It was just a small footnote, but has been recognized as being ultra significant.
Recently, Nia Smith became the 23rd accuser of Watson and filed a lawsuit. In her petition filed, at the bottom of Page 2 are several footnotes. The second note states:
“Of course, we now know that Deshaun Watson offered each Plaintiff $100,000 to settle their cases, but not all would accept that amount, due to the aggressive nondisclosure agreement that Watson’s team proposed.”
Pro Football Talk was the origin of this report.
The reason for the notation was because of an earlier discussion with the Miami Dolphins who were also in trade negotiations last fall with Watson’s current employer the Houston Texans. The Dolphins wanted all of these civil suits solved and over with before they would accept any trade options.
It is now known that 18 of the 22 original accusers accepted Watson’s settlement offer. Four of the plaintiffs passed on the offering.
The reason behind their refusal was the nondisclosure language. The attorney for Watson, Rusty Hardin, appeared on the “Between the Lines” podcast with host Gabe Feldman. In this episode, Hardin stated that the Dolphins wanted the settlements to include language in the non-disclosure agreement (NDA).
Tony Buzbee, the attorney for these women, wanted NDA language whereas Hardin did not. Hardin had expressed to Feldman on the podcast that Buzbee did not wish for the public to know just how little his clients were actually receiving.
From the onset, Watson has made it well-known that he was not guilty of any of these allegations.
Hardin pushed for a criminal investigation regarding his own client:
“My position was, I wanted them to file a criminal complaint,” Hardin stated on Between the Lines. “Finally, Buzbee gave in and eight of his plaintiffs made criminal complaints. And that was a high-five moment for us. I had finally gotten some of his people to file criminal complaints.
The reason I wanted that, I believe so strongly that Deshaun was not guilty of any crime. I wanted trained investigators out there looking into it. I knew the public was not going to believe me. If the trained investigators looked into it and found nothing they would present their evidence to the grand jury. That was a huge gamble.”
Two Texas grand juries have rejected any criminal charges. It wasn’t that these grand juries declined to indict, they just found no probable cause or any evidence that Watson had committed a crime. And not just felony conduct, but they were looking for any misdemeanor actions as well.
No violation of the law is quite a bit different from any violations of the NFL’s personal conduct policy. The league has recently concluded their own investigation and will announce their findings most likely right around the opening of training camp. Those interviews were the longest in the history of the NFL with Watson himself questioned three days. During these proceedings, Watson’s camp fully cooperated.
What Hardin did not count on was the NDA issue. From the onset, Hardin started his representation not wanting any NDA. The reason was because later he didn’t want the NFL to be concerned and have to answer to the public about whether they had false silence.
“So I wanted to deal with Buzbee to get these things public so that everyone could judge for themselves,” continued Hardin. “Then Miami changed that equation when they came along in anticipation of the trade deadline in October of last year. They and the Texans had a deal, but as a condition he had to settle all 22 of the lawsuits.”
This came from the owner of the Dolphins, Stephen Ross. He wanted the lawsuits gone plus demanded NDA’s so that the issues would be over and done with where the daily media coverage would cease.
Where that broke down was when four of the women did not want to settle, otherwise Watson would have paid all 22 women and then he would have been property of the Dolphins.
Hardin insisted on this settlement information being public. He had found out in the depositions of two of the women who had declined the settlement, that each did not want a NDA.
“I did not want a NDA and Buzbee was insisting on it because he did not want the public to know how little money (the 22 plaintiffs) was getting,” Hardin explained. “He wanted it private. So we were on the same page with that issue, it was their lawyer that was in the way.”
So basically Watson’s attorney and two of the plaintiffs were in agreement, but it was the actions of Buzbee that prevented the entire deal to be canceled.
It should be noted that there are 23 lawsuits drafted by only one attorney instead of many lawyers of numerous law firms - which is significant. This aspect has come into question with some of these women’s accounts being “cookie-cutter.”
Hardin confirmed that the $100,000 offer to each woman was agreed upon. Miami did not want the women to take the money and still be able to bash their organization, so a firm stance was taken on getting a NDA from each plaintiff. And that is where that ended.
However, the offers made to each of the 22 plaintiffs was specifically done at the Dolphins’ request. Watson’s camp has not confirmed nor denied that this was done as an admittance of guilt.
And so, how does that work out with the Browns?
Hardin stated that with negotiations with all four possible trade partners for Watson, that each team would stay out of the ongoing situation with the civil cases.
“Now, if you were the owner of the Browns, or Carolina, would you like all of them settled and over by July when camp opens? Sure they would,” Hardin surmised. “But they understood that we wanted the freedom to make these kind of decisions that we thought were in the best interest of Deshaun.”
Basically Hardin has thrown all his eggs into the criminal basket that if the prosecuting authorities had reached the same conclusion as himself that there was no criminal conduct, then teams would be willing to trade for him despite the pending 22 lawsuits. Which is exactly what has transpired so far.
Understand, Hardin did not have anything to do with the trade nor the $230 million contract Watson eventually received by the Browns. That was all done by Watson’s agent.
It is assumed the NFL does want a resolution on their portion this summer.