CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Browns have done their homework on Deshaun Watson and will continue to monitor his legal situation, but it remains to be seen whether they’ll try to trade for him.
Watson, 26, has a no-trade clause in his contract and can veto any deal.
He effectively hit the trade market on Friday afternoon when a grand jury declined to indict him on criminal charges following a police investigation prompted by 22 civil lawsuits accusing him of sexual assault and harassment during massage sessions. A number of teams will be interested, and the Texans could be seeking three first-round picks and more.
But Watson still has civil suits pending and faces a possible suspension from the NFL.
“We have been closely monitoring all developments in the matter which remains under review of the personal conduct policy,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said Friday in a statement.
The Browns have a history with Watson, because they scouted him thoroughly in 2017 coming out of Clemson, and he thought he would be drafted by them with the No. 12 pick. Instead, they traded the pick to the Texans, who promptly drafted who proved to be one of the league’s elite quarterbacks.
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The Browns that season had Mitch Trubisky No. 1 on their board, and undervalued Watson and Patrick Mahomes, who went No. 10 to the Chiefs. The Browns, with no organizational consensus on a quarterback — and with then-head of football operations Sashi Brown and coach Hue Jackson at odds — ultimately unanimously agreed upon Myles Garrett as the No. 1 pick.
That valuation may have spared the Browns the long, drawn-out saga the Texans and Watson’s accusers have endured. The organization would have to do a lot of due diligence before determining whether they’d want to bring Watson into the fold.
They’ve stated publicly that they fully expect Baker Mayfield to be their starter in 2022. But they’re also committed to upgrading the team in every way possible, and Mayfield, coming off his worst career season and subsequent torn labrum surgery, is heading into the final year of his contract.
“It’s definitely a very emotional moment for me,” Watson told reporters Friday in his first press conference in more than a year. “I know we’re far from being done of 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. And I thank everyone that was a part of this for seeing and hearing both sides. That’s what my point and my team wanted to do, is have a fair slate of us telling our side of the story and letting the conclusion come to what happened today, and that’s what the grand jury decided on.
“I’m just going to keep fighting to rebuild my name and rebuild my appearance in the community. And on the legal side handle what we need to handle. But also ready to get on the field, and prep for that.”
With the criminal charges off the table, a trade could happen quickly. Watson sat out all last season amid the investigation but had previously asked to be dealt.
“We are delighted that the grand jury has looked at the matter thoroughly and reached the same conclusion we did,” Watson’s lead attorney, Rustin Hardin, said in a statement. “Deshaun Watson did not commit any crimes and is not guilty of any offences. Now that the criminal investigations have been completed, we are happy to move forward with the civil case depositions. We will vigorously defend those cases with every ounce we have.”
The Steelers won’t pursue Watson, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but other teams will definitely be intrigued. Watson has made the Pro Bowl three times, and led the NFL in passing yards in 2020.
New head coach Lovie Smith said at the NFL combine last week that the Texans are hoping for “a prompt resolution” to Watson’s situation.
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