The Browns split their fanbase in acquiring Deshaun Watson, a quarterback accused by more than 20 women of sexual assault and harassment, from the Texans on Friday. After making the deal official Sunday, team officials are speaking out about their decision to trade for him.
In statements released Sunday, Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam, general manager Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski emphasized the “extensive” investigations into Watson to determine whether to pursue him.
“We are acutely aware and empathetic to the highly personal sentiments expressed about this decision. Our team’s comprehensive evaluation process was of utmost important due to the sensitive nature of his situation and the complex factors involved. We also understand that there are still some legal proceedings that are ongoing and we will respect due process,” the Haslams said in a statement.
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The Haslams continued on to say that Berry and Stefanski met with Watson to discuss how he views his career in the future, and described the 26-year-old as “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,” the Haslams said. “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.”
Watson missed the entire 2021 season as he faced accusations of sexual assault and harassment. While a grand jury decided earlier this month not to indict Watson, he still faces 22 civil lawsuits from women accusing him of sexual misconduct ranging from inappropriate touching to forced oral sex. He could still be suspended by the NFL.
Tony Buzbee, the attorney representing those 22 women, told ESPN he did not hear from the Browns or any other NFL team exploring a trade for the quarterback.
“The Browns organization did not reach out to me. I didn’t expect them to do so, and can understand why they didn’t. But, knowing what I know, they probably should have,” Buzbee said.
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The Browns surrendered three first-round picks, a third- and fourth-round pick to acquire Watson, who was also being pursued by the Saints, Falcons and Panthers. Watson originally ruled out the Browns before changing his mind, reportedly believing the team gives him the best chance to win now. Once he signed off on a move to Cleveland, the team gave him a new contract that paid him the most guaranteed money in a single deal in NFL history.
The last time Watson appeared on the field, he passed for 4,823 passing yards with 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while completing 70.2 percent of his passes in the 2020 campaign. The season earned him his third straight Pro Bowl nod.
Berry said the team did “extensive investigative, legal and reference work over the past several months” to help the team make the decision whether to pursue Watson.
“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,” Berry said in a statement. “We are confident that he will make positive contributions to our team and community as we support his return to football.”
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Stefanski praised the background research done by the Browns’ front office into Watson and said the team understands “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,” Stefanski said in a statement. “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.”