By TOM WITHERS – AP Sportswriter
Deshaun Watson’s complicated past didn’t stop the Cleveland Browns from betting on the quarterback’s future.
He’s into Cleveland’s roster and that’s the only certainty about the talented but controversial QB at this point.
Watson’s stunning trade with the Browns became official on Sunday, capping a whirlwind couple of days in which the three-time Pro Bowler – who has been accused of sexual harassment or assault by 22 women – agreed to come to Cleveland after he team had initially said he would not do it.
The Browns are worried about bringing Watson in with his legal baggage, but the team is comfortable with his decision.
“We have spent an enormous amount of time scouting and investigating the opportunity to act for Deshaun Watson,” said Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam in a team press release. Our team’s comprehensive assessment process was paramount due to the sensitive nature of his situation and the complex factors involved.
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“We also understand that some court cases are still pending and we will respect due process.”
The Browns, desperate to win, went all-in for Watson and have sent first-round picks to Houston over the next three seasons, along with a 2023 third-rounder and a 2024 fourth-rounder. The Texans will be separated from Watson and a pick separate for the fifth round in 2024.
Cleveland is giving Watson, who still faces civil lawsuits, public scorn and possible NFL discipline, a fully guaranteed $230 million contract.
Last week, the Haslams flew to Houston with general manager Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski and met with Watson to discuss his situation and future. The 26-year-old has also been courted by Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans.
The Browns were happy with Watson’s character.
“He was humble, sincere and open,” the Haslams said. “In our conversations, Deshaun explained his commitment to leading our team; he understands and appreciates the hard work it takes to build his name both in the community and on the field. … We are confident in Deshaun and look forward to moving forward with him as our quarterback and supporting his genuine and determined efforts.”
It’s still not known when Watson will be in Cleveland, where fans have been debating the trade for days. The Browns are still working out plans for a possible press conference.
Now that the deal is complete, Watson and the Browns face tough questions about their new partnership.
For Watson, Cleveland means a fresh start.
For the Browns, he brings not only criticism but also hope.
While becoming an instant Super Bowl contender after another disappointing season, the Browns are also being condemned for taking on a player with ongoing legal troubles. Nearly two dozen massage therapists have claimed he assaulted them during rehab sessions.
A Texas grand jury recently declined to indict Watson on criminal charges, but the civil cases are pending – as is his return to the field.
Watson may face disciplinary action from the NFL, which is conducting an independent investigation into his conduct. Based on precedent, the league could ban him for multiple games for violating his personal conduct policy.
Watson’s arrival has also ended Baker Mayfield’s tumultuous four-year stint as a starter for the Browns. The former No. 1 overall asked for a trade last week after learning of Cleveland’s pursuit of Watson and will grant his wish.
Indianapolis, Seattle and New Orleans are possible landing spots for Mayfield.
Despite Mayfield having a tough 2021 season after injuring his left shoulder in Week 2, the Browns had publicly stated they expected him to return as a starter this year before deciding to pursue Watson.
As for football, Watson is a big improvement. He is believed to be one of the league’s elite QBs, despite not playing last season after requesting a trade. He led the league with 4,823 yards in 2020 with 33 touchdown passes.
The Browns have completely overhauled their quarterback situation.
Cleveland acquired Watson and has agreed to sign free agent Jacoby Brissett, a former starter at Indianapolis, as his replacement. The Browns also agreed to sell veteran reserve player Case Keenum to the Buffalo Bills on Saturday.
And now that they have their quarterback, the Browns are also looking to re-sign free agent defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who played two seasons with Watson in Houston. Clowney had a solid 2021 with the Browns after signing a one-year deal with them.
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