Browns express confidence in Deshaun Watson despite lawsuits over sex assault claims

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The Cleveland Browns defended their decision to acquire Deshaun Watson while he faces nearly two dozen lawsuits accusing him of sexual assault as the trade with the Houston Texans was announced Sunday.

The Browns acquired Watson and a 2024 fifth-round draft pick from the Houston Texans for several draft picks, including a 2022 first-rounder, 2023 first- and third-rounders and 2024 first- and fourth-rounders.

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Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans in action against the Tennessee Titans during a game at NRG Stadium Jan. 3, 2021, in Houston.

Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans in action against the Tennessee Titans during a game at NRG Stadium Jan. 3, 2021, in Houston.
(Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Browns team owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam, general manager Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski all released statements explaining why the organization would trade and give up so much for Watson, who is still in the middle of the suits and under investigation by the NFL over the accusations.

“We spent a tremendous amount of time exploring and investigating the opportunity to trade for Deshaun Watson,” the Haslams said. “We are acutely aware and empathetic to the highly personal sentiments expressed about this decision. 

“Our team’s comprehensive evaluation process was of utmost importance due to the sensitive nature of his situation and the complex factors involved. We also understand there are still some legal proceedings that are ongoing, and we will respect due process.

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“It was pivotal that we, along with Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski, meet with Deshaun to have a straightforward dialogue, discuss our priorities and hear directly from him on how he wants to approach his career on and off the field. He was humble, sincere and candid. In our conversations, Deshaun detailed his commitment to leading our team; he understands and embraces the hard work needed to build his name both in the community and on the field. 

“Those in-depth conversations, the extensive evaluation process, his dedication to being a great teammate and devotion to helping others within the NFL, within the community and through his charitable initiatives provided the foundation for us to pursue Deshaun. We are confident in Deshaun and excited about moving forward with him as our quarterback and supporting his genuine and determined efforts.”

Berry said there was an “extensive” investigation done before pulling the trigger on the trade.

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson throws before a game against the Chicago Bears Dec. 13, 2020, in Chicago.

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson throws before a game against the Chicago Bears Dec. 13, 2020, in Chicago.
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

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“We look forward to having Deshaun as our starting quarterback. We have done extensive investigative, legal and reference work over the past several months to provide us with the appropriate information needed to make an informed decision about pursuing him and moving forward with him as our quarterback,” Berry said. 

“Deshaun has been among the very best at the position, and he understands the work needed to reestablish himself on and off the field in Cleveland. We are confident that he will make positive contributions to our team and community as we support his return to football.”

Stefanski, the 2020 NFL Coach of the Year, stressed the “background” the team did on Watson.

“We understand the concerns and questions that exist but are confident in the extensive work Andrew and his staff have done to feel confident about him joining our organization,” Stefanski said. “It was important for us to meet with Deshaun in person as part of our team’s evaluation process. We had a candid conversation regarding his approach to coming into our organization and community. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to coach Deshaun. He is ready to put in the hard work needed to help our team improve and make a positive impact in our community.”

ASHLEY SOLIS, FIRST WOMAN TO ACCUSE DESHAUN WATSON OF SEXUAL MISCONDUCT, SPEAKS OUT: ‘I WILL NOT LET HIM WIN’

Watson was cleared of criminal charges in the sexual assault cases earlier this month, which led to the trade discussion and eventual acquisition by the Browns.

Watson is accused in 22 sexual assault lawsuits of exposing himself, touching women with his penis and kissing them against their will during massage sessions. One woman alleges Watson forced her to perform oral sex.

Houston police started their investigation after a criminal complaint was filed in April 2021. A grand jury declined to indict Watson.

Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski looks on from the sidelines during a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers Oct. 18, 2020, in Pittsburgh.

Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski looks on from the sidelines during a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers Oct. 18, 2020, in Pittsburgh.
(AP Photo/Justin Berl, File)

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The quarterback has maintained his innocence throughout the process. He didn’t play last season after requesting a trade from the Texans. He could still be disciplined by the NFL.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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