Since trading for quarterback Deshaun Watson by shipping six draft picks to the Houston Texans and handing Watson a previous-shattering, fully guaranteed long-term contract, the Cleveland Browns have not held a press conference.
To date, the Browns’ only public comments on the trade have come in the form of prepared statements posted to the team website and shared on social media. The remarks are attributed to team owners Jimmy Haslam and his wife, Dee; general manager Andrew Berry; and head coach Kevin Stefanski.
Watson is a radiant talent, but he also faces lawsuits from 22 women who accuse him of sexual misconduct during massage appointments. He will not be charged with a crime – a decision made by a Texas prosecutor after a grand jury determined that not enough evidence was presented to warrant probable cause. It’s an outcome that reflects the difficulty in prosecuting allegations of sexual misconduct more than an absolute indication of Watson’s innocence.
The statements credited to the Browns’ brass attempt to square this reality with the massive investment the team made to make Watson the face of the franchise. What follows is a closer reading of their words.
Statement from Dee and Jimmy Haslam
Quote: “We spent a tremendous amount of time exploring and investigating the opportunity to trade for Deshaun Watson.”
Translation: Just a heads-up: We’re going to keep repeating that we did this big ol’ deep dive into what happened with Watson because we feel that if we say it often enough, you might believe us.
Quote: “We are acutely aware and empathetic to the highly personal sentiments expressed about this decision.”
Translation: We know the women Watson may have harmed are real people. We also hear the concerns of our fans and others who think this is all a bad look. We don’t care.
Quote: “Our team’s comprehensive evaluation process was of utmost importance due to the sensitive nature of his situation and the complex factors involved.”
Translation: We’re reluctant to get into any specifics here because it might expose what we’re trying to say for how hollow it really is. It’s true that we did not contact Tony Buzbee, the attorney for the women accusing Watson. But, as The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd reported, we did talk to three female lawyers from Watson’s defense team. After all, nothing shows you did your homework on a potential employee accused of sexual misconduct like talking to the lawyers from the high-profile firm that’s collecting a fortune to represent him. Especially if those lawyers also happen to be women. That’s how you dot the Is and cross the Ts, bucko.
Quote: “We also understand there are still some legal proceedings that are ongoing and we will respect due process.”
Translation: Look, all we care about is that he ain’t being charged with a crime, OK? But by saying we respect due process we at least sound like we’re concerned with whatever else is going to happen and who might be affected. We learned the value of this when the truck-stop company Jimmy runs defrauded people and all we had to do was pay a fine before getting on with our lives. We know and trust that the legal system works, at least when you’re as wealthy as we are.
Quote: “It was pivotal that we, along with Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski, meet with Deshaun to have a straightforward dialogue, discuss our priorities, and hear directly from him on how he wants to approach his career on and off the field.”
Translation: Lloyd also reported that we flew to Houston to meet with Watson for more than two hours on March 15 and that we spent 30 minutes talking about his case. The rest of that discussion was about football, in case you were wondering about our priorities.
Quote: “He was humble, sincere, and candid. In our conversations, Deshaun detailed his commitment to leading our team; he understands and embraces the hard work needed to build his name both in the community and on the field. Those in-depth conversations, the extensive evaluation process, his dedication to being a great teammate and devotion to helping others within the NFL, within the community, and through his charitable initiatives provided the foundation for us to pursue Deshaun.”
Translation: If we throw enough words like this at you, we hope to convince you we’re sincere.
Quote: “We are confident in Deshaun and excited about moving forward with him as our quarterback and supporting his genuine and determined efforts.”
Translation: We know any of the outrage we’ve generated with this move will blow over soon enough.
Statement from GM Andrew Berry
Quote: “We look forward to having Deshaun as our starting quarterback.”
Translation: We think this dude can win us a lot of games.
Quote: “We have done extensive investigative, legal and reference work over the past several months to provide us with the appropriate information needed to make an informed decision about pursuing him and moving forward with him as our quarterback.”
Translation: Allow me to repeat what the Haslams kept saying about the thoroughgoing inquiry we say we did on this guy because it gestures in the direction of decency and sounds really damn good.
Quote: “Deshaun has been among the very best at the position and he understands the work needed to re-establish himself on and off the field in Cleveland.”
Translation: He’s a great quarterback. Great quarterbacks are rare commodities. The end.
Quote: “We are confident that he will make positive contributions to our team and community as we support his return to football.”
Translation: This is why we upped the ante by giving him a five-year contract that pays a fully guaranteed $230 million. It’s also why we structured that deal so his base salary in 2022 will pay him the league veteran minimum of $1.035 million. Because if the league were to still suspend him this year, that’s the maximum he’d have to forfeit. We really did our best to think of everything. Well, everything except how the women accusing Watson feel. But you get the idea.
Statement from head coach Kevin Stefanski
Quote: “Our organization did a tremendous amount of background on Deshaun.”
Translation: I’m saying this for the same reasons the Haslams and Andrew Berry did. There’s no need for me to elaborate.
Quote: “We understand the concerns and questions that exist but are confident in the extensive work Andrew and his staff have done to feel confident about him joining our organization.”
Translations: Those concerns and questions aren’t really concerns and questions of ours. And holy cow, how about the way Andrew structured that contract to minimize the financial impact of a possible suspension? That’s some All-Pro general managing right there.
Quote: “It was important for us to meet with Deshaun in person as part of our team’s evaluation process, we had a candid conversation regarding his approach to coming into our organization and community.”
Translation: We think we can work with this guy.
Quote: “I’m looking forward to the opportunity to coach Deshaun, he is ready to put in the hard work needed to help our team improve and make a positive impact in our community.”
Translation: This sounds much better than saying the Haslams pay Andrew and me to win football games, period. Because once you finish cutting the crap, that’s all that matters here.
Dom Cosentino is a senior features writer at theScore.