Deshaun Watson settles 20 of 24 lawsuits: What it means (and doesn’t mean) for Browns QB, NFL decision

Deshaun Watson has settled 20 of the 24 civil lawsuits filed by massage therapists accusing him of sexual assault and misconduct.

Tony Buzbee, attorney for the plaintiffs, announced in a statement that the lawsuits have been settled with confidential amounts and terms.

Here’s what the settlements mean for Watson, the Browns and the NFL’s investigation.

MORE: Explaining the lawsuits against Deshaun Watson

Deshaun Watson lawsuit settlements, explained

The only immediate guarantee about the settlements is that there will be 20 fewer lawsuits Watson will have to face in court following the end of the 2022 season. Cleveland.com had previously reported that none of the initial 22 lawsuits would go to trial between Aug. 1, 2022 and March 1, 2023, ensuring these cases will linger throughout the 2022 season. Unless any more civil lawsuits are filed against Watson, this would mean there would only be four left after the campaign.

Two grand juries have declined to indict the 26-year-old on any criminal charges. Watson has maintained he has never assaulted or harassed anyone, and recently said during the Browns’ minicamp that he “never forced anyone to do anything.”

However, he has not responded to a report from The New York Times that he used at least 66 different massage therapists during a 17-month period and that the Texans provided him with a non-disclosure agreement to have them sign prior to massages.

MORE: Texans GM says Browns trade for Deshaun Watson can’t be undone

Buzbee said in his statement Tuesday that Ashley Solis, the first therapist to go public with claims of sexual assault from Watson, has not settled her case.

“Ashley Solis is one of the heroes of this story,” Buzbee said in the statement. “Her case has not settled and thus her story and that of the other three brave women will continue. I look forward to trying these cases in due course, consistent with other docket obligations and the court’s schedule.”

After he was traded to the Browns in March, Watson signed a five-year, $230 million deal that overrode a previous four-year, $177.5 million extension signed with the Texans that was set to begin in 2022. Solis and Kyla Hayes condemned the contract extension as “rewarding bad behavior” in an interview with Soledad O’Brien on HBO’s “Real Sports.”

MORE: NFL reportedly could seek season-long ban for Watson

Will Deshaun Watson be suspended by the NFL?

The settlements come just a few days after a report from The Washington Post that the NFL is looking to hand Watson a “significant” suspension for violations of the league’s personal conduct policy.

Will the settlements impact the suspension? The answer to that appears to be no. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement  that the latest development “has no impact on the collectively bargained disciplinary process.”

The MMQB’s Albert Breer reported that the NFL, NFLPA and an arbitrator had June 30 listed as the timeline for pretrial discovery. Settlements now mean a decision could come sooner.

Watson is likely to be suspended under the NFL’s personal conduct policy, which would mean a “baseline suspension without pay of six games, with consideration given to any aggravating or mitigating factors.” Such violations involve assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault. NFL players do not need to be found guilty or charged with a crime to be suspended under the personal conduct policy.

The NFL previously suspended Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for four games after an accusation of sexual assault during the 2010 offseason despite a lack of criminal conviction. It is likely given the number of accusations and the reports that have emerged in Watson’s case that he will face a longer suspension.

That doesn’t mean that whatever suspension the NFL assesses Watson will stick, however. Pro Football Talk reported the NFLPA will “mobilize with an aggressive defense” for Watson, targeting the league’s handling of off-field controversy by owners Daniel Snyder, Robert Kraft and Jerry Jones.

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