The Deshaun Watson saga has reached its next chapter. A year after insisting they had "zero interest" in dealing the star quarterback, whose apparent rift with team management escalated to a reported trade request last January, the Texans have agreed to ship the embattled Watson to the Cleveland Browns, the Texans announced on Friday. This comes after CBS Sports NFL insider Jonathan Jones confirmed Watson waived his no-trade clause to facilitate the deal. As part of the move, Watson gets a new, fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract, according to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport.
The move gives Watson a new home less than two years after he signed his mega deal in Houston. More importantly, it brings a blockbuster end to trade speculation complicated by outstanding civil lawsuits against the QB, with 22 different women alleging sexual assault or misconduct, and the NFL still investigating the matter. On Monday, the official trade details were released as Houston sent Watson and a 2024 sixth-round pick to the Browns in exchange for first-round picks in 2022, 2023, and 2024 along with a 2023 third-rounder and 2022 and 2024 fourth-round selections.
Watson, 26, appeared locked into Houston after inking his big-money deal prior to the 2020 season, during which he posted a career-high 4,823 yards and 33 touchdown passes. The Texans, meanwhile, repeatedly declared the young QB was not on the market in the wake of reports about Watson's displeasure with team brass, specifically over front-office decisions that were allegedly made without promised consultation. Now, however, after more than a year of behind-the-scenes work, the two sides have finally agreed to split, with Watson headed to the Browns ahead of the 2022 campaign.
Watson's trade market escalated immediately following a Houston grand jury's decision on March 11 not to file criminal charges against the QB. The grand jury's ruling stemmed from nine complaints related to allegations of his serial misconduct, specifically in sexual encounters with private massage therapists. In the days following the decision, even amid the civil lawsuits and pending NFL discipline, Watson reportedly began organizing meetings with interested teams, including the Browns, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. The Colts reportedly requested permission to meet with Watson as well, only to be denied by their division rival Texans. Watson's contract includes a no-trade clause, which allowed him to veto any potential deal offered to the Texans.
Most reports indicated Watson had narrowed his preferred destinations to the Falcons and Saints, with Atlanta reportedly even delaying a roster bonus in QB Matt Ryan's contract to attempt to finalize a Watson acquisition. On Friday, however, the former Texans standout reportedly reconsidered his options and believed the Browns to offer his best opportunity to win. Subsequently, Cleveland is expected to trade former No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield, who had requested his own trade amid the team's pursuit of Watson. Mayfield is entering the final year of his rookie deal after four uneven years as the starter.
It's possible, if not probable, Watson will face NFL discipline regardless of how his civil lawsuits are resolved. The league can impose suspensions for violations of the personal conduct policy even if no criminal charges have been filed. And Watson, who has denied all wrongdoing in the cases, is widely expected to be suspended for at least part of the 2022 season.
On the field, the QB's career year in 2020 was not enough to lift Houston out of the bottom of the AFC South, where the Texans finished 4-12 and saw coach Bill O'Brien dismissed in-season. But his move is unprecedented considering the rest of his resume. A first-rounder out of Clemson in 2017, he's a three-time Pro Bowler and still widely considered one of the top up-and-coming passers in the NFL, along with the Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes, Bills' Josh Allen and Chargers' Justin Herbert.
Since a promising rookie season, in which he threw 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions before a torn ACL wiped out half his debut campaign, Watson has topped 3,800 passing yards in three consecutive years and thrice eclipsed a 100 passer rating, peaking at 112.4 in 2020.