Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson’s career is in limbo because he is facing civil suits for alleged sexual assault and harassment from 22 massage therapists.
Sometimes I wonder how far an NFL team would go to find a great quarterback.
The position itself is more important than any in team sports. As your quarterback goes, so goes your franchise, your fan base, your revenue stream, your place in history.
But take a guy such as Deshaun Watson.
Not only take him, but give up three first-round draft picks to his previous team (the Texans) and guarantee him $230 million, all while not knowing whether he’ll play a down for your team.
That’s what the Browns did.
The reason Watson’s career with the Browns is in jeopardy is because he is facing a slew of civil suits for alleged sexual-assault and harassment brought by a bunch of female massage therapists. How many? Twenty-two.
Somehow Watson, who made three Pro Bowls with the Texans but didn’t play at all last season because of legal and personal issues, wasn’t criminally charged for any of those alleged assaults, 10 of which were investigated by two separate grand juries. Amazing, really.
It seems crazy, but it’s possible this is one big conspiracy against Watson.
Attorney Rusty Hardin said after the grand-jury dismissal: ‘‘There were no crimes here, but there is a plaintiffs’ attorney churning up negative press and churning up his clients hoping for a payday.’’
But that number 22 keeps coming back. It’s big. Almost two dozen therapists got together and conspired to bring down one guy for profit? Really?
Everything is up in the air right now regarding Watson’s football future. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will get the last word after more investigations are done. He could suspend Watson for a year, two years, forever or not at all.
Two of the plaintiffs will be speaking on HBO’s ‘‘Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel’’ on Tuesday, so their side will be told. Watson declined to be interviewed for the show, but at his introductory news conference with the Browns on March 25, he said: ‘‘I’ve never assaulted any woman. I never disrespected any woman. I was raised by a single-parent mom who has two aunties, who’s a sister, and that’s who raised me.’’
That being said, who raised you is no more relevant to matters such as this than what school you attended or what car you drive.
The impact here extends in many directions. It’s possible Watson will win all his legal cases. Or he somehow might settle the civil charges, pay off the women, get nondisclosure agreements signed and chuck the matter into the rearview mirror. But will people swiftly forget? Will fans? Will women?
The Bears are touched by this, too. When then-general manager Ryan Pace mortgaged the near future in 2017 to take mediocre quarterback Mitch Trubisky with the second pick in the draft, passing on Patrick Mahomes and Watson, he got a lot of criticism. Mahomes’ success with the Chiefs needs no retelling, and Watson, who led the league in passing yards in 2020, is only 26 and likely still improving.
Of course, the Bears should have picked Mahomes. But Watson? Would the alleged assaults and lawsuits have happened here, too?
And then this: How would Bears fans feel about Watson right now, if he were their quarterback and — once his legal mess is untangled — might lead them to a Super Bowl championship?
I remember how Cubs fans quickly forgave closer Aroldis Chapman’s domestic-violence issues once he joined the team and mowed down Dodgers and Indians en route to the 2016 World Series crown. Sins apparently can be washed away by a 103 mph fastball.
Trubisky wasn’t very good afield, but he was a good guy off it. The same can be said right now about Bears quarterback Justin Fields, who is preparing for his second season. Indeed, Fields seems as dedicated and sincere as any elite athlete could be. But can he win big?
After one season, Fields hasn’t played as well as Patriots second-year quarterback Mac Jones, who was drafted four spots behind Fields. Jones got the Patriots into the playoffs last season and made the Pro Bowl as an alternate. Did the Bears miss there, too?
The hapless Browns seemingly could screw up anything. (Remember who drafted troubled Johnny Manziel in the first round?) But they and the Bears have been on this quarterback hunt forever.
And the hunt goes on. With mistakes everywhere and regrets aplenty.