The Cleveland Browns officially announced the Deshaun Watson trade and addressed concerns regarding the controversial acquisition.
The Browns dealt for Watson on Friday, sending three first-round picks, a third-round pick and fourth-round pick to the Houston Texans. Watson still faces civil lawsuits from 22 women who have accused him of sexual assault and sexual misconduct.
On March 11, a grand jury in Harris County, Texas, declined to indict Watson on criminal charges. That led to an intensified trade market and the Browns' decision to acquire Watson and sign him to a record-breaking contract.
Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam, along with general manager Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski, issued statements about Watson on Sunday.
"We spent a tremendous amount of time exploring and investigating the opportunity to trade for Deshaun Watson," Dee and Jimmy Haslam said. "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.”
Cleveland reportedly signed Watson to a fully-guaranteed five-year, $230 million deal, which broke the NFL record for most guaranteed money, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Shortly after Watson had asked to be traded in early 2021, a series of sexual assault, harassment and misconduct allegations led to 22 lawsuits filed by women against Watson. The 26-year-old quarterback did not play last season amid the allegations.
After a grand jury declined to indict Watson on criminal charges, the trade market quickly opened, with the Browns, Saints, Panthers and Falcons all meeting with Watson and making their best offer.
The Browns, after initially being told on Thursday they were out of the running, ultimately landed Watson.
"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.”
ESPN's John Barr reported Sunday that no NFL team reached out to Tony Buzbee, the attorney for the 22 women with lawsuits against Watson, or his clients during their pursuit of Watson.
Watson will replace Baker Mayfield, who Cleveland selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Mayfield requested a trade on Thursday amid the Browns' interest in Watson.
The Browns averaged just 195.3 passing yards per game last season, which was sixth worst in the league. Watson is a clear upgrade at the position, but the acquisition comes with risk and controversy that will continue during his ongoing legal issues.
"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.”