Content warning: This article includes mention of sexual harassment and assault
The biggest story around the Cleveland Browns and, perhaps, in the NFL this offseason was the trade for QB Deshaun Watson.
Watson was made available for trade this offseason by the Houston Texans. Multiple teams pursued the quarterback and had meetings with him and his representatives. Along with the Browns, the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints were identified as teams that were approved to negotiate a trade for Watson.
In the end, the talented quarterback chose Cleveland as his next destination with the Browns and Texans quickly working out a huge trade package, including three first-round draft picks, to get the deal done. The Browns also worked out a new long-term contract with Watson’s representatives that locked him up for five years.
The new contract was controversial around the league as the team guaranteed the entire $230 million of the deal.
Watson has not played a regular-season snap in the NFL since the 2020 season due to allegations that he sexually harassed and assaulted more than two dozen massage therapists. The Texans and Watson’s representatives agreed to keep him inactive for the entirety of the 2021 season as legal matters played out in the court system.
After grand juries in Harris County and Brazoria County, Texas, declined to bring charges against Watson, teams began to openly pursue a trade for the quarterback leading to the deal with Cleveland.
After the trade, the NFL completed its investigation into Watson and sought discipline pursuant to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Judge Sue L. Robinson heard the case from both sides and ruled that Watson had committed sexual assault:
“I, therefore, find that the NFL has carried its burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Mr. Watson engaged in sexual assault (as defined by the NFL) against the four therapists identified in the Report.”
Robinson leveled a six-game suspension against Watson. Following this, the league appealed Robinson’s ruling, and Roger Goodell appointed former New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey to hear the case to rule on the appeal in Goodell’s place, leading to a settlement between the NFL and Watson to close the disciplinary case.
As a part of the settlement, Watson was suspended for the first 11 games of the 2022 NFL season, required to complete mandatory treatment, and pay a fine of $5 million.
Watson was eligible to participate in Cleveland’s offseason activities and training camp before his suspension began prior to Week 1 of the regular season. The quarterback was permitted to return to the facility halfway through his suspension and return to the practice field for the final two weeks of his suspension.
The Browns plan to install Watson as Cleveland’s starting quarterback immediately with his return in Week 13 of the 2022 NFL season coming against Houston, his former team.
Below you will find all of our coverage of anything related to Watson, starting with the team’s pursuit of the quarterback this offseason.