When meeting with reporters for the first time since March 25, Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was asked whether he will settle the 26 (and possibly counting) cases pending against him. He said, “I just want to clear my name,” and that he plans to do so through the legal process.
As a practical matter, it’s too late for that. His only chance at this point would be to stumble over evidence showing that it really was and is one giant conspiracy involving a still-growing collection of frivolous claims bundled together to shake him down for a major cash payment. Given that no evidence of such a ruse has emerged to date (months after 18 of the plaintiffs agreed to take $100,000 in settlement of their claims but the deals fell apart because four refused), the chances are at this point that it won’t.
Some would say that Watson can clear his name by winning every single trial of every single case. Beyond the fact that winning 26 (or more) trials will be roughly the same as winning 26 (or more) coin tosses, the trials will consist of testimony and other evidence being provided in open court, over and over and over again. For those who already believe based on the sheer volume of the claims that he’s more predator than prey, 26 (or more) trials won’t erase that — even if the jury sides with him every single time.
There are just too many of these claims, and it’s lasted for far too long. Many compare Watson’s situation to the off-field issues that engulfed Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in 2010. However, he faced only two claims, not 26 (or more). He was suspended, he served his time, he took the Steelers to the Super Bowl that season, the off-field situations resulted in no trials or other lingering entanglements, and within a year or two it was basically forgotten. By the time he retired, some Steelers fans bristled at even the mention of the fact that it occurred.
For Watson, it’s too late. He had a chance to prevent lasting damage from being done in early 2021, but his representatives refused to engage in negotiations after the first plaintiff requested $100,000 before filing suit. (An opener of $100,000 hints strongly at final settlement in the range of $50,000 to $75,000.) They refused to make an offer in response, which pissed off attorney Tony Buzbee. That sparked an avalanche of claims that may have never been filed if Watson had simply settled the first case and ended it.
Then, all pending cases were poised to settle in April 2021. The talks broke down over the question of whether the settlements would include nondisclosure agreements. Buzbee and his clients wanted one; Watson and attorney Rusty Hardin didn’t, presumably so that they could let everyone know that the cases were settled for a payment in the range of peanuts.
Apart from the fact that it will now be much more expensive to settle the cases, the situation has generated headline after headline after headline, few of which have been good for Watson. In the 22 days since HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel televised a feature focusing on the situation, it’s gone straight downhill for Watson in the court of public opinion.
Even if he settles all of the cases today, too many things have happened. Too much time has passed. Too many cases have been filed. There’s no way to turn the clock back to March 2021.