Deshaun Watson, the standout quarterback for the Houston Texans who did not play at all last season while facing allegations of sexual misconduct, is headed to a new team as he prepares to resume his NFL career. The Texans agreed Friday to trade Watson to the Cleveland Browns.
The Texans will receive a trio of first-round draft choices and two other picks — a third-rounder in 2023 and a fourth-rounder in 2024 — from the Browns. In addition to Watson, the Browns get a fifth-round selection in 2024. The Texans announced the trade Friday evening.
We have agreed to trade QB Deshaun Watson and a 2024 fifth-round pick to the Cleveland Browns for a 2022 first-round pick, 2023 first-round pick, 2024 first-round pick, 2023 third-round pick and 2024 fourth-round pick.— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) March 18, 2022
Statement from GM Nick Caserio:
Their general manager, Nick Caserio, called it “the right move for our organization” and said in the team’s announcement: "Our priority right now is adding talented players to the foundation we have already put in place over the last 15 months and this trade supports that plan. As we navigate through the rest of the offseason, we remain open-minded to all avenues that allow us to improve our roster and add to our program.”
The Browns previously had been told that they had been eliminated from consideration.
The trade deliberations involving Watson, 26, intensified in recent days after a grand jury in Harris County, Tex., decided last week not to charge him with a crime. Watson still faces 22 active civil lawsuits by women and possible disciplinary action by the NFL. But the Browns and several other NFL teams were willing to proceed in trade discussions with Watson and the Texans.
Watson confirmed on social media that he was headed to the Browns. He wrote on Instagram: “Cleveland, LETSSSS GOOOO!! ... Ready To Work!”
Watson is expected to sign a revised contract with the Browns worth a guaranteed $230 million over five seasons, a person familiar with the matter confirmed after those figures were reported by media outlets. The new deal pays him a salary of $1 million for the 2022 season, meaning that he would lose a prorated portion of that amount if he is suspended without pay by the NFL. Under his previous deal with the Texans, Watson had been under contract through the 2025 season. He was to make $35 million in the 2022 season as part of a four-year, $156 million contract extension.
Representatives of the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints met separately Monday with Watson. The Browns spoke to him Tuesday. The Atlanta Falcons met with him Wednesday. The Saints had a second meeting with him Wednesday night.
The Falcons and Saints were believed to be the finalists after the Browns and Panthers were informed that they were no longer under consideration. But Watson reversed course and chose Cleveland as the team for which he would waive his no-trade clause.
The Browns’ deal for Watson means that they are prepared to part with quarterback Baker Mayfield, who has spent four seasons in Cleveland since he was chosen first in the 2018 NFL draft. Mayfield has asked to be traded, but the Browns initially told him through his representative that they would not comply with that request, according to people familiar with the situation. It appears that will change.
Mayfield is likely to be traded to another quarterback-needy team. He told the Browns that he would prefer to be dealt to the Indianapolis Colts, but he remains open-minded if the two teams cannot agree to trade terms, according to a person with knowledge of situation. The Colts traded their quarterback, Carson Wentz, to the Washington Commanders.
Mayfield acknowledged his uncertain status with the Browns in a social media post Tuesday night in which he thanked the city of Cleveland and wrote: “I have given this franchise everything I have. That is something I’ve always done at every stage, and at every level. And that will not change wherever I take my next snap.”
He had an injury-filled 2021 season as the Browns went 8-9 and missed the playoffs. They reached the postseason in 2020 in Kevin Stefanski’s rookie season as an NFL head coach. Watson joins wide receiver Amari Cooper, who was just added by the Browns in a trade with the Dallas Cowboys.
Watson was selected to the Pro Bowl in three of his first four NFL seasons with the Texans. He led the league in passing yards in the 2020 season.
He asked the Texans to trade him last year before the allegations against him became public. The Texans, at that point, were not willing to make a deal. They did listen to trade offers for him during the 2021 season, but no deal was completed at that point. The Miami Dolphins were considered the front-runner then. But the Dolphins wanted Watson to settle the civil lawsuits to facilitate a trade, according to a person familiar with the situation.
The Dolphins said at the recent NFL scouting combine that they no longer would pursue a trade for Watson.
Other interested teams were less focused on the civil cases than the Dolphins were and instead were concerned primarily about the prospect of criminal charges, according to the person with knowledge of the matter. Once the grand jury made its decision last week, those teams moved forward with the Texans and Watson.
The teams’ meetings with Watson in recent days came with the permission of the Texans. The Colts, a divisional foe of the Texans in the AFC South, also expressed interest but reportedly were denied the opportunity to meet with Watson, while he reportedly was unwilling to waive his no-trade clause for a deal to the Seattle Seahawks.
“I’m extremely proud of the way Nick Caserio navigated us through this challenging situation," Texans owner Cal McNair said Friday in a written statement. "He remained patient before ultimately making the decision that is best for us in both the short and long term. We’re confident in our plan to build a championship program that can sustain success and our entire organization is excited to move forward together.”
Watson has begun giving depositions in the civil cases. He and his attorney, Rusty Hardin, have denied the allegations. Watson is accused by the women of a range of behaviors that include making inappropriate comments, exposing himself and forcing his penis on the women’s hands during massage therapy sessions.
The NFL left Watson eligible to play last season. The Texans continued to pay him, but they placed him on their game-day inactive list on a weekly basis.
Even without criminal charges, Watson could be disciplined by the league under its personal conduct policy. The NFL is conducting an investigation and might wait until after the civil cases are resolved to make a decision on a potential suspension without pay or a fine. The league has not, to this point, put him on paid administrative leave via placement on the commissioner’s exempt list, a temporary measure allowed under the conduct policy before a final disciplinary decision is made.
“Any transaction would have no [effect] on the NFL’s ongoing and comprehensive investigation of the serious allegations against Deshaun Watson,” the league said in a written statement issued Friday through a spokesman. “Nor would it affect his status under the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the Personal Conduct Policy. If the league’s investigation determines that Watson violated the Personal Conduct Policy, discipline may be imposed pursuant to the policy and the CBA.”
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Jerry Brewer: “The Browns were prepared for initial turbulence, but they assumed they were getting Watson at the end of his troubles. Now his disgrace is their disaster.”