NFL: Browns confirm Watson trade after 'extensive' probe

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Mar 21 2022 09:14 AM

Former Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson walks off the field after failing to get a first down against the Kansas City Chiefs in the second half of their AFC Divisional round playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, USA, 12 January 2020. File photo. Larry W. Smith, EPA-EFE
Former Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson walks off the field after failing to get a first down against the Kansas City Chiefs in the second half of their AFC Divisional round playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, USA, 12 January 2020. File photo. Larry W. Smith, EPA-EFE

LOS ANGELES -- The Cleveland Browns confirmed their acquisition of DeShaun Watson on Sunday, insisting the team carried out an "extensive" investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against the quarterback before completing the blockbuster deal.

The Browns stunned the NFL after swooping for Watson in a trade that will reportedly see the embattled former Houston Texans quarterback paid $230 million over five years.

The trade, first reported on Friday, came a week after prosecutors in Texas said the 26-year-old would not face criminal prosecution over a flurry of sexual misconduct allegations.

More than 20 women have accused Watson of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior during massages he paid for.

Watson -- one of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL -- still faces a slew of civil claims over his conduct, and could still be hit with a hefty sanction from the NFL.

The Browns' pursuit of Watson has raised eyebrows among many NFL commentators, some painting the team's embrace of the quarterback as morally indefensible. A USA Today headline described the trade as a "repugnant black eye for the NFL."

On Sunday, however, the Browns defended Watson's signing, with owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam saying the team had carefully evaluated the allegations against Watson.

"We are acutely aware and empathetic to the highly personal sentiments expressed about this decision," the Haslams said in a statement.

"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."

The owners said in meetings with team officials, Watson had been "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 added.

Browns general manager Andrew Berry said the team had spent several months probing Watson.

"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," Berry said. 

"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."

However, attorney Tony Buzbee, who represents the 22 women who have made accusations against Watson, said no one from the Browns had contacted him in relation to the trade.

"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 told ESPN.

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