Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson has reached a settlement to resolve 20 of 24 civil lawsuits that had been filed by women who accused him of sexual assault and harassment, an attorney for the women said Tuesday.
Watson, who has been accused by massage therapists of harassing, assaulting or groping them during dates while playing for the Houston Texans, could still be suspended if the NFL determines he violated the league’s personal conduct policy.
“Today I am announcing that all but four cases against Deshaun Watson have been resolved. We are working on the paperwork related to those agreements,” Houston attorney Tony Buzbee said in a statement. “Once we’ve done that, those particular cases will be dismissed.”
Buzbee, who represents the 24 women, said the terms of the settlements are “confidential” and his legal team “will not comment further on the settlements or those cases.”
The first 22 lawsuits 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.
The deal also comes after The New York Times reported earlier this month that Watson had booked massage appointments with at least 66 different women over 17 months while playing for the Texans. The report also said that a Texans representative had provided Watson with a confidentiality agreement that he gave some of the women to sign.
Rusty Hardin, Watson’s lead attorney, did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
Watson denies assaulting ‘anyone’
Last week, Watson said he intended to clear his name and dodged any questions about whether he would settle with any of the women.
“I never assaulted anybody,” Watson said June 14 in his first public comments since the Browns introduced him in March. “I never harassed anyone or disrespected anyone. I never forced anyone to do anything.”
In March, two separate Texas grand juries declined to indict Watson on criminal charges stemming from the allegations.
Cleveland then signed Watson to a five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed contract in March, convincing the three-time Pro Bowl to waive his no-trade clause and join a team with a strong roster.
The Browns had no immediate comment on the deals.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the agreements have “no impact on the collectively bargained disciplinary process.”
And a league official told The Associated Press that “remembering doesn’t get someone a pass” and indicated that a lengthy suspension is still in order. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
Buzbee said he plans to take the four unresolved lawsuits to trial, including the first filed by Ashley Solis, who previously went public with her name. In an interview with HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” Solis said she felt threatened by Watson after her massage session when he told her she had a career to protect and “I know you don’t want anyone to mess with her.” like I don’t want anyone messing with mine.
Buzbee said that without Solis, “the conduct experienced by these women would likely have continued unchecked.”
“The truth is, without his courage and willingness to step up, the NFL would not currently be contemplating discipline; there would not be an examination of how teams could knowingly or unknowingly allow certain behavior,” Buzbee said. .
Cleveland, which has spent nearly two decades searching for a franchise quarterback, pursued and signed Watson despite his complex legal situation.
Owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam knew the Browns would face heavy criticism for the move, but they felt comfortable with the decision after conducting their own investigation and meeting privately with Watson.
Now the team is anxious to find out how long they will be without Watson. The Browns signed veteran backup Jacoby Brissett, who will take over as the starter if Watson is suspended.