CLEVELAND — It's being called one of the biggest trades in NFL history. The Cleveland Browns have acquired former Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. Upon completion of the trade, Watson will reportedly receive a five-year deal worth a fully guaranteed $230 million.
But the deal comes with baggage. A lot more baggage than the draft picks the Browns are giving up to Houston to bring in the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback. While Watson brings exceptional talent to Cleveland, he also brings allegations of sexual assault from 22 women that first came to light last year. Here's what we know as the Browns prepare to welcome their new starting quarterback:
What were the allegations?
The lawsuits were filed by 22 women who accused Watson of harassment and sexual assault during massages. They accused Watson of exposing himself, touching them with his penis or kissing them against their will during massage appointments.
One woman said Watson forced her to perform oral sex. Watson and his lawyers have denied the accusations.
What is the status of Watson's case?
From a criminal standpoint, a grand jury elected not to indict Watson on sexual assault or harassment allegations last week. That decision helped prompt the trade interest from teams, including the Browns, Falcons, and Saints.
However, Watson's legal problems are not over yet.
22 women who accuse Watson of sexual misconduct during massages have filed civil lawsuits against him. Earlier this week, Watson sat for a deposition and was questioned about two of the plaintiffs suing him. The attorney for the plaintiffs says he intends to question Watson about all of the cases.
“It comes down to credibility and I feel quite confident that the plaintiffs in this case are credible, they’re confident, they’re courageous – and I’m proud to represent them," attorney Tony Buzbee told 3News' sister station KHOU this week.
Buzbee and Watson's attorney Rustin Hardin tell KHOU that there's been no talk of possible settlements.
Could Watson still face NFL suspension?
The answer is yes. While the civil lawsuit plays itself out in Houston, the National Football League is conducting its own investigation into the matter. According to The Athletic's Lindsay Jones and Aaron Reiss, NFL investigators have interviewed at least 10 of the women who have accused Watson of sexual misconduct or sexual assault. However, Buzbee told the pair that the league hasn’t conducted any new interviews with his clients in “months.”
Regardless, the NFL could decide that Watson's actions, though not criminal, violate the league's personal conduct policy. As Jones and Reiss point out, Ben Roethlisberger, Jameis Winston, and Ezekiel Elliott were all suspended by the league for allegations of misconduct without being criminally charged.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told the NFL Network's Tom Pelissaro that the Watson trade to Cleveland will have no impact on the league's investigation.
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