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Deshaun Watson Says Signing $230M Contract Was Not Behind His Decision to Join Browns

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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

The Browns introduced Deshaun Watson for the first time Friday after acquiring the quarterback in a blockbuster trade a week ago.

Cleveland’s risky decision to take a chance on Watson as he faces 22 active civil lawsuits for alleged sexual assault and sexual harassment was met with added criticism after the club agreed to ink him to a five-year contract worth a guaranteed $230 million upon signing. 

Watson claimed during his press conference that the money did not influence his choice to waive his no-trade clause for the Browns. The club was reportedly dismissed as a possible destination in the days leading up to the move. 

“It had nothing to do with the contract. I didn’t know about the contract until I told my agent that I wanted to come and be a Cleveland Brown,” he said. “That was secondary; that was after the fact that we spoke on the phone with [general manager] AB [Andrew Berry] and Kevin [Stefanski] and the Haslam family, so that had nothing to do with me choosing the Cleveland Browns.”

He then explained what made the Browns the team he ultimately wanted to play for, saying his initial pivot “wasn’t necessarily a turndown.”

“I think the media was kind of rushing me to make a decision and I wasn’t comfortable making that right decision, and so the news get out and things like that,” Watson said. “For me, I knew that Cleveland was the best situation from a football standpoint and just for a community and family atmosphere and these guys mentioned it before once I got to meet these guys. … It was just that connection, that we just had that bond, and I knew that this was the perfect situation for me to have a fresh start, go win some Super Bowls and move forward and build this community as what we want to build it as.”

Though Watson downplayed the contract, the specifics of the deal are significant considering it set an NFL record for the most guaranteed money given to a player. 

The contract also stands to notably benefit Watson in the event of a league-imposed suspension. Should the 26-year-old miss any games in 2022, he would lose $55,556 per game from his $1.035 million base salary, and not his $44.965 million signing bonus. His base salary increases to $46 million in each of the next four years.

Berry addressed the response to the contract and explained why the team gave Watson such a large contract despite his outstanding lawsuits.

“We certainly understand the optics of it. I think for us, after we got comfortable with Deshaun, the contract was really a football decision. The things that were important to us from a club perspective were to have Deshaun under contract for another year and to have it structured in a manner that would allow us maximum flexibility to execute the rest of our offseason plan, and that’s specifically true as we really kind of facilitate the next steps with Baker [Mayfield] and Baker’s contracts on our cap. I think probably the other thing to mention is that structure is very similar to a lot of the larger player contracts that we already have on the books.”

When challenged further about the decision to give Watson a new contract if the QB was already adamant about coming to the team, Berry reiterated that “getting an additional year of control was very important for us.” Watson’s contract is set to expire at the end of his age-31 season.

Off the field, Watson will continue the legal process which he stated his desire to see through during Friday’s presser. He arrived in Cleveland a day after a grand jury in Brazoria County in Texas decided not to charge him for a criminal complaint filed against him for sexual assault and harassment. Earlier this month, a grand jury in Harris County returned nine “no” bills on criminal charges

The 22 active civil lawsuits he still faces detail graphic accounts of sexual harassment and sexual assault that occurred during massage therapy sessions, ranging from the quarterback’s refusing to cover his genitals to “touching [a plaintiff] with his penis and trying to force her to perform oral sex on him.” On Friday he denied assaulting or disrespecting any woman.

The Browns have continued to face backlash in the aftermath of the trade. The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center issued a statement of support to those impacted by the move over the weekend. As of Friday morning, the agency saw a 152% increase on their hotline since the announcement and received more than 1,800 donations, raising more than $88,000 in response to the news.

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