By Terrance Turner
March 18, 2022
Quarterback Deshaun Watson is headed to the Cleveland Browns.
Watson decided today that he wants to waive his no-trade clause and be traded to the Browns after initially meeting with them and rejecting them. The move comes after some high drama in Cleveland; Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield was slightly miffed that the Browns were meeting with what turned out to be his replacement. But according to ESPN’s Jake Trotter, “What did offend the 26-year-old was learning over social media — instead of from the Browns directly — that they were flying to Houston to meet with Watson.”
The move aggravated already-simmering tensions between Cleveland and Mayfield. “They didn’t inform Baker ahead of time, just as a courtesy,” one source told ESPN. “It played out so publicly, it was just very insulting. … It really angered Baker.” Insulted by the treatment, Mayfield requested a trade from the Browns, telling ESPN’s Adam Schefter that it is “in the best interests of both sides” for Cleveland to split with the star quarterback. On Thursday, word broke that Mayfield wanted out.
“It’s in the mutual interest of both sides for us to move on,” Mayfield told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. “The relationship is too far gone to mend. It’s in the best interests of both sides to move on.” Apparently — after initially rejecting the request — the Browns have decided to do just that. The Browns are set to give Watson a new five-year, $230 million contract, sources told Schefter. He would receive $184 million over the first four years of his new contract — a $48 million raise over what he was scheduled to make under his current contract.
The full $230 million is guaranteed, sources told ESPN, setting a record for highest guarantee given to an NFL player.
The deal is expected to include three first-round picks, a third-round pick and potentially a fifth-round pick, league sources told ESPN. The deal offers Watson $184 million over the first four years and $230 million cumulatively. But the number that needs to be focused on is 22. That’s the number of lawsuits filed against Watson by neary two dozen women who have made accusations against him.
As one columnist for USA Today wrote: “Watson is now past the criminal phase of those accusations, but he is by no means out of the woods with the NFL, who will undoubtedly broker an internal deal in which it makes an ‘example’ of Watson with some sort of suspension, and touts this trade as part of free agency’s Grand Theater.
What this trade tells us is what we already knew — Deshaun Watson is a very talented quarterback, and because of that, anything he does off the field will be minimized and ignored by the league to a greater or lesser degree — to whatever degree the league finds convenient at any particular time.”
A grand jury last week declined to indict Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson on charges related to sexual assault or harassment of early two dozen massage therapists. The Harris County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement: “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. Grand jury proceedings are secret by law, so no information related to their inquiry may be disclosed.”
Watson had been named in 22 lawsuits by a variety of women who claimed alternately that he exposed himself, groped women, and pressured them to perform oral sex on him. According to the New York Times, ”Although the 22 suits filed to date share many similarities, only two include claims of sexual assault: Watson was said in both cases to have pressured women to perform oral sex during massages and was accused in one of also having grabbed a woman’s buttocks and vagina. The civil suits allege that Watson engaged in a pattern of lewd behavior with women hired to provide personal services, coercing them to touch him in a sexual manner, exposing himself to women he had hired for massages, or moving his body in ways that forced them to touch his penis. The incidents cited in the suits were said to have occurred from March 2020 to March 2021.”
Massage therapist Ashley Solis was the first person to file a lawsuit against Watson. She revealed herself in a press conference, alongside lawyer Tony Buzbee. In that press conference on April 6, 2021, Solis stated that she was traumatized and solicited by the NFL player and that Watson was directly responsible.
“I am a survivor of assault and harassment. Deshaun Watson is my assaulter and my harasser,” Solis said in a statement. “Watson assaulted and harassed me on March 30, 2020, in my own home, doing what I love most: massage therapy.”
Solis wept as she read from a prepared statement during a press conference last April. She said she can no longer operate on patients without her hands shaking, adding that images of Watson’s face flash across her mind during sessions with others. She said the profession that “I love so much has been forever tainted.”
“He needs to be held accountable for his actions,” Solis said. The second accuser, Lauren Baxley, also spoke out at the April 6 press conference. she, too, read from a letter. In the letter, Lauren Baxley called Watson “a predator with power” and alleged he touched her with his penis multiple times during a massage session. She said that after the session, she felt shame and terror that no one would believe her.
“There is trauma associated with unwanted sexual contact and assault in a place that’s meant to bring peace and therapy, but there are even deeper terrors that you have brought into my life,” Baxley said.
By that point, another lawsuit had been filed. Per ESPN, “The lawsuit was filed by Houston attorney Tony Buzbee on Wednesday night [March 17] and appeared on the Harris County district clerk’s website Thursday morning [March 18]. This time, the accuser was a massage therapist who alleges that Watson sent a direct message to the plaintiff over Instagram and then scheduled a massage for Dec. 28, 2020, at an office building in Houston.
“After leaving the room, the massage therapist alleges she returned to find Watson lying on the massage table on his stomach with just a small towel covering his buttocks. She alleges that when Watson turned over midway through the massage, he “got more aggressive, forcefully telling her to move her hand down to his pubic area.”
The plaintiff alleges that she felt “intimidated and threatened” and “she was afraid of what someone like Watson could do if she did not submit to his demands.” she also said in the lawsuit that Watson made it clear that he could either help or hurt her career depending on whether she acquiesced to his demands. The lawsuit further alleges that Watson forced the woman to perform oral sex on him and that she did not consent.
Buzbee represented all of the women who filed civil suits against Watson. But Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, firmly denied all the accusations against his client and further alleged that they were a “money grab”. on his website, he revealed that ”emails sent to Mr. Watson’s representatives in California reveal that Mr. Buzbee and attorneys at his firm sought $100,000 in hush money on behalf of Ms. Solis to quietly settle the allegations the month before he filed the first lawsuit.”
In responding to the representative’s questions about the need for such a payment, Mr. Buzbee responded: “We made a legit demand. You rejected it. We won’t be making another or bid against ourselves.” He then added: “This is Houston, Texas. Perhaps you should find him a lawyer here so you can apprise both you and your client of the landscape here and who you are dealing with.”
A series of lawsuits soon followed. One of the latest lawsuits focuses on a massage session in November 2020, alleging Watson “assaulted and harassed Plaintiff by touching her with his penis and exposing himself.” It also claims that Watson has “used more than fifty different women for massages,” adding that “some made clear that they were unlicensed, and others made sure they did not specialize in massage therapy.”
The lawsuit involves a massage session between Watson and a plaintiff, who says she is a “licensed esthetician,” not a licensed massage therapist. The lawsuit says that when the plaintiff alerted Watson to that fact and offered to connect him with a licensed massage therapist, Watson declined “and insisted that he wanted her to perform a massage.”At one point during their session, Watson moved his penis onto the plaintiff’s hand “in an attempt to get her to touch it,” according to the lawsuit. “Plaintiff asked incredulously what was he thinking and he replied, ‘You can sit on it.’ “
At the conclusion of the session, Watson “had what said on the top ‘Non-Disclosure Agreement’ ” and, in the lawsuit’s words, told her that “in order for him to pay her she had to sign it.” The plaintiff signed it “without reading the document,” according to the lawsuit. However, Watson later allegedly paid her $250 instead of the $605 that the lawsuits claim the service cost.
These claims spurred an investigation by the National Football League, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Houston Police Department. According to the Houston Chronicle, “Eight of the women who sued Watson filed criminal complaints against him with Houston police and appeared before the grand jury. Two other women who didn’t sue Watson also filed police complaints.” A total of 10 complaints were filed by late July 2021, according to the CBS Houston affiliate KHOU. Despite the dozens of lawsuits surrounding Watson, the grand jury in Harris County chose not to indict him.
“This is 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 to do, 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 on, so thank you and I just thank my Lord and Savior again.
“I’m just going to keep fighting to rebuild my name and rebuild my appearance in the community. We’re going to continue on the legal side, off the field, 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 that’s been behind me, supporting me and keeping me up this past year. I’m going to continue to keep pushing forward and build my name back to where it was, if not better.”
In the wake of this news, a number of teams have begun to pursue Watson in trade talks. Among them are the Carolina Panthers, the Cleveland Browns, the New Orleans saints, and the Atlanta Falcons. The Browns appear to have prevailed. Stay tuned…