In March when the Cleveland Browns traded three first-round picks for Deshaun Watson and signed him to a record $230 million contract, ownership, the coaching staff and general manager Andrew Berry said they had “vetted” the quarterback and investigated him thoroughly.
Since that time, an NFL investigation uncovered violations of the Personal Conduct Policy — including “sexual abuse” of two dozen Houston area massage therapists — independent discipline officer Sue L. Robinson handed down a six-game suspension, and on Thursday a settlement extended that to an 11-game suspension and a $5 million fine.
So did the Browns make a mistake?
Would they do this deal all over again?
“Yeah, I’ll take that one,” Berry said Thursday. “Yes I would. And we mentioned at the time our process was thorough. We felt like we made an informed decision. We understand why others may not have made the same decision that we did. But we do believe that Deshaun has strong, positive qualities and we do think he’s done everything in his power to integrate himself in our team and everything that we’ve asked.
“And we do believe that as he goes through the self-improvement and self-growth process that he has the opportunity to make a strong and positive contribution to our team and our organization.”
Club owner Jimmy Haslam also was asked directly if, knowing what he knows now, he’d decide to add Watson again.
“Absolutely,” Haslam said. “Here’s what I think: I think in this country, hopefully in the world, people deserve second-chances, OK? I really think that. I struggle a little bit, is he never supposed to play again? Is he never supposed to be part of society? Does he get no chance to rehabilitate himself?
“And that’s what we’re going to do, OK? And you can say, ‘That’s because he’s a star quarterback.’ Well, of course. If he was Joe Smith he wouldn’t be in the headlines every day. So we think people deserve a second chance. We gave Kareem Hunt a second chance, OK? And that’s worked out pretty well, OK?
“We’re hoping this will work out and we have strong belief it will. It doesn’t mean we don’t have empathy for people affected and we will continue to do so. But we strongly believe, strongly believe people deserve a second chance. We believe Deshaun Watson deserves a second chance.”
The Browns, by the way, never spoke directly to any of the women involved in this matter. Berry doubled-down on that as well.
“We were following the advice of our legal counsel,” Berry said.
The Browns will not play Watson in either of their two remaining preseason games, coach Kevin Stefanski said. But that’s not what matters to the team anyway.
It is clear the Browns acquired Deshaun Watson having made the calculation that he might face discipline during the 2022 season but also with an eye on 2023 and beyond.
“I think it’s important to remember Deshaun is 26 years old, OK?” Jimmy Haslam said. “He’s a high-level NFL quarterback and we plan on him being a quarterback for a long time.”
Added Berry: “We’re aware the transaction has elicited a number of strong emotions and tension in the overall fan base. At the same time I don’t think anyone wants their life or their career to be defined by the mistakes that they’ve made.
“And our view with Deshaun is we see someone who is committed and will continue to be committed to a very long process of personal growth and that’s something we believe we can support him in.
“And we do think he’s an individual, based on experiences with him over the past few months and the work we did with him on the front end, that can have a really strong impact on the organization on and off the field over a long period of time.”
The decision by Robinson was damning and neither Haslam nor his wife Dee Haslam have addressed the merits of that decision in which Robinson called Watson’s behavior “egregious” and “predatory.”
That continued Thursday.
“We’re not going to comment on anything judge Sue Robinson said or her decision nor are we going to comment on anything commissioner Goodell said because we don’t think that’s appropriate,” Jimmy Haslam said.
“I don’t see any positives in commenting on that.”
Deshaun Watson’s fine and contributions from the NFL and the Browns of $1 million each will create a fund of $7 million. This fund will support the work of non-profit organizations across the country that educate young people on healthy relationships, promote education and prevention of sexual misconduct and assault, support survivors, and related causes.
Dee Haslam spoke directly to that and has been the most open about how this saga affected the alleged victims.
“We have tremendous empathy for the women involved,” Dee Haslam said. “And we have an opportunity now to make a difference in this community. We’re going to donate a million dollars that will go toward educating youth for awareness of sexual misconduct.”
All that said, this is a football team and it is mostly worried about football problems. And the biggest problem on the team now is finding a starting quarterback.
It indeed seems to be Jacoby Brissett.
“We brought in Jacoby, we feel very good about Jacoby,” Berry said. “We like what we’ve seen throughout the spring, we like what we’ve seen throughout the summer. So we have a high degree of confidence in him.
“No different than any other position on the roster, we’ll continue to evaluate our team over the course of camp …”
But, Berry added, Brissett starting is the plan.
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