Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson has decided that he wants to play for the Cleveland Browns, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The Browns and Texans are still finalizing the trade compensation, but the Texans are expected to receive three first-round picks, a third-round pick and a fourth-round pick while sending a fifth-round pick back to Cleveland along with Watson, league sources told ESPN.
The Browns are also set to give Watson a new five-year, $230 million contract, sources told 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 has informed the Texans that he is willing to waive his no-trade clause to be dealt to Cleveland, sources said. The 26-year-old quarterback appeared to confirm the decision with an Instagram post showing Watson in a Browns uniform.
A Watson move to the Browns would also open 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. The lawsuits accuse him of a range of actions, from touching women with his genitals to forced oral sex. 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.
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.
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 league spokesperson, 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 new general manager Nick 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 would join 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 has chosen 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.
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.