BEREA — Deshaun Watson was willing to settle in November to reach his preferred destination, the Miami Dolphins.
Unless he is willing to put his career on hold for perhaps another year due to a possible NFL suspension, he needs to come to the same realization now.
The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback has $230 million guaranteed from the Cleveland Browns in hand. As he tried to comply with the wishes of the Dolphins so the Houston Texans could complete a trade before the Nov. 2 deadline, he faced 22 civil lawsuits over alleged sexual misconduct during massage appointments.
The legal paperwork could not be completed in time.
Included in lawsuit No. 23 reportedly was the fact that Watson offered each plaintiff $100,000 to settle their cases, but required acceptance of an “aggressive” non-disclosure agreement proposed by Watson’s attorneys.
Watson spoke publicly Wednesday for the first time since his Browns’ introductory press conference on March 25 and continued to maintain his innocence.
“I’ve never assaulted anyone, or I never harassed anyone, or I never disrespected anyone, never forced anyone to do anything,” he said.
In March, Watson said he wouldn’t settle out of court. Asked about the report of the $100,000 offers, Watson offered veiled confirmation.
“I feel like there’s a lot of articles that’s out there and facts and things like that,” Watson said after the Browns’ first practice of mandatory minicamp at their CrossCountry Mortgage Campus. “That was a process that was going on back in November with another organization. I can’t really get too far into the details with that, but with the process that was going on before I became a Cleveland Brown, that’s a whole other discussion.”
Watson shot down the idea of settling now.
“I just want to clear my name and be able to let the facts and the legal procedures continue to play out,” he said. “So right now, that’s all I’m doing is wanting to clear my name and be able to let all of the facts come out in a court of law, and be able to focus on that.”
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After minicamp concludes Thursday with a session at FirstEnergy Stadium, Watson needs to reconsider that stance. He needs to take care of the 24 civil suits before the NFL announces a suspension for violation of its personal conduct policy.
Settling may not stop the seemingly endless filings. But not settling — coupled with the agreement that no legal proceedings will take place between August 1 and March 1 — could increase the likelihood that Watson’s legal woes will drag on for years.
That could send the wrong message to the league, perhaps leading to a longer or even indefinite suspension. The Browns hope to have clarity from the NFL on his status before training camp begins in late July.
Watson needs a revelation of his own, sooner rather than later.
Even loyal Browns fans who continue to support Watson are getting dragged down by the situation. They long for positive news. They want to talk football. They seek the championship glory they’ve longed for since 1964.
Letting the legal process drag into 2023 also prolongs the uncomfortable situation in the locker room and team headquarters. Second-year linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah saw a mass exodus of media four minutes into his post-practice availability as Watson headed to the adjoining microphone stand. Coach Kevin Stefanski faced five more Watson questions for which he had no concrete answers.
There were tiny signs of progress from Watson.
He handled the interview professionally. Asked if he stood by his March statement that he has no regrets, a comment mentioned by some of his accusers, he said, “What I was saying is, yes, I’ve never assaulted, disrespected or harassed anyone. But at the same time, I understand and I do have regrets as far as the impact that it’s had on the community and people outside of just myself. … That includes males, females, everyone across the world. That’s one thing that I do regret is the impact that it’s triggered on so many people and it’s tough to have to deal with.”
After insisting he didn’t need counseling in March, Watson said he has begun to start using those resources provided by the Browns and will continue to do so.
But hanging over the situation is the feeling that Watson’s legal woes will never end.
Asked if he wants to get any discipline imposed by the NFL completed this year, Watson said, “I’ve talked to the league and I’ve been honest and told them truthfully of every question that they’ve asked, so I feel I can’t really have no control on that. Whatever decision comes, then I feel like that’s the next step for this organization.”
The next step for the organization is moving on. That can’t happen without Watson settling the civil suits, which he was prepared to do in November.
Now that he has $230 million guaranteed and the continued support of the Browns, that can’t happen soon enough.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read more about the Browns at www.beaconjournal.com/browns. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Cleveland Browns can’t move on until Deshaun Watson settles suits