After insisting he had no plans to settle any of the civil lawsuits he was facing starting in his introductory press conference, Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson has settled 20 of the 24 cases he's currently facing. This is just one of the contradictions that have played out since the Browns acquired their franchise quarterback.
Watson was adamant he was fighting for his name and reputation when he spoke to the media on March 25th. Not even a week ago, he repeated that sentiment in his second press conference. Now, both are relics of the past. He may be a great quarterback, but he's never again going to be the great person he was reputed to be through college at Clemson and then with the Houston Texans. It always felt as though Watson was arrogant on this matter. When he was not charged by two grand juries, he got greedy, believing he could get his name back without suffering any consequences.
Each time he's spoken to the media, there's this feeling that Watson believes he could convince everyone he is a good guy if he just had enough time. Often, he didn't help himself and in a few situations, made himself look worse. Watson is a true believer in his distorted ethics, which has been a major part of his PR problem. There's a gulf between the reality he lives in contrasted against most everyone else.
The timing of this news begs several questions. It could be reasonably inferred that the NFL could have put significant pressure on Watson, perhaps raising the specter of a larger penalty in the form of a suspension had he not settled at least some of the cases. The NFL wants this to go away. They dreaded the idea of 24 lawsuits lingering for over a year.
It's likely the league reserved the right to punish Watson more than once. They could suspend him now and then if new information presented itself over the next year as he awaited these trials, they could opt to punish him a second time.
Lacking subpoena power, the NFL has a track record of harshly punishing players that haven't been honest with them in an attempt to dissuade the practice. It's unclear if they feel Watson was dishonest with them or not. However, had these court proceedings continued and the sheer amount of activity Watson had with these women, it increased the odds that he could have left out key details.
Tony Buzbee's strategy never seemed to be aimed at winning in the court room. It was always a show trial aimed at putting pressure on the league which would in turn force Watson to settle. A combination of leaks and public interviews, providing a consistent drip was everything the NFL wanted to avoid. For about three weeks, there was barely a day where something wasn't dropping about Watson's cases, whether it was leaked testimony from depositions, new accusers or even Watson's own legal team causing him to look worse with their actions. Buzbee might have had a mixed record in the courtroom with the cases had it gone that far, but he was always counting on the fact that the NFL wouldn't allow it to get that far.
The fact Watson is willing to settle with most, but not all the lawsuits is a notable departure. When Watson was possibly going to end up with the Miami Dolphins, he had settlement agreements in place with most of his then 22 accusers. He was unwilling to proceed unless they all settled. When that didn't happen, he was unwilling to settle with any of them.
Watson may be foolish enough to come and claim he's never disrespected a woman, but that's at the very least what he's conceding by settling these 20 lawsuits. The sad reality is we will never know just how deep these issues went or if sexual assault was actually committed, but we do know that something happened that shouldn't have. Watson may go on to be a terrific quarterback for the Browns, but this chapter of his life is going to be featured early in his obituary.