The NFL is expected at some point to hand down a suspension to Watson after 22 women filed civil complaints against the former Houston Texans quarterback alleging behaviors ranging from sexual misconduct to sexual assault. Pro Football Network’s Mike Florio suggested that Watson faces a suspension in the range of six games during an appearance on the Monday, March 28 edition of “The Rich Eisen Show.”
However, if Watson can’t sort out the civil complaints by the time the regular season begins in early September, Florio said it could get much worse for the QB than that — up to, and including, missing the entirety of 2022.
I think at the right moment, at the right time, [Watson and his attorneys] make settlement offers. They come up with a way to properly resolve these cases.
The one thing that I think Watson’s camp needs to understand — and I’m not sure that they did as of a week ago, maybe they do now — if there’s 22 cases pending when the season rolls around, there’s a real good chance he’s ending up on paid leave. Twenty-two is too many. One or two, what can you do? Who can stop anyone from suing anyone else for anything? You get to 22, you’re at the point where something happened that shouldn’t have happened here, and we’re not going to let this guy play until these cases are resolved.
To the extent that [Watson] thinks he’s going to get suspended six games and everything is going to be fine, he may not play for a full year. And then next year he would get suspended, and then it would be over. So that’s something he needs to factor into his intention, or not, to settle these cases.
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Watson Out of Criminal Trouble, But Browns’ Investigation Now Under Fire
Watson, Browns general manager Andrew Berry and Cleveland head coach Kevin Stefanski conducted a joint press conference Friday, March 25. The line of questioning from reporters was at times uncomfortable, as the men on the podium tried to sidestep some inquiries while simply refusing to answer others.
One point of contention came when Berry was asked whether the Browns spoke to any of the 22 women who have filed suit against Watson, nine of whom also filed criminal complaints against the quarterback.
Eisen noted during his Monday interview with Florio that Berry said the Browns legal staff told the organization it should not contact Watson’s accusers because until recently, such action may have interfered with an active criminal investigation. Two grand juries in Texas decided earlier this month that Watson would not face criminal charges stemming from any of his alleged misbehavior.
Florio noted that the Browns hired an outside investigator who “did something to secure sufficient information to allow them to become comfortable with the notion of adding Deshaun Watson despite these 22 civil cases that were still pending and the grand jury possibilities that, obviously, have since [been] resolved.”
Florio continued, offering educated speculation as to what he believes was the mindset of the Browns organization as it entered, and progressed through, the investigation into Watson’s alleged misbehavior.
“I think that they didn’t necessarily want to track down every last detail,” Florio said. “They just want to be comfortable moving forward that it’s not going be something that they’re going to have to deal with in Cleveland as it relates to potential new claims.”
Watson’s Ongoing Legal Issues Could Mean Baker Mayfield Plays For Browns in 2022
The uncertainty surrounding Watson’s circumstances could create some awkwardness when it comes to the situation of Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Mayfield demanded a trade after the Browns first met with Watson on March 15. Initially, Cleveland said it would not honor his request. Then the team submitted a $230 million offer to Watson and upon his acceptance of it, it seemed perhaps the Browns were interested in moving on from Mayfield after all.
However, the NFL quarterback carousel spun and a handful of potential landing spots for Mayfield dried up, as the Indianapolis Colts traded for Matt Ryan, the Atlanta Falcons signed Marcus Mariota and the Denver Broncos traded for Russell Wilson, among a handful of other developments. Suddenly, there was little trade market left for Mayfield.
Now, with Watson likely to miss at least a handful of games and possibly more than a full season, depending on how his legal issues shake out, it might behoove the Browns to hold onto Mayfield. And not just to increase the quarterback’s eventual trade value, which had shrunk to essentially nothing, but so the team can remain competitive as it waits for Watson to return.
ESPN analyst Mina Kimes appeared on Monday’s episode of NFL Live and said Cleveland has two options. The team can try and trade Mayfield, and might even have to surrender a pick so a franchise like the Seattle Seahawks would be willing to pick up the QB’s one-year guaranteed salary of nearly $19 million. Or, the Browns can run it back with Mayfield — at least for while.
“If Deshaun Watson is suspended, as many suspect, [Mayfield] can maybe rebuild his value by playing a little bit,” Kimes said. “Or another team loses their quarterback and [the Browns] can trade him to a squad that needs him.”
Cleveland signed QB Jacoby Brissett during the offseason after trading former backup Case Keenum to the Buffalo Bills. However, Brissett is considered by most to be a cut below Mayfield. While likely to prove awkward and uncomfortable, and as strange as it may sound, Mayfield playing for the Browns in Watson’s stead this season may actually be to the greatest benefit of all parties involved.