HOUSTON — Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson will not face any criminal charges after a grand jury declined to indict the Georgia native on nine allegations of sexual misconduct or sexual assault from massage therapists.
Johna Stallings, the chief of the sex crimes and human trafficking unit of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, announced that the NFL player will not be charged. The grand jury deliberated about the accusations for six hours before rendering its decision.
Law enforcement sources indicated multiple times that there was no DNA, video or audio evidence had been found or submitted by police detectives who investigating the allegations against Watson, a former first-round draft pick from Clemson.
Deshaun Watson speaks out
An emotional Watson, 26, reflected on the legal situation and expressed hope of relaunching his career and rebuilding his standing in the community. Watson hasn’t played football in a year, and he has been under intense scrutiny during that time.
“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.”
Deshaun Watson took Fifth Amendment at civil deposition
Watson took the Fifth Amendment in his first deposition, invoking his right to not potentially incriminate himself. The 22 civil lawsuits Watson is still facing are a separate matter from the criminal complaint that is now behind the three-time Pro Bowl selection.
“We are delighted that the grand jury has looked at the matter thoroughly and reached the same conclusion we did,” Hardin said. “Deshaun Watson did not commit any crimes and is not guilty of any offenses. Now that the criminal investigations have been completed, we are happy to move forward with the civil case depositions. We will vigorously defend those cases with every ounce we have.
“There were no crimes here but there is a plaintiffs’ attorney churning up negative press and churning up his clients hoping for a pay day. These cases have been the product of a lawyer maximizing his own personal publicity at the expense of others, including his own clients. It is time to let Deshaun move on.”
A Texas grand jury heard criminal complaints accusing Watson of sexual misconduct and returned nine “no bills” with no charges filed.
“After a Harris County grand jury was presented all the evidence and had the opportunity to hear from all witnesses, grand jurors declined to indict Deshaun Watson,” the Harris County District Attorney’s spokesman Dane Schiller said in a statement. “Grand jury proceedings are secret by law, so no information related to their inquiry may be disclosed.”
Grand Jury proceedings lasted several hours before decision
The closed proceedings began Friday morning at the courthouse, lasting several hours before Watson got the news.
“Keep the same energy,” Watson’s agent, David Mulugheta, wrote on social media.
A no bill, meaning no charges, meant that less than nine jurors of 12 jurors recommended charging him with a crime.
The NFL is still monitoring the Watson case and there is still some possibility he could face punishment at some point.
“We have been closely monitoring all developments in the matter which remains under review of the personal conduct policy,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email.
Now that Watson has not been charged with a crime, his once-stalled trade market is expected to grow exponentially and accelerate, with teams having the clarity they wanted before engaging fully in trade discussions with Texans general manager Nick Caserio.
Watson could have potentially been charged with anything from sexual assault, a second-degree felony, to misdemeanor charges of indecent assault or harassment. Meanwhile, Watson will be taking his first deposition from 22 civil lawsuits alleging inappropriate behavior in his sessions with massage therapists.
The deposition of Watson lasted roughly 2 1/2 hours, was conducted by plaintiffs’ attorney, Tony Buzbee, and was held at Hardin’s office. Watson invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination on Hardin’s advice. Hardin emphasized that taking the Fifth was not an admission of guilt.
“We had a meaningless exercise today, but it went fine,” Hardin said in a telephone interview after the deposition. “Deshaun took the Fifth. Buzbee asked a bunch of questions. It was all a media moment. I warned Tony that Deshaun wasn’t going to answer any questions on advice of counsel. I suggested he put it off until Monday, but he wouldn’t do that.
“He wants to create a media moment where he gets to ask very salacious questions. Then, when Deshaun takes the Fifth, he’ll release those questions to try to make Deshaun look bad. It won’t work. No lawyer in the universe would allow his client to answer questions about subject matter that’s under investigation by the grand jury.”
Several teams monitoring the Deshaun Watson situation
Hardin said previously that the NFL player had consensual sex with some of the plaintiffs. Eight of Buzbee’s clients, plaintiffs in the civil lawsuits, were subpoenaed by the grand jury.
“It’s a non-starter because neither I or any lawyer in the free world will allow their client to give testimony in a civil case while those same issues are being heard by a grand jury,” Hardin said in a telephone interview. “Tony Buzbee didn’t want to delay. It’s unfortunate. Deshaun will be glad to testify when I advise him to.
“This is a civil matter. That’s where we believe it should be heard, not in the criminal court system. If Tony Buzbee wants to waste his time asking questions, that’s fine. Deshaun will not answer those questions. Deshaun will testify when the grand jury has completed its work.”
It’s expected that the list of teams interested in Watson will grow exponentially now that his legal problems have resolved favorably. Up to 10 NFL teams were actively monitoring the Watson situation, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
Panthers are extremely interested in trading for Watson
In particular, the Carolina Panthers are seriously engaged in wanting to trade for the three-time Pro Bowl selection. One source even characterized their level of interest as “all-in.”
Panthers owner David Tepper previously hired an investigator to thoroughly look into Watson’s legal issues. The Panthers have spoken with the Texans, as have other NFL teams.
Tepper has remained extremely interested in possibly acquiring Watson — who has a no-trade clause in his $156 million contract and would have to sign off on any possible trade — for over a year, according to sources. It’s no secret around the training facility of the NFC South franchise that the team is intrigued by the possibility of acquiring the former Clemson star.
Seahawks also have interest in trading for Texans QB
The Seattle Seahawks, having traded franchise quarterback Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos, are also interested in Watson and potential trade scenarios to fill the huge void they just created under center.
The Seahawks have a lot of draft capital, including the Broncos’ original ninth overall pick and two second-rounders. Players could also be included in a prospective trade, including wide receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.
The Seahawks have plenty of salary cap space to absorb Watson’s $35 million guaranteed salary for 2022 after trading Wilson and cutting linebacker Bobby Wagner — a surplus of $49.22 million, per NFL Players Association records.
The Cleveland Browns are another potential suitor with interest in Watson, according to sources.
New Orleans Saints interested in Watson
The New Orleans Saints, with quarterback Jameis Winston rehabilitating from a torn ACL and a pending unrestricted free agent, are also interested in Watson, according to league sources. The Saints would need to perform some serious salary cap maneuvering in order to add Watson.
Which teams are out of the Watson sweepstakes?
While there is interest from up to 10 teams in trading for Watson, no trade is imminent or developing at this time.
The Washington Commanders, once interested in Watson, have moved on and agreed to trade for quarterback Carson Wentz from the Indianapolis Colts.
The Broncos had an interest in Watson for over a year, per sources. Yet, they hesitated to pursue him given the potential reputation fallout with the accusations he had been facing and the team being for sale. They pivoted to Wilson when it became clear that Aaron Rodgers would remain with the Green Bay Packers.
Watson was nearly traded at the NFL deadline last season to the Miami Dolphins. However, the deal was scuttled because Dolphins owner Stephen Ross insisted that the quarterback settle his lawsuits. Watson was only able to reach preliminary agreements to settle with 18 of the 22 plaintiffs, per league sources not authorized to speak publicly. Dolphins general manager Chris Grier made it abundantly clear that he won’t be revisiting trade discussions, saying, “The door is shut on Deshaun.”
The New York Giants aren’t interested, per owner John Mara. He cited a tight salary cap situation and Watson’s previously unresolved legal situation.
Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman previously conducted significant due diligence on Watson before last season. The Eagles even sent an investigator to Houston to look into the legal situation and Watson’s attorney, Hardin, per sources. However, Watson has never been inclined to waive his no-trade clause for the Eagles. Moreover, Philadelphia has publicly committed to Jalen Hurts as their quarterback.
What about Lovie Smith and the Texans?
Meanwhile, coach Lovie Smith and the Texans have learned to have patience. They understood that Watson’s legal situation was out of their control.
Smith had remained hopeful that closure would ultimately be gained for Watson and the AFC South franchise.
“I have no idea,” Smith said. “And the good part about it is time kind of takes care of everything. I just know Deshaun is an excellent football player. Excellent football players need to be playing somewhere in the NFL. Hopefully, that will happen, and if it’s not with us, it’s somewhere else. And I’m sure as I see in this situation, both of us eventually are going to benefit from the situation, and I just can’t wait for that to speed up a little bit.
“How important is that? I’m agreeing with what you said. Yes, we would like a prompt resolution to it. But I’m also a patient man, too, and time normally takes care of everything. We understand this is Year 2, and I know Deshaun wants to play, and it will come to a head. I have faith in that. We just have to give it a little time, and hopefully, everybody will be happy with it. I’m sure that will be the case.”
Nick Caserio on the Watson situation
While the legal situation was continuing to unfold, the Texans and NFL teams interested in trading for the signal-caller were monitoring the situation to await clarity.
“I would say that situation, we’ve talked about this with our group, we’re day to day in terms of handling that,” Texans general manager Nick Caserio said. “Once the information becomes more relevant or prevalent, then we’ll handle it accordingly. My philosophy from the beginning has always been to do the right thing by the Houston Texans organization, and we’re going to continue to do that here moving forward.”
The Texans have been seeking at least three first-round draft picks and two second-round draft picks in exchange for Watson. Will that price rise now that Watson will not be criminally charged? That seems like an obvious possibility, but not a certainty.
Watson remained on the Texans’ roster last season and was paid his $10.54 million salary. He was not placed on the commissioner’s exempt list but played in no games. Watson only practiced during a portion of training camp before he and Caserio reached an agreement that he would report to the Texans’ training facility for individual workouts with the strength and conditioning staff but not participate in practices and meetings.
Watson was eligible to play all season. It remains unclear if he will be punished by the NFL under a personal conduct policy investigation being conducted by Lisa Friel, a former Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor.
“Rusty Hardin and Deshaun have extinguished the biggest and most serious liability: the criminal court system,” said lawyer Daniel Moskowitz, who has represented several players in personal conduct cases.
“The civil case remains and Lisa Friel and her team are ratcheting up their personal conduct policy investigation, but today’s legal victory is an important step in Deshaun clearing his name in the most serious forum. The grand jury cleared him, and that allows him to begin to change the narrative. He should take the greatest solace in that. Still, much to litigate remains, including the civil lawsuits and the NFL personal conduct policy investigation and its findings.”
Although Watson had a strained relationship with the team, that didn’t negatively impact his relationships with teammates, coaches, and other staff members. Watson offered advice to third-round rookie quarterback Davis Mills, who displayed a lot of potential and outplayed first-round signal-callers.
“He’s helped out a lot,” Mills said last season. “What he’s done with me, any questions I have, like the other guys, too, he’s an open book, and he’s taught me a lot.”