteed deal

It's a new day for Deshaun Watson after he was waived his no-trade clause to the Cleveland Browns, two days after the NFL free agency period officially opened.

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, in a blockbuster move Friday afternoon that shook up the NFL and ended a fractured business relationship that started over a year ago when he asked out of Houston after becoming disenchanted with the direction of the organization, officially joined the Cleveland Browns as he was traded to the AFC North franchise.

Deshaun Watson traded to the Browns

It was a plot twist as the Browns had previously been eliminated from consideration by Watson before revisiting discussions Friday morning and pivoting away from the previous two finalists: the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints.

Watson called his first audible to join the Browns, changing the play on the fly from the two NFC South franchises to head north to a cold-weather city. The Browns are scheduled to play the Texans at NRG Stadium this fall at an undetermined date.

Watson posted a photoshopped image of himself in a Browns uniform on Instagram with this caption: “Cleveland, LETSSSS GOOOO!! 😤 #DawgPound Ready To Work!”

Deshaun Watson trade compensation and contract information

The deal included three first-round draft picks in 2022, 2023 and 2024, a third-round pick in 2023, and a 2024 fourth-round selection in exchange for the three-time Pro Bowl selection and a 2024 fifth-round draft pick.

Watson will also get a five-year, fully guaranteed $230 million contract for the highest guarantee in NFL history and includes a $45 million signing bonus with a $1 million base salary in the first year of his deal, per league sources. He’s due $184 million in the first four years of the deal and is on top of his four-year, $156 million extension, per league sources. The Texans shed Watson’s contract and gained $24 million in salary cap space.

“Earlier today, we agreed to trade Deshaun Watson to the Cleveland Browns,” Texans general manager Nick Caserio said. “I felt it was the right move for our organization as we head into the new league year focused on building our roster for the 2022 season. Our priority right now is adding talented players to the foundation we have already put in place over the last 15 months and this trade supports that plan. As we navigate through the rest of the offseason, we remain open-minded to all avenues that allow us to improve our roster and add to our program.”

The deal was negotiated by Browns general manager Andrew Berry and Watson’s agent, David Mulugheta. Then, trade terms were agreed to and submitted to the league office for final approval.

Watson maintained an open mind throughout recruiting process while meeting with teams, per league sources, and shifted a few times before ultimately picking Browns with their competitive roster and willingness to give him a $230 million fully guaranteed deal with a $45 million signing bonus.

How the Watson trade came together

The Texans recognized the significance of Watson’s no-trade clause and green-lit his ability to meet with teams in a collaborative process that led to a trade.

Caserio inherited a difficult situation when hired as Watson had requested a trade, then his legal problems made that more difficult. One year later, Caserio trades Watson to Browns for a huge haul of picks that includes three first-round picks.

“I’m extremely proud of the way Nick Caserio navigated us through this challenging situation,” Texans chairman and CEO Cal McNair said. “He remained patient before ultimately making the decision that is best for us in both the short and long term. We’re confident in our plan to build a championship program that can sustain success and our entire organization is excited to move forward together.”

The Browns were informed Thursday they had been eliminated from consideration along with the Panthers with Watson narrowing his decision to the Falcons and the Saints before the quarterback changed his mind Friday and shifted to the Browns, per sources. Mulugheta approached the Panthers about guaranteeing the entire contract, but they were resistant to that idea.

Watson prioritized teams that are best positioned to win a Super Bowl, shared his vision for how to orchestrate an offense, have talented personnel, and are a culture fit, according to league sources.

The list of teams that made inquiries about Watson included the Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Miami Dolphins, who were once aggressively pursuing Watson, did not initiate conversations this time around.

The Falcons and Saints were the finalists when Watson informed the Browns they were eliminated before he changed his mind. The deal includes $80 million more than the previous record for fully guaranteed money at signing.

Watson is a dynamic player who led the NFL in passing yardage two seasons ago. The former first-round draft pick from Clemson will now take his multidimensional game to Cleveland.

In his final season with the Texans, a 4-12 campaign during which former coach and general manager Bill O’Brien was fired, Watson led the NFL with 4,823 passing yards and passed for a career-high 33 touchdown passes with just seven interceptions.

The Browns will now look to trade Baker Mayfield. A source indicated previously that Mayfield would welcome a trade to the Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks.

Watson’s current legal status

As Watson is being traded to the Browns, it will end a long, drawn-out process that lasted more than a year. Watson has — and is still — working through several legal issues, but the biggest hurdle was cleared when a grand jury opted not to indict him on nine charges. Watson is still facing 22 civil lawsuits by massage therapists with allegations of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior.

“Any transaction would have no effect on the NFL’s ongoing and comprehensive investigation of the serious allegations against Deshaun Watson,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email. “Nor would it affect his status under the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the Personal Conduct Policy. If the league’s investigation determines that Watson violated the Personal Conduct Policy, discipline may be imposed pursuant to the policy and the CBA.”

While those legal proceedings are expected to continue to play out in the weeks ahead, the Browns know that he cannot face any prosecution on any of the charges, according to Johna Stallings of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.

Watson is scheduled for a deposition on Tuesday to be held at the office of his lawyer, Rusty Hardin. It’s his third deposition in the lawsuits filed by Houston attorney Tony Buzbee.

And while Watson could still be suspended by the NFL, the viewpoint of Cleveland is that the long-term payoff is worth potentially not having Watson for however many games the NFL would suspend him in the short term.

Watson is answering questions at his depositions and no longer invoking his Fifth Amendment rights. He is scheduled for his third deposition Tuesday in Houston. There are no settlement discussions, according to Hardin. “That is not being discussed at all at this time,” Hardin said in a telephone interview.

When the grand jury issued their decision a week ago, Watson reflected on the situation.

“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.”

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