DeShaun Watson And His Ground-Breaking Deal Amid Hot Topics At NFL Owners Meetings

For Cleveland Browns fans, it’s a good time to sit back and dream of potential division titles and playoff victories. For Cleveland Browns executives… well, it’s a good time to try and wipe off the spray painted target on your backs.

At the NFL’s owners meetings in West Palm Beach, new Browns quarterback DeShaun Watson has heavily been at the center of discussions due to his unprecedented new contract given to him by Cleveland shortly after the blockbuster trade that saw him leave the Houston Texans in exchange for three first-round picks, a third-round pick, and two fourth-round picks.

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Despite the year-long controversy surrounding Watson due to allegations of sexual assault and 22 civil cases still pending — in addition to an inevitable NFL suspension — Cleveland signed Watson to a fully guaranteed, $230 million deal that sees a $34.4 million raise (through signing bonuses) this year from his 2021 base salary of $10.5 million. It’s $80 million more than the previously record-setting amount of money guaranteed at signing.

“It is a complete and utter game-changer. And the rest of the league, by and large, is not happy about it,” CBS Sports’ NFL insider Jason La Canfora wrote, explaining that the landscape of contracts has changed drastically, with players now holding more control than ever when it comes to their future earnings.

Gone are the days where owners can avoid guaranteeing money for more than two years in a row, with teams now feeling the heat to either follow Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, or attempt to either rework league rules or abuse franchise tags. “Like it or not, this Watson deal has ushered the NFL into the kind of financial outlays that have long been the norm in the NBA and MLB,” La Canfora said.

The shockwaves Watson’s deal created will be apparent soon, with premier quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson and Russell Wilson inching closer to free agency. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti acknowledge the ramifications of the contract affecting extension talks with Jackson, with negotiations to become “harder.”

“Damn, I wish they hadn’t guaranteed the whole contract. I don’t know that [Watson] should’ve been the first guy to get a fully guaranteed contract. To me that’s something that is a groundbreaker, and it’ll make negotiations harder with others.”

Meanwhile, younger QBs in Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert — who each have three years left on their rookie contracts assuming the fifth-year option is exercised — will have more leverage than ever given their ages and production, which La Canfora noted could be trouble for the Bengals and Chargers given their stingy spending history.

Speaking to La Canfora, former NFL team president Joe Banner said the situation could negatively impact conservative smaller-market teams in the long-run, while being extremely beneficial to big market teams who not only have the power, but the will to spend. “I suspect the league will do something about this,” Banner stated. “This rule comes down to competitive balance, which they really, really do care about.”

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Of course, Watson being the player to receive this type of deal is also controversial, especially when considering the Browns’ working of the contract to where Watson will only receive a base salary of $1.035 million. With that structure, it minimizes the amount of monetary loss Watson will suffer in the event of a suspension, with him only seeing $57,500 per game lost.

Cleveland had further backlash in regards to their diligence behind the trade, opting not to talk to any of Watson’s accusers or their attorney despite Haslam’s claims of a “comprehensive evaluation process.” According to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the league has no timetable on the investigation, though he noted a league punishment will not be affected by outside legal developments.

Among the other topics that La Canfora reported were frequently discussed include the tweaking of the NFL’s playoff overtime rules — which were heavily scrutinized this past winter — to allow both teams to receive the ball, and the sale of the Denver Broncos, whose’ price tag could reach $4 billion.

Football on grass

Lawyer Of Deshaun Watson’s Accusers Speaks Out Against ‘Hush Money’ Claims 

Tony Buzbee is the lawyer representing the women who accused Deshaun Watson of sexual misconduct. Buzbee recently fired back at the NFL player’s attorney who recently claimed that Ashley Solis, one of the accusers, demanded “hush money” before filing a civil lawsuit against Watson. Buzbee posted an email that he wrote to Scott Gaffield, the General Counsel at the Athletes First agency in California, onto his Instagram to express his distaste in these claims. 

“The latest and ever-changing Watson defense is that our legal team is somehow compromised because we tried to settle or resolve issues with one client before putting all of these women through the current media circus we knew would result, because the alleged perpetrator is a famous quarterback. I can and have confirmed we tried to resolve these issues without a lawsuit. That fact was public knowledge almost three weeks ago. We attempted to settle without fanfare or press,” Buzbee wrote.

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“In fact, I’ve attached the last email we had with the Watson team before we filed the first lawsuit. This email was sent when we represented only one victim, before we represented what is now 23 women, alleging the same thing.”

Buzbee continued on to discuss how “the current back and forth reporting about the ego of the lawyers involved is not appropriate, or helpful. These cases are about those who were subject to the conduct alleged. Please review the video of Ashley Solis today, from the press conference; she had the courage to go in front of national media to tell her story. STRONG!! Now, that’s a hero! That’s who we should be talking about!”

The excerpts above are also taken from an email sent from Buzbee to Gaffield on February 19th, 2021. The first sexual misconduct claim against Watson surfaced on March 16th, nearly one month after. 

“We made a legit demand. You rejected it. We won’t be making another or bid against ourselves. We also won’t be having an extended dialogue about why you think your client did nothing wrong or how you want this to be a ‘learning’ experience for your ‘high-profile athlete,’ as you refer to him. This is Houston, Texas. Perhaps you should find him a lawyer here so you can apprise both you and your client of the landscape here and who you are dealing with. Talk soon.”

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Solis revealed herself as one of the Jane Does making a claim against Watson in a press conference this week, in which she claimed that Watson exposed himself during a massage session back in March 2020. Rusty Hardin, Watson’s attorney, claims he has emails to prove Solis was looking to get money out of Watson. 

Buzbee currently represents nearly two dozen women who have come out against Watson, however, Gaffield responded to the email by claiming that the NFL “doesn’t believe that the alleged facts show that Deshaun did anything wrong. We believed then – and fully believe now- that Deshaun learned a lesson about putting himself in this type of situation by interacting with people he does not know.”

“As the emails show, we were willing to continue discussions on Deshaun’s behalf to explore ways to prevent a lawsuit and a public spectacle. But Mr. Buzbee informed us that he was unwilling to do so. We expect that this matter will be resolved in court.”

Watson is currently not facing any criminal charges, but Houston police have launched an investigation into the allegations after another complaint was filed this Friday.