“I’m going to be respectful of the investigation, of the legal proceedings and let that play out,” Stefanski said.
Watson was present at Wednesday’s off-season workout, completing passes to teammates in an orange jersey and shorts, but was not made available to the news media. That day, he set his Twitter account to private, limiting his posts to his 1.4 million followers.
What action could the Browns take next?
The Browns’ options appear to be limited if they want to get out of their deal with Watson.
A person with direct knowledge of the deal said the contract had protective wording, similar to that in other players’ contracts, that allowed the franchise to void aspects of it for detrimental conduct that the team was unaware of when the agreement was signed. The person, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said the Browns were unlikely to take action unless Watson was charged criminally.
Watson, 26, requested a trade from the Texans after the 2020 season, months after signing a four-year contract extension in Houston worth nearly $111 million guaranteed. Shortly thereafter, the first allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced. He was on the Texans roster in 2021 but did not play a snap.
Berry said in March that the Browns decided to pursue Watson after third-party counsel completed an independent investigation that included interviewing references and law enforcement officials. When a Harris County, Texas, grand jury declined to charge Watson in connection with nine criminal complaints, the Browns, the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints entered the bidding for him. Cleveland announced the Watson trade soon after.
But it wasn’t until after Watson was signed that a second grand jury, in Brazoria County, Texas, declined to press charges against him. The Browns have not explained why they signed him when there was still a possibility he would be charged criminally.
The impact of the new lawsuits on Watson’s standing with the team is also unknown. Hardin said that his legal team had never heard of the 24th plaintiff until Monday, and it’s unclear whether Watson disclosed the potential of new legal actions to the Browns before signing.