How NFL Teams Talk Themselves Into Players Like Deshaun Watson

Updated at 6:45 p.m. ET on March 24, 2022.

The Cleveland Browns are appearing as in the event that they performed a high-level, CSI-like investigation earlier than providing Deshaun Watson a five-year, $230 million deal late final week. It’s a laughable pretense.

The quarterback, previously of the Houston Texans, faces 22 civil lawsuits accusing him of a variety of inappropriate and coercive sexual conduct. Female therapeutic massage therapists allege that, amongst different acts, Watson uncovered himself, inappropriately touched them together with his penis, or, in two circumstances, compelled them to carry out oral intercourse. The Browns insisted in a latest assertion that they’ve “spent a tremendous amount of time exploring and investigating” whether or not to commerce for him. “We are acutely aware and empathetic to the highly personal sentiments expressed about this decision,” they declared. “Our team’s comprehensive evaluation process was of utmost importance due to the sensitive nature of his situation and the complex factors involved.”

What the Browns would possibly as nicely have mentioned was: He’s good at soccer. End of story. The “comprehensive evaluation process” little doubt discovered that Watson is 26 years outdated, is already a three-time Pro Bowl choice, led the Texans to consecutive playoff berths, and has the expertise of a possible NFL MVP. Having finished that due diligence, the Browns have been comfy with buying and selling away a bevy of priceless draft picks and promising Watson—who has denied any nonconsensual sexual conduct—probably the most assured cash in NFL historical past.

This is typical conduct by NFL groups, that are infamous for vouching for the character of gamers with a deeply worrisome historical past, when in fact the one trait that they actually care about is whether or not that participant possesses the mandatory drive to compete and to win championships. Of course soccer character and private character have ceaselessly proved to be two very various things.

The New England Patriots infamously determined in 2010 to draft Aaron Hernandez, then a troubled University of Florida tight finish, regardless of widespread issues about his persona and his disciplinary historical past. According to The Wall Street Journal, a scouting service did a pre-draft psychological analysis of Hernandez and gave him the bottom potential rating for “social maturity,” however a 9 out of 10 for “receptivity to coaching” and an above-average rating for “dedication.”

Hernandez later acquired a life sentence for homicide and died by suicide in jail. Although the Patriots couldn’t predict that Hernandez would at some point be convicted of a cold-blooded killing, loads of warning indicators instructed that they need to go on him within the draft.

This is to not say that Watson—whom a grand jury in Houston declined to criminally cost earlier this month—needs to be painted in the identical gentle as Hernandez. (A grand jury in a close-by Texas county additionally declined to cost him.) But clearly the Browns determined that Watson was such a particular expertise that they might put apart any doubts about him, a lot because the Patriots did with Hernandez.

The allegations in opposition to Watson weren’t disqualifying elements for the Browns, or for the various different groups who have been hoping to land him, particularly as soon as the grand jury selected to not indict him. In reality, there was a bidding struggle for Watson’s companies, which in the end led the Browns to reward him with a sturdy payday.

Watson might nonetheless be suspended by the NFL. Under the league’s personal-conduct coverage, the NFL has the fitting to punish gamers absent prison fees or convictions. That so many groups covet Watson this badly sends a horrible message, however that’s simply the best way professional soccer operates. Case in level: On Wednesday, the Kansas City Chiefs traded vast receiver Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins, who gave Hill a contract that made him the league’s highest-paid vast receiver. Back in 2015, Hill accepted a plea settlement after going through felony fees of home assault and battery by strangulation. Hill was accused of choking his pregnant girlfriend and punching her within the abdomen and face. And in 2019, Hill was briefly suspended whereas below investigation for alleged little one abuse. (No fees have been in the end filed.)

Hill, like Watson, continues to be within the NFL. Meanwhile, the exiled quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been repeatedly posting movies of himself on social media figuring out with gamers in numerous cities, however he hasn’t had a group of his personal in years. That the previous San Francisco 49er was left jobless after kneeling in protest in the course of the nationwide anthem, whereas gamers accused of violent misconduct are paid prime greenback, is sort of a press release about what the NFL deems a risk to the integrity of the league. (Full disclosure: I’m a producer of the ESPN documentary sequence that Kaepernick and the director Spike Lee are making in regards to the former quarterback’s banishment from professional soccer.)

Unlike Kaepernick, Watson will apparently hold taking part in soccer, however he’ll be a divisive determine. Some defenders see him as a distinguished Black athlete whose status is being unfairly sullied by accusers who’re solely searching for cash. Others see a serial predator who prevented prison prosecution solely as a result of sexual-assault accusations nearly by no means result in a conviction.

The solely opinion that basically issues, although, is the Browns’, and so they see Watson as a possibility. In the NFL, if you happen to’re gifted sufficient, there is no such thing as a such factor as a purple flag.

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