Jimmy, Dee Haslam Explain Browns Trading for Deshaun Watson Following Backlash

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVMarch 20, 2022

FILE - In this Aug. 25, 2018, file photo, Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson prepares to take the field prior to an NFL preseason football game against the Los Angeles Rams in Los Angeles. Watson has been sued by four more women who accuse him of sexual assault and harassments. The lawsuits were filed Thursday night, March 18, 2021, hours after the NFL said it was investigating earlier allegations by three massage therapists who said the quarterback sexually assaulted them during massages. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo, File)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo, File

The Cleveland Browns released statements from key members of the organization after they officially announced a trade to acquire quarterback Deshaun Watson from the Houston Texans.

Watson's move comes after a Texas grand jury declined to indict him on nine criminal complaints related to allegations of sexual assault and misconduct from women he hired for massage sessions. He still faces 22 civil lawsuits.

The Browns have received backlash for the trade and giving the quarterback a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract amid the ongoing legal proceedings. Below are the statements.

Team owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam:

Cleveland Browns @Browns

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General manager Andrew Berry:

Cleveland Browns @Browns

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Head coach Kevin Stefanski:

Cleveland Browns @Browns

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Cleveland desperately sought an upgrade over Baker Mayfield at the NFL's most important position. The 2018 first overall pick enjoyed some promising stretches across three-plus years as the team's starter, but he never fully established himself as a franchise quarterback.

So the Browns opted to jump into the Watson sweepstakes, which accelerated quickly after the grand jury's decision was announced March 11. Their decision to give him the most guaranteed money in league history was likely a major factor in the QB's choice, as he held a no-trade clause and controlled his future.

Now, the organization is trying to navigate the negative reaction to the deal. Here's a sampling of some recent stories:

  • "At what price? Deshaun Watson trade might cost Cleveland Browns more than money, draft picks" by ESPN's Jake Trotter
  • "The Browns Will Never Live Down Trading for Deshaun Watson" by Conor Orr of Sports Illustrated
  • "Cleveland Browns' trade for Deshaun Watson underscores cold, hard reality" by Judy Battista of NFL.com
  • "Deshaun Watson-to-Browns deal reveals ugly NFL truth" by Steve Serby of the New York Post

The overarching theme is Cleveland was willing to look past the surrounding circumstances because of the quarterback's football talent.

Watson, who was a healthy inactive for the entire 2021 season with the Texans while the legal process played out, is a three-time Pro Bowl selection who led the NFL in passing yards (4,823) the last time he took the field in 2020.

From a purely football perspective, he's a massive upgrade for the Browns and allows them to keep pace in an AFC that's loaded with quarterback talent heading into the 2022 season.

The question is whether that's the only thing that really matters in the NFL, and the answer on almost every occasion is seemingly yes. Players with talent and the potential to help a team win are always in high demand, off-the-field issues be damned.

Watson wasn't indicted by the grand jury, and he's vowed to fight the civil lawsuits, but the fact that Cleveland was willing to make such a massive financial commitment with the civil cases pending and the potential for NFL punishment looming raised eyebrows.

The statements from the Browns brass centered around having done the necessary background investigations to feel comfortable moving forward with the trade.

All told, while the deal may help Cleveland win more football games, how it fares in the court of public opinion could be a different story.