Deshaun Watson settles 20 civil suits, faces NFL suspension

  • Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson takes part in drills on June 14 at the NFL football team's practice facility in Berea, Ohio. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

HOUSTON — Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson’s decision to settle 20 of 24 civil lawsuits for sexual misconduct may not dissuade the NFL from giving him a lengthy suspension, a person familiar with the league’s investigation told the Associated Press on Tuesday. Watson has been accused by massage therapists of harassing, assaulting or touching them during appointments when he played for the Houston Texans.

Houston attorney Tony Buzbee, who represents all 24 women, said Tuesday in a statement that once the paperwork is finished on the 20 settlements, “those particular cases will be dismissed.” He added that the terms of the settlements are “confidential” and that his legal team “won’t comment further on the settlements or those cases.”

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Watson still faces discipline from the league, which conducted its own investigation into the 26-year-old’s behavior and is expected to make a decision before the Browns open training camp on July 27.

Following Buzbee’s announcement, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the agreements have “no impact on the collectively bargained disciplinary process.”

Another league official told the AP “settling doesn’t give someone a pass” and indicated a lengthy suspension remains in order. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation hasn’t concluded.

NFL investigators interviewed Watson in Houston over several days last month. They’ve spoken with 11 of Watson’s accusers, according to a person familiar with the investigation, who said Buzbee declined to make more women available for interviews.

The league will present their findings to disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson, a former federal judge who will decide Watson’s punishment. This is the first case for Robinson, who was jointly appointed by the league and NFL Players Association.

The Browns, who signed the three-time Pro Bowler to a fully guaranteed, five-year, $230 million contract in March, had no immediate comment on the settlements.

Watson has denied any wrongdoing and vowed to clear his name. Rusty Hardin, Watson’s lead attorney, did not immediately return an email or a text seeking comment.

In March, two separate Texas grand juries declined to indict him on criminal complaints stemming from the allegations. After that, the Browns and several other teams pursued Watson, with Cleveland convincing him to waive his no-trade clause and join a team with a solid roster.

The first 22 lawsuits against Watson were filed in March and April 2021. The last two lawsuits were filed after HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” aired an interview last month with two of the women who detailed their encounters with Watson.

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