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Deshaun Watson lawsuits could ‘go away’, 2021 return increasingly likely

Matt Johnson

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When Houston Texans star Deshaun Watson demanded a trade before the NFL offseason even began, nearly a third of NFL teams expressed interest in him. But everything came to a stop when the Pro Bowl quarterback faced more than 20 allegations of sexual misconduct.

Watson asked to be moved in January, citing distrust with the front office and concerns about the team’s long-term hopes of contending. The 25-year-old quarterback was even prepared to sit out the 2021 season, a price the rebuilding Texans were willing to pay rather than trade him.

But after months of Houston refusing to even entertain the idea of a deal, even as rival teams offered historic trade packages, the situation took a turn in March. The first of more than 20 allegations of sexual harassment and assault emerged against Watson, with women even coming forward publicly detailing accusations of Watson’s extremely inappropriate behavior during massages.

Suddenly, it was no longer a question of if Watson would sit out or if he would be traded to a new team before Week 1. Instead, his future in the NFL and his availability to play for anyone this fall were in serious doubt.

As the NFL and Houston Police Department conduct their own investigations into Watson’s alleged behavior, it seems things might be turning in the young quarterback’s favor.

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Tony Buzbee, the attorney representing the 22 women who filed civil lawsuits against Watson, denied reports this week that he was discussing a settlement with the quarterback’s representatives.

Rusty Hardin, Watson’s lawyer, immediately fired back in defense of his client. Hardin wrote in a statement that Buzbee reached out “on numerous occasions in the past” about settling the cases. Furthermore, Hardin stated that they aren’t currently seeking a settlement and they’d want any deal to allow both parties to speak publicly after the agreement.

Read More: NFL insider puts surprise teams as favorites for Deshaun Watson trade

ESPN’s Sarah Barshop released a report Saturday lending credence to Hardin’s statement. Barshop reported that a member of Buzbee’s team reached out to Watson’s legal reps to discuss the case and there were text messages to prove it.

A settlement could work in Watson’s favor, allowing the legal ordeal to be in his rearview mirror. While there is still pending investigations by the NFL and HPD, Watson isn’t currently facing any criminal charges and the NFL can’t make the accusers cooperate with the investigation.

Related: Houston Texans open to Deshaun Watson trade before 2021 season

There’s another reason to believe Watson could see the field this season. ESPN’s Dianna Russini, who reported the Texans are now open to trade talks, shared on 98.7 that the lawsuits will likely go away this summer and a trade could happen this year.

“They’ve got to deal with these lawsuits, I think that’s going to go away. And I think this is going to come back to light this summer, guys, and I think the Eagles could be a team in on it.”

NFL insider Dianna Russini on 98.7 ESPN, (H/T NBC Sports)

Related: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell addresses Deshaun Watson allegations

Watson’s legal team was already successful in court, with the judge ruling that all 22 civil suits must be presented together. This can allow him to settle everything at one time. If the case was heard, Hardin would likely only need to prove a few of the accusations against Watson were false to create reasonable doubt for the entire lawsuit.

There’s still a chance Watson is placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt list this summer. If that happens, he wouldn’t be allowed to practice or play in any games, but he would still be paid. Once the NFL concluded its investigation, teams would likely move quickly to try and swing a trade.

Read More: Deshaun Watson attorney calls assault allegations ‘an avalanche of false accusations’

As this story unfolds, the Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos and Washington Football Team will be watching closely. Ultimately, it would no longer be a surprise if Watson is suiting up for a new team in 2021.