Jake Ruderman ’26
After nearly two years, Deshaun Watson has returned to the NFL. Watson made his 2022 season debut this past weekend against the Houston Texans, returning to play his former team for the first time since his suspension and trade. It’s the first time Watson has seen the field in the last two years, since he missed the entire 2021 season and was suspended for the first 11 weeks of this current season. In his time away, Watson justifiably became one of the NFL’s most hated players after accruing more than 30 lawsuits detailing appalling sexual misconduct, harrasment, and assault allegations. Despite testimony from more than 30 women, all claiming remarkably similar experiences, Watson was still granted his trade request, being sent to Cleveland where he then signed a $230 million contract. It’s an awful look for the NFL to allow a player of his reputation to continue to play, made even worse by his lackluster punishment, nonchalant demeanor, and seemingly unremorseful attitude.
After a pathetic 2020 season in which the Houston Texans went 4-12, Watson was done for the year just like everyone else. Despite the team’s lack of success, it had been another strong season for Watson, who had earned his third straight pro-bowl selection amidst a career-high 4,800 yard, 33 touchdown season, in which he had played every single game. With the Texans in the middle of overhauling their roster in the wake of firing their head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien, rumors swirled about Deshaun’s availability on the trade market. The Texans had already shipped out superstar wide receiver Deandre Hopkins and released future hall-of-fame defensive end J.J. Watt. The frisky Texans team that had once led the Kansas City Chiefs 24-0 in the playoffs was now all but gone, with Deshaun as the last major piece standing. But because of his elite play and young age, Watson was sure to fetch a sizable package in return, and the Texans took their time, surveying the landscape before coming to a decision. At the time, multiple teams were in search of a franchise quarterback and would be willing to trade an obscene amount of first-round-picks for a player of Watson’s caliber. But before any trade talks could firmly develop, news came out of a series of sexual misconduct accusations alleged against Watson by numerous women in March of 2021. Within days, 21 lawsuits had been filed against Watson, all relating to misconduct with various massage therapists. As the cases progressed on and gruesome details continued to emerge, Watson vehemently denied the allegations and focused instead on his pending trade request. No team jumped immediately and Watson sat out for the entire 2021 season. After being cleared of all criminal charges by a grand jury, the Cleveland Browns decided to trade for Deshaun, giving up a massive haul of three first-round-picks and three additional later-round picks. Despite his disgusting baggage, the Browns were willing to overlook potential career-ending accusations and bring in Watson on the basis of his talent alone, a move that may come back to bite them.
This trade put the Browns at the center of a massive controversy, and will likely face further scrutiny if additional allegations come out or if Watson’s on-field play is subpar. The move is baffling when considering the numerous ways it could backfire, especially with Watson’s ridiculous fully-guaranteed $230 million contract. In terms of his suspension, a disciplinary officer for the NFL ruled that Watson’s case warranted a six game suspension, but this decision was met with major public pushback. As a result, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sought a different disciplinary opinion on the matter. Watson was then suspended for 11 games, forced to attend counseling, and fined $5 million; but all of this pales in comparison with the $230 million contract he signed as soon as he was acquired. Watson was allowed to return to practice in mid-November and made his first start this past week, turning in a lackluster effort against his former team.
Despite securing the win, Watson was horrendous, showing signs of rust and confusion en route to a 131 yard, zero touchdown, one interception performance against the league’s worst defense. Cleveland’s defense and special teams bailed out Deshaun, accounting for three touchdowns on their own and limiting Houston to only 14 points, despite the fact that Houston actually gained more first-downs than Cleveland. After only one start, it remains to be seen whether Watson will settle back into his former playstyle and become an elite quarterback once again, but the pressure is certainly on. With a 5-7 record, Cleveland is likely already out of playoff contention this season, but will look next season to make a playoff run with Watson as their consistent quarterback.
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