Editor’s note: This story contains accounts of sexual assault. If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or at https://www.rainn.org.
Deshaun Watson has reportedly made a decision about where he wants to spend the next chapter of his NFL career.
The quarterback plans to waive his no-trade clause for the Browns, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. This comes after Cleveland met with Watson on Tuesday, but was told Thursday that it was out of the running.
Cleveland will be trading three first-round picks and two additional picks for the quarterback, sources told Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer. His new contract, a five-year, $230 million deal, is guaranteed, according to Schefter, and it sets a new record for the highest guaranteed contract in the league.
Per Breer, the Browns receive Watson and a fifth-round NFL draft pick in the deal. They send the Texans three first-round picks, a third-round pick and a fourth-round pick.
It appears likely that the Browns will now honor Baker Mayfield’s trade request, which a source told Breer that Cleveland said earlier this week it would not accommodate. When the franchise met with Watson, it seemed to have prompted Mayfield to pen a letter to the city of Cleveland that read very much like a goodbye. ESPN's Chris Mortensen later reported that the team was seeking to have “an adult” at quarterback, which seemed to be a predecessor to an eventual split.
It was believed that Watson would end up with the Falcons or the Saints after both the Panthers and Browns were reportedly told they were no longer in the running. Carolina met with Watson on Monday and reportedly made an offer to Houston for Watson on Sunday. The Panthers also aggressively cleared cap space in an attempt to land the quarterback in February ’21, which was before the first civil lawsuit was filed.
Atlanta emerged as a “sleeper team” in Watson talks Tuesday. Per ESPN’s Dianna Russini, the quarterback personally reached out to Atlanta, showing interest in the franchise. Schefter also reported that Falcons owner Arthur Blank developed a relationship with Watson when the quarterback was the team’s ball boy while playing at Gainesville High in Georgia. The team went as far as informing veteran quarterback Matt Ryan about pursuing the Houston quarterback.
Meanwhile, New Orleans expressed interest in Watson on Sunday, when NFL’s Ian Rapoport tweeted the Saints and Panthers made offers to Houston for the quarterback. On Tuesday, Rapoport reported that New Orleans “stood out” to the quarterback. The team met with Watson on Monday, and then met with the quarterback again Wednesday night.
The franchise began aggressively clearing cap space, with ESPN’s Field Yates reporting Thursday that New Orleans had restructured Taysom Hill, Bradley Roby, Demario Davis and Malcolm Jenkins’s contracts. The Saints reached $29.9 million in cap space.
The Eagles and Steelers were also rumored to be interested in the quarterback in 2022, according to ESPN. The Dolphins and Giants were previously keeping an eye on him, but both shut the door on the possibility within the last few months. It is understood that Watson could still be suspended by the league depending on its investigation, which would void the guarantees in his deal.
Watson has not taken a snap since January 2021 but was still paid $10.5 million in the ’21 season. A grand jury recently returned nine “no” bills on nine criminal complaints against the 26-year-old, and the prosecutor said this concluded the criminal proceedings against him in Harris County.
“I'm just going to keep fighting to rebuild my name and rebuild my appearance in the community,” Watson said during his public remarks after hearing the grand jury decision. “And on the legal side handle what we need to handle. But also ready to get on the field, and prep for that.”
Although the quarterback will not face criminal charges, there are still 22 active civil lawsuits that allege sexual harassment and assault. The graphic accounts range from Watson refusing to cover his genitals to forcing women to put his penis in their mouths.
Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, said in a statement after the announcement was made, “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.”
These civil cases are unrelated to the grand jury proceedings that occurred March 11. As the civil deposition proceedings continue, here’s what has happened on and off the field since Watson’s last snap.
Shortly after the decision was announced, trade rumors started to heat up again. An NFL spokesperson told Rapoport the same day, “We have been closely monitoring all developments in the matter which remains under review of the personal conduct policy.”
The league has not given an indication as to whether it will suspend Watson.
As of March 9, teams were reportedly still in the mix for Watson, with Rapoport calling the market for the quarterback “robust.” Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer reported that some teams had sent security personnel or hired private investigators to stay updated on Watson’s case.
This is a breaking news story and will be updated.
More Deshaun Watson Coverage:
- The Problems With the NFL’s Deshaun Watson Investigation
- A Massage Therapist on Her Session With Deshaun Watson
- The Problems in the Deshaun Watson Cases Go Beyond Deshaun Watson
- Nearly One Year After the First Civil Suit, Here’s What We Know About Deshaun Watson
- With No Charges Filed Against Watson, Trade Rumors Will Resurface