By JUAN A. LOZANO Associated Press
HOUSTON (AP) — Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson has reached an agreement to settle 20 of the 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 touching them during appointments when he was playing for the Houston Texans, could still be suspended if the NFL determines he violated the league’s personal conduct policy.
“Today I announce that all cases against Deshaun Watson, with the exception of four, have settled. We are working through the paperwork related to those settlements,” Houston attorney Tony Buzbee said in a statement. “Once we have done so, those particular cases will be dismissed.”
Buzbee, who represents all 24 women, said the terms of the settlements are “confidential” and that his legal team “won’t 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 settlement 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 he played for the Texans. The report also said that a Texans representative had provided Watson with a nondisclosure agreement that he gave to some of the women to sign.
Rusty Hardin, Watson’s lead attorney, did not immediately return an email or a text seeking comment.
Last week, Watson said he intended to clear his name and sidestepped any questions about whether he would settle with any of the women.
“I never assaulted anyone,” Watson said June 14 in his first public comments since being introduced by the Browns in March. “I never harassed anyone or I never disrespected anyone. I never forced anyone to do anything.”
In March, two separate Texas grand juries declined to indict Watson on criminal complaints stemming from the allegations.
Cleveland then signed Watson to a fully guaranteed, five-year, $230 million contract in March, convincing the three-time Pro Bowler to waive his no-trade clause and join a team with solid roster.
The Browns had no immediate comment on the settlements.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the settlements have “no impact on the collectively bargained disciplinary process.”
And a league official told The Associated Press “settling doesn’t give someone a pass” and indicated a lengthy suspension remains in order. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the investigation hasn’t concluded.
Buzbee said he plans on taking the four unsettled lawsuits to trial, including the first one that was filed by Ashley Solis, who has previously made her name public. In an interview with HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” Solis said she felt threatened by Watson after their massage session when he told her that she had a career to protect and “I know you don’t want anyone messing with it just like I don’t want anyone messing with mine.”
Buzbee said that without Solis, “the conduct experienced by these women would likely have continued unfettered.”
“The truth is, without her courage and willingness to come forward, the NFL wouldn’t currently be contemplating discipline; there would be no examination of how teams might knowingly or unknowingly enable 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 were comfortable with the decision after conducting their own investigation and meeting privately with Watson.
Now, the team is eager to know how long they might be without Watson. The Browns signed veteran backup Jacoby Brissett, who will move into the starting job if Watson is suspended.
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland and AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi in Tampa, Florida, contributed to this report.