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Cleveland Browns release statement on Deshaun Watson trade, team investigation

Matt Johnson
Deshaun Watson, Cleveland Browns
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns completed the Deshaun Watson trade Sunday, officially announcing their blockbuster deal with the Houston Texans.

Both teams agreed to the deal on Friday, with Cleveland using the last two days to reshape their roster before officially acquiring Watson. As part of the deal, Houston received Cleveland’s first-round picks over the next three years along with a 2023 third-round pick and a 2024 fourth-round selection for Watson and the Texans’ 2024 5th round pick.

After acquiring Watson, Cleveland signed the Pro Bowl quarterback to one of the biggest contracts in NFL history. Averaging $50 million per season with $230 million guaranteed, Watson is now the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL.

A press conference will be held next week with the Browns officially introducing Watson. In advance of reporters asking the NFL star about the 22 civil suits he is facing, the Browns released a statement on the matter.

Cleveland Browns statement on vetting process of Deshaun Watson

NFL: New York Giants at Cleveland Browns
Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

In the official press release, owner Jimmy Haslam, general manager Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski all addressed the acquisition and the team’s investigation. However, Dee and Jimmy Haslam offered the most insight into their process of looking into Watson.

“We spent a tremendous amount of time exploring and investigating the opportunity to trade for Deshaun Watson. 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. 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.”

Cleveland Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam on the Deshaun Watson trade

Watson avoid criminal charges after a grand jury declined to indict him on the 10 criminal complaints alleging sexual misconduct. He is still facing 22 civil suits, with multiple accusers wanting their day in court instead of a settlement.

Tony Buzbee, the lawyer who represents Watson’s accusers, told The Athletic c on March 15 that no NFL teams contacted him or his clients to gather more information.

In his statement, Berry said that he participated in an “extensive” investigation that relied on legal examinations and multiple references in recent months.

“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.

Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry on investigating allegations against Deshaun Watson

Watson is still subject to potential discipline from the NFL under the league’s personal conduct policy. Based on the NFL’s precedent, he would likely be facing a 4-6 game suspension after the league concludes its investigation. The Browns are likely bracing for a multi-game ban, signing experienced quarterback Jacoby Brissett as their backup.

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As part of his new contract, Watson’s base salary for the upcoming season was lowered to $1.035 million. Any suspension can only withhold a player’s base salary, meaning Watson will only lose approximately $57,000 for each game missed.

Related: Will Fuller linked to Cleveland Browns through Deshaun Watson

Despite the statements from Berry and Haslam, the organization will still face questions from fans and reporters regarding the thoroughness of its investigation.