Deshaun Watson traded to Cleveland Browns; QB set to sign deal worth $230M guaranteed, sources say

ByJAKE TROTTER AND SARAH BARSHOP via via logo
March 18, 2022, 7:49 PM

The Cleveland Browns have acquired quarterback Deshaun Watson in a trade with the Houston Texans for first-round picks in 2022, 2023 and 2024 as well as a 2023 third-round pick and a 2024 fourth-round pick.

The Texans are sending a 2024 fifth-round pick to the Browns in the trade as well. 

The Browns are set to give Watson a new five-year, $230 million contract, sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter. He would receive $184 million over the first four years of his new contract -- a $48 million raise over what he was scheduled to make under his current contract.

The full $230 million is guaranteed, sources said, setting a record for highest guarantee given to an NFL player.

Watson will make $1,035,000 in base salary in 2022, a source confirmed to ESPN. That is the amount from which he would lose on a per-game basis if Watson is suspended by the NFL over the allegations of sexual assault and inappropriate conduct that have been made against the quarterback. NFL Network first reported on Watson's 2022 base salary.

Texans general manager Nick Caserio said in a statement Friday that he believed trading Watson "was the right move for our organization" as the team continues its rebuild.

"Our priority right now is adding talented players to the foundation we have already put in place over the last 15 months and this trade supports that plan," Caserio said. "As we navigate through the rest of the offseason, we remain open-minded to all avenues that allow us to improve our roster and add to our program."

The 26-year-old quarterback shared an Instagram post showing himself in a Browns uniform and writing, "Cleveland, LETSSSS GOOOO!! #DawgPound Ready To Work!"

Watson's move to the Browns opens up the chance for quarterback Baker Mayfield to find a new team. Mayfield had requested a trade out of Cleveland, he told Schefter earlier this week, but a source had previously told ESPN's Jake Trotter that the Browns would not accommodate that request.

The Browns -- as well as the Carolina Panthers -- had believed they were out of the running to acquire Watson, who had also been considering joining the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. Browns officials met with Watson on Tuesday in Houston.

After missing out on Watson, the Saints are expected to consider re-signing free-agent quarterback Jameis Winston, sources told Schefter.

Watson did not play last season after an offseason request to be traded and the emergence of 22 lawsuits against him alleging sexual assault and inappropriate conduct during massage sessions. But a Texas grand jury declined to indict Watson on criminal charges last Friday, signaling the end of criminal proceedings related to him in Harris County. Trade talks between the Texans and interested teams began soon after.

Before meeting with the Browns on Tuesday, Watson answered questions on two of the 22 lawsuits filed against him during ongoing depositions, the plaintiffs' attorney, Tony Buzbee, told KHOU 11. Watson had invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when sitting for two sessions of depositions that began Friday.

"I'm just going to keep fighting to rebuild my name and rebuild my appearance in the community," Watson said Friday after the grand jury decision, speaking to reporters for the first time in over a year.

Though he won't face criminal charges, Watson could still face punishment from the NFL, and the 22 civil cases against him remain active.

A spokesperson for the NFL, which is investigating Watson under its personal conduct policy, said in a statement last Friday, "We have been closely monitoring all developments in the matter."

Watson asked the Texans to trade him in January 2021, citing the process Houston used to hire Caserio earlier that month. The first lawsuit against Watson was filed in March 2021, and he was a healthy scratch for all 17 games last season while being paid his $10.54 million base salary.

A Pro Bowler in three straight seasons before 2021, Watson joins a Browns offense that features one of the top rushing attacks in the league, led by Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb. Cleveland also has traded for Pro Bowl wideout Amari Cooper from the Dallas Cowboys.

Following the news that Watson chose Cleveland as his preferred destination, the Browns' odds to win the Super Bowl went from 40-1 to 20-1, while their odds to win the AFC moved from 18-1 to 10-1.

Watson was selected in the first round of the 2017 NFL draft after the Texans traded with the Browns to move up to the No. 12 pick. Watson would be slated to return to Houston in the 2022 season when the Browns play at the Texans.

Mayfield, meanwhile, has endured a tumultuous, up-and-down tenure in Cleveland. He became just the third quarterback in NFL history to play for four head coaches during his first three seasons in the league with the same team.

Mayfield rebounded to lead Cleveland to its first playoff victory in 26 years during the 2020 season. But in Week 2 of last season, he suffered a torn labrum in his non-throwing left shoulder and struggled the rest of the way. He finished 27th in the NFL in QBR as the Browns went 8-9 and missed the playoffs.

Mayfield underwent surgery to repair the labrum Jan. 19 and is expected to be fully cleared well before training camp. He is entering the final year of his rookie deal, which will pay him $19 million in 2022.

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