Tracking the NFL’s strange yet momentous sexual assault case against Deshaun Watson – How long will he be suspended? Or will he be?

By Noah Constantino

With NFL training camps set to open, the Cleveland Browns still do not know if they will have their starting quarterback in camp. While the other 31 teams prepare for the arrival of players, the Browns, and Deshaun Watson, are preparing for a decision on whether Watson will be suspended – or not.

The case is definitely a head shaker and stretches back to March 2021 when news broke that Watson, then quarterback of the Houston Texans, was accused of multiple cases of sexual assault.

According to these accusations, he would apparently go to massage parlors and ask for sexual favors or make sexual advances. At the time, there were only three cases filed against Watson for his alleged actions. A day later on March 18, 2021, the NFL launched an investigation into Deshaun Watson.

Fast forward a year and it seems the investigation is coming to an intense climax. The NFL and the courts are trying to make a decision before he is to report to Training Camp for his new team, the Cleveland Browns.  Watson now has staggering 24 lawsuits (20 in which he has settled) and the threat of a one-year suspension. In all the confusion you may ask “How did we get here?”

January 2021

To start, Deshaun Watson wanted his time in Houston to be done long before any of this news broke. After beginning the 2020 season 0-4 and losing head coach Bill O’Brien, the Texans and Watson finished with an ugly 4-12 record. Disappointed, Deshaun had figured the writing was on the wall for his departure from the Texans, requesting a trade in January of 2021.

 March 2021

While the organization was at first reluctant to trade their Franchise QB, it certainly made it much more difficult to find a suitor come March 2021. There were serious conversations with the Carolina Panthers, yet the two teams were not able to come to a deal. The Houston Texans and Deshaun Watson, for the time being, would just have to wait out for the right deal to come.

July 2021

As more cases flooded into the media, the NFL’s investigation intensified. In July 2021, the league stated they would have “no restrictions” on Watson’s activities or participation within the Texans organization. In what seemed like an improbable outcome just months prior, Deshaun Watson arrived at Texans training camp as the starting quarterback of the team.

September/October/November 2021

After making it through training camp and to the start of the 2021 NFL season with 22 civil cases and 10 legal complaints piled up, all from massage therapists he had worked with, Watson and Houston decided he would not play for the team in the upcoming 2021 season. This news broke the day of the Texans’ week 1 contest against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Houston went on to win 37-21.

Trade talks for Watson did not heat back up until mid-October of the 2021 season. Carolina again threw their name into the hat, along with the Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins. Once again, a deal was not struck for Watson or the team and as the November 2 NFL Trade deadline passed. Watson was stuck on a crumbling Houston Texans team for the remainder of the NFL season.

News on Watson from that moment on went quiet. He did not address the media and went along trying to lead an uncontroversial life as a part of the Texan organization. After a while, it seemed the media had left the situation alone, no longer reporting on him or asking the team questions in press conferences.

AP Photo

March 2022

In March 2022, media coverage of Watson erupted once again as he was set to meet with a grand jury from March 8 to 11. In a ruling that shocked many, the conclusion of the trial on March 11, 2022, was that Watson would not face any criminal charges related to the sexual assault allegations.

This sent NFL teams searching for a new quarterback into a frenzy. The Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings, Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints made inquiries on trading for Watson.

However, since Deshaun had a no-trade clause in his contract, it meant that he could not just be sent to any team without his permission. This made him more of a free agent than a player to trade for, as he would pick the destination he would like to play in next.

Earlier that week, Watson had attempted to narrow down the field of teams by having meetings with the coaches and front office executives of each respective organization. However, only teams that had a trade offer that the Texans were willing to accept could meet with Deshaun. After meeting with and ruling out four teams, including the Cleveland Browns, it was down to the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints for Watson to choose from.

In a shocking turn of events, however, he would double back and choose to be part of the Cleveland Browns. A deal for Watson was finally made. The Browns would send three first-round draft picks and two fourth-round picks in exchange for Deshaun Watson and a 2024 fifth-round selection. Watson was not still 100% in the clear for the 2022 NFL season with 22 civil cases pending. But the grand jury’s decision to not prosecute him made it easier for Watson to find a new home and a new team.

No longer than a week after the trade on March 24th, a second grand jury was convened to review the complaints that weren’t addressed in the meeting prior. After a much shorter trial, on the same day, the grand jury again declined to file charges against Watson.

Dushaun Watson walking off the field after game. Getty Images

May/June/July 2022

After two months of not much news coming out on Watson and the investigation, over the course of a one-week span between May 31 and July 6, Watson would get tagged with two more civil cases, bringing the overall tally to 24. A day later on June 7, more news stated that Watson had reportedly booked with 66 different massage therapists during a 17-month span from 2019 to 2021, according to the New York Times. And not only were the Houston Texans aware of his behavior, but they allegedly had acted as enablers.

Over the span of June and July, the Houston Texans and Deshaun Watson settled with a number of the plaintiffs making claims against Watson. The Texans settled with 30 women and Watson settled with 20 of the 24 civil cases. Once again all were massage therapists who had worked with him.

Finally, this leads us here, with training camp just days away and still no decision made on how many games Watson may play in the 2022 NFL season. There have been so many reports flying around the league offering speculation that nothing is for certain. What is known however is the decision will be made by Judge Sue Robinson within the next week. It is possible that Watson may not be suspended at all but the NFL is pushing for a year long suspension. Should the NFL overrule a Judge Robinson non-suspension decision and mandate a year-long suspension, Watson and his team are prepared to sue the NFL and appeal it. The only way both parties will get what they want is if they are able to come to an agreement.

For fans of the game, this is not a controversy anyone should have to witness.

However, it would seem likely that Watson will be handed a suspension of anywhere from two to eight games. That means of course that Watson will suit up for the Cleveland Browns at some point during the 2022-2023 NFL season.



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