Deshaun Watson will be suspended for the first 11 games of the NFL season after a prolonged legal battle stemming from sexual misconduct allegations.
The Cleveland Browns quarterback settled 23 of the 24 civil lawsuits against him. His punishment also came as the result of a settlement between the league, which had sought to suspend him for a full season, and the players association.
The alleged incidents involving Watson occurred between March 2020 and March 2021. The following timeline details the allegations against Watson, the ensuing legal battle and the NFL’s role, with the quarterback having been traded and handed a record-breaking contract in the midst of the lawsuits.
DESHAUN WATSON TIMELINE
Jan. 28, 2021 – ESPN reported that Watson requested a trade from the Houston Texans over his displeasure with the team’s hiring process for a new general manager and coach. Watson, in the fall of 2020, signed a four-year, $156 million extension with the Texans.
March 16, 2021 - Plaintiff attorney Tony Buzbee announces that a sexual assault lawsuit has been filed against Watson. Watson responds with a statement on Twitter, denying all allegations.
"As a result of a social media post by a publicity-seeking plaintiff's lawyer, I recently became aware of a lawsuit that has apparently been filed against me," Watson wrote. "I have not yet seen the complaint, but I know this: I have never treated any woman with anything other than the utmost respect. The plaintiff's lawyer claims that this isn't about money, but before filing suit he made a baseless six-figure settlement demand, which I quickly rejected. Unlike him, this isn't about money for me—it's about clearing my name, and I look forward to doing that."
Match 17, 2021 - Two additional lawsuits are filed against Watson.
March 18, 2021 – Hours after the NFL announces it is investigating the three prior allegations against Watson, four additional lawsuits are filed. The Texans release a statement saying the team will “stay in close contact with the league” during the investigation.
March 22-April 5, 2021 – Fifteen additional lawsuits are filed, bringing the total to 22.
April 2, 2021 – The Houston Police Department says it is investigating Watson after a complainant had filed a report.
April 6, 2021 - Two plaintiffs, Ashley Solis and Lauren Baxley, reveal their identity and speak publicly during a news conference.
“I come forward now so that Deshaun Watson does not assault another woman,” said Solis, the first woman to accuse Watson of sexual assault. “I am seeking justice not just on behalf of myself but for all survivors. ... This is about having my voice heard.”
April 7, 2021 - Nike and Apple’s Beats by Dre suspend endorsement deals with Watson.
April 14, 2021 – An additional lawsuit is filed against Watson, bringing the total back to 22.
April 19, 2021 – Watson’s attorney Rusty Hardin accuses the 22 women who filed lawsuits of lying, alleging that eight of the women bragged about giving Watson massages and five “wanted to get money out of Mr. Watson.”
July 25, 2021 - Watson reports to Houston Texans training camp, with reports circulating that the team has been listening to trade offers.
March 11, 2022 – A Texas grand jury declines to indict Watson on nine cases following a police investigation sparked by the lawsuits. Watson invokes the Fifth Amendment during his civil deposition. The trade market for Watson immediately intensifies, with the Saints, Panthers, Colts, Falcons and Browns expressing interest over the following days.
March 18, 2022 - Watson agrees to waive his no-trade clause to be dealt to Cleveland, one day after the Browns were informed they were out of the running for the quarterback. Watson is acquired by the Browns for multiple first-round picks and signs a fully-guaranteed five-year, $230 million deal. While it sets a record for largest guaranteed contract in NFL history, his 2022 salary is set for just $1 million.
March 20, 2022 – The Browns release statements from the team’s owners, general manager and head coach regarding the Watson acquisition. Owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam stated the team “spent a tremendous amount of time exploring and investigating a trade for Deshaun Watson.” It is later reported that none of the teams pursuing Watson contacted Buzbee, who represented all of the plaintiffs in Watson’s lawsuits.
March 24, 2022 – As Watson arrives in Cleveland, a second Texas grand jury declines to charge Watson on a criminal complaint filed by one of the 22 accusers.
March 25, 2022 – The Browns hold Watson's introductory press conference, where the quarterback faced questions about the sexual misconduct allegations.
“What I can continue to do is tell the truth, and that is I have never assaulted, disrespected or harassed any woman in my life,” Watson said. “I was raised differently. That is not my DNA. That is not my culture. That is not me as a person."
March 29, 2022 – NFL commissioner Roger Goodell addresses Watson's playing status.
“We’ve been very clear with every club, whether the criminal matter gets resolved or not, that the personal conduct policy is very important to us,” Goodell said. “... They understand that’s something we’re going to pursue.”
The NFL and NFLPA agree to use former U.S. District Court Judge Sue L. Robinson as an impartial arbitrator to determine disciplinary action.
April 19, 2022 - Watson arrives for offseason workouts with the Browns.
May 24, 2022 – Two of the 22 plaintiffs provide graphic detail of their encounters with Watson during a segment of “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.”
May 31, 2022 – A 23rd lawsuit is filed.
June 6, 2022 – A 24th lawsuit is filed.
“Lost in the media frenzy surrounding Deshaun Watson is that these are twenty-four strong, courageous women who, despite ridicule, legal shenanigans, and intense media scrutiny, continue to stand firm for what is right,” Buzbee says in a statement.
June 7, 2022 – The New York Times reports Watson booked massage therapy sessions with at least 66 women over a 17-month span.
June 14, 2022 - Watson speaks with the media at a Browns mandatory minicamp, fielding questions about the sexual misconduct allegations during a 12-minute session. Watson is asked if recent cases changed his legal team’s previous stance that they would not settle the lawsuits.
“I just want to clear my name and be able to let the facts and the legal procedures continue to play out,” he says.
June 21, 2022 - Watson reaches settlements with 20 of 24 accusers.
"Today I announce that all cases against Deshaun Watson, with the exception of four, have settled," Buzbee said. "We are working through the paperwork related to those settlements. Once we have done so, those particular cases will be dismissed. The terms and amounts of the settlements are confidential. We won't comment further on the settlements or those cases."
June 27, 2022 - A lawsuit is filed by one of the 24 women against the Houston Texans, claiming the team enabled Watson and “turned a blind eye” to his behavior.
June 28, 2022 – Watson’s legal team prepares to take on the NFL in a hearing that will determine if the quarterback violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy and whether to impose discipline. The NFL, per the Associated Press, is seeking a lengthy suspension for Watson based on the number of sexual assault allegations and conversations with the 11 women who were made available for interviews.
August 1, 2022 – Former U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson hands Watson a six-game suspension, which either side is allowed to appeal within three days. Three of the four remaining cases against Watson are also settled, per the women's lawyer, leaving one pending civil suit.
August 4, 2022 – The NFL appeals Robinson's ruling. Under the collective bargaining agreement, Commissioner Roger Goodell is authorized to make the final decision or designate someone to make it on his behalf. He designated Peter Harvey, a former attorney general of New Jersey who is on the NFL’s Diversity Advisory Committee, but a settlement between the two sides also remained a possibility.
August 12, 2022 – Watson starts the Browns' first preseason game, since the suspension doesn't apply to the preseason and Harvey has yet to make a ruling. Watson also issues his first public apology "to all the woman I've impacted."
August 18, 2022 – The league and the players association reached a settlement to suspend Watson for 11 games. He was also fined $5 million and will undergo mandatory mental health counseling.