“Cleveland–QB–Dark Days Ahead”
It’s a month away from the start of the NFL training camps.
Less than 100-days till the first game.
Everyone is undefeated, everyone is excited about their teams.
Everyone, except in Cleveland, where the QB situation has reached crisis proportions.
The Browns traded 3-number 1-picks to Houston to get Deshaun Watson, who sat out last season, inactive each game, in the midst of the NFL-sexual misconduct lawsuit. probe They then signed Watson to a (230M) full guaranteed contract.
The Browns still own the rights to Baker Mayfield, but have told him not to come to camp, as they try to find a buyer for the 18.8M left on his contract.
And now. the Browns face the prospect of not having either one when the season opens.
The NFL thought it had concluded its probe of Watson’s sexual miscounduct case, taking all the data from the 22-women who filed lawsuits against the former Texans quarterback in the ‘massage for sexual favors case’.
But they haven’t, despite interviewing 21 of the women.
This week, a ton of new information surfaces. A 24th and 25th women have surfaced and the story they tell is sleazier than what the NFL already knew, and everyone knows, because it is in the New York Times.
And the Houston Texans franchise has now been fingered for being an enabler in all this, setting up hotel rooms for Watson to use for his massages, that turned into sexual liasons, and providing Watson with the framework of NDA agreements as the lawsuits began to pile up.
And evidence the QB tried to payoff people not to talk to the NFL, including the salon owner who let him do his thing for a cash advance.
And lawyers representing the women are adding the Texans as defendents in the case, likely increasing the amount of money that could be won when it goes to trial, or the amount of money paid if out of court settlements take place.
Watson could have been facing a 6-game suspension from the league, a typical sanction for some type of abuse case, but this is so deep, so ugly, so lurid, Watson might lose a year of his career.
And the Browns, an equally damaging time for Jim Haslam’s leadership.
As if the NFL did not have enough problems with the probe’s of Washington owner Daniel Snyder, the outcome in Cleveland could be equally as dark as anywhere else around the NFL.
A close up look on a Friday morning at the depth of the Browns issues, courtesy of NBC.
Since Roger Goodell said two weeks ago the NFL’s Deshaun Watson investigation was nearing an end, two more women filed civil lawsuits against the Browns quarterback. Following the 23rd suit, Watson’s defense team denied the accuser’s account. After the 24th, Rusty Hardin indicated the defense only learned the latest accuser’s name when the suit was filed.
The 24th accuser presenting new information could open the door to Watson’s Browns guarantees being at risk. The Browns structured Watson’s fully guaranteed contract so the guarantees would not void if he was suspended based on one of the then-22 civil suits, but Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk raises the prospect of a ban based partially on a new lawsuit penetrating the bulletproof guarantee language. It is still possible the Hardin-led camp and the Browns were aware of another potential suit, but it coming more than two months after Watson signed his contract creates some uncertainty regarding the guarantees.
Given their extraordinary effort to acquire Watson via the record-shattering $230MM guaranteed figure, it seems unlikely the team would push to void guarantees. Watson has denied any wrongdoing, but the Browns continue to see detailed accounts of accusations against their trade acquisition emerge.
An expansive report from the New York Times’ Jenny Vrentas indicates Watson received massages from at least 66 women over a 17-month span from fall 2019 to spring 2021, the end of this timeframe bringing forth the avalanche of allegations against the then-Texans passer. Women who did not sue Watson accuse the 26-year-old QB of attempting to turn massage therapy sessions into sexual encounters, and Vrentas adds another woman withdrew her complaint due to “privacy and security concerns.”
Including Instagram messages between Watson and accusers and testimony from the ongoing civil trials — said testimony revealing, in at least one of the suits, Watson admitting a masseuse’s experience and skill level was not a priority — Vrentas’ piece also includes civil testimony in which Watson said the Texans helped him with a nondisclosure agreement. The 23rd woman to file suit against Watson, Nia Smith, shared texts, Watson’s phone number and some of his Cash App receipts on her Instagram account after his alleged sexual misconduct during their three massage sessions. Watson said the Texans provided an NDA in late 2020, and Vrentas reports he began taking NDAs to massage sessions soon after. The Texans also set up Watson with a membership at The Houstonian, a hotel where at least seven women gave him massages occurred, according to Vrentas.
The NFL has interviewed 21 of the first 22 women to accuse Watson of sexual misconduct and/or sexual assault, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Mary Kay Cabot, and has concluded its interviews with the embattled passer, who switched his Twitter account to private following Vrentas’ story. Goodell said in March that, based on NFL and NFLPA talks, Watson would not be placed on the commissioner’s exempt list. Barring the Browns asking Watson to stay away from their workouts, he will continue to practice with his new team. If the NFL did not know about the information uncovered in Vrentas’ account, Yahoo.com’s Charles Robinson discusses whether the exempt list (paid leave) would now apply. The NFL did not place Watson on the exempt list last year; the Texans instead deactivated him 17 times.
A suspension is expected to be announced in July, and the run of information leading up to the independent arbitrator’s (and later Goodell’s) decision could increase the likelihood of a lengthy ban. This matter stands to hang over Watson for most or all of 2023 as well, with the civil trials going on pause from August 1, 2022-March 1, 2023. A second suspension could take place once the suits conclude. Watson missed his age-26 season due to these accusations and his previous trade request. The negative PR coming his way may well prompt the NFL to levy a harsh ban, putting his age-27 campaign in jeopardy.