Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam was asked at the annual NFL meeting about signing Deshaun Watson and he says there are no regrets there, though he admitted “there are things we could have handled better.”
Jimmy Haslam Said They Did What Was ‘In the Best Interest of Our Team’
In March 2022, the Browns acquired quarterback Deshaun Watson from the Houston Texans for an unprecedented five-year contract worth $230 million fully guaranteed despite Watson’s off-the-field legal troubles. He has been accused of sexual assault by over 25 women; most of the cases have been settled outside of court, while two are still pending, according to Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot.
But despite the eye-popping contract and the unsettled legal issues, owner Jimmy Haslam told Cabot that he has no regrets about signing Watson.
“Every team, every business, has to look and do what they think is in the best interest of their team,” Haslam said. “We did what we thought was in the best interest of our team. We still feel that way. So, we’re excited to — if you will — have the stuff behind us … He’s going to be there the whole season [now] and barring injury, heaven forbid, he’s going to play all 17 games and hopefully more. That I think alone is a bigger leap to the organization, to Deshaun, to all of us.”
Haslam was also asked about Watson’s contract affecting the rest of the league — case in point, Lamar Jackson wants to be paid on a level with Watson.
To that, Haslam said, “We’re focused on the Browns. We’re focused on winning games for the Browns. I think it would be inappropriate to comment on any other teams or any other team’s players.”
Jimmy Haslam Admitted They Could Have Handled the Deshaun Watson Situation ‘Better’
Haslam went on to say that the “importance of quarterbacks” cannot be understated and citing the Kansas City Chiefs as having gone to three of the last four Super Bowls under Patrick Mahomes. But he did acknowledge that they maybe “there are things we could have handled better” in regards to Watson, though he did not specify what those things are.
“Everybody understands that in the NFL it’s all about the quarterback, right?,” said Haslam, adding, “There’s a lot of really good young quarterbacks in the NFL. There’s a lot of really good young quarterbacks in the AFC, OK? So we felt we needed to be aggressive in getting a quarterback.
“Quarterbacks in their prime, Aaron Rodgers is 39 now and still a phenomenal player, but quarterbacks in their prime don’t come in the market when they’re 26. So we reached out and grabbed Deshaun. I’m sure there are things we could have handled better, but you live and you learn as you go. That was completely new territory for all of us and [you] make the best situation.”
When the team signed Watson back in March 2022, the Haslams spoke at length about taking the accusations seriously.
“Dee and I both have close friends who have been victims, men and women, of sexual abuse. We have seen up close the impact it has had on their lives, both short and long term. It is something we take very, very seriously,” said Jimmy Haslam.
Dee added, “I just want to say this has been a really hard and difficult journey for us and for our family. We spent a lot of time and a lot of evenings spending time with our daughters and working through this as a family. I have to tell you, it was really hard. We had to really work hard to get comfortable with the decision. We knew going into this that this could be really hard on individuals and could trigger emotions from individuals who have been through sexual abuse. I just have to tell you, our compassion for those individuals is really deep. We know how hard this has been on them.”
But ultimately, they spent time with Watson and decided to move ahead, with Jimmy telling reporters, “[T]he bottom line is we got very comfortable with Deshaun Watson the person … I think they were able to read depositions and do a tremendous amount of work to where we became comfortable as an organization … We understand it will take time. Some people may never get over it. Here again, we are confident in Deshaun and in the organization that over a period of time, he will be able to gain their trust.”
Deshaun Watson is Currently Undergoing a Confidential Treatment Program Through the NFL
As part of the repercussions of the sexual assault allegations, Watson served an 11-game suspension and is now currently undergoing a confidential treatment program. The Haslams told Cabot that from what they understand, it is going well and Watson is putting in the work.
“I don’t talk to his counselor because that’s pretty private information,” said Dee Haslam. “But he’s diligent about the work he’s doing. I know counseling works. My daughter’s a family counselor and she can tell you that it works. I feel confident he’s in good hands and I know he’s working hard.”
“We have high expectations of Deshaun,” Jimmy Haslam added. “Deshaun has high expectations of himself. So … just leave it at that.”
Indeed, Haslam basically told Cabot that the anything less than the playoffs this year is going to be a disappointment.