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Deshaun Watson’s contract contains exception to “typical club protections” in event of suspension

Mike Florio explains what a judge's decision requiring Deshaun Watson to answer questions about consensual interactions with other massage therapists means as the QB's legal issues continue.

When the Browns traded for Deshaun Watson three weeks ago today, we were told that his new contract will contain modifications to the standard language that would void guaranteed payments and/or trigger the default of signing bonus money previously paid. When the Browns officially introduced Watson two weeks ago today, G.M. Andrew Berry was asked whether Watson’s fully-guaranteed contract remains guaranteed in the event of a suspension.

“Again, I won’t go into all of the specifics with the contract, but we do have our language within the contract that does offer I would say typical club protections,” Berry said.

We’ve obtained a copy of the contract. It does indeed include “typical club protections.” However, it also includes a major exception to those “typical club protections.”

Each paragraph of the addendum to the agreement that contains guaranteed payments -- No. 26 (2022 salary), No. 27 (2023 salary), No. 28 (2024 salary), No. 29 (2025 salary), No. 30 (2026 salary) -- and the signing bonus addendum include language exempting from any potential default a suspension imposed by the league “solely in connection with matters disclosed to Club in writing pursuant to paragraph 42 and such suspension results in Player’s unavailability to Club solely for games during the 2022 or 2023 NFL League Years.”

In paragraph 42, Watson “represents and warrants (except as disclosed to club in writing), as of the date hereof, that (i) Player has not been charged with, indicted for, convicted of or pled nolo contender to any felony and/or misdemeanor involving fraud or moral turpitude, (ii) Player has not engaged in conduct which would subject him to a charge, indictment or conviction of any such offense, and (iii) no circumstances exist that would prevent Player’s continuing availability to the Club for the duration of this Contract.”

The written disclosure made by Watson to the Browns isn’t contained in the contract. A source with knowledge of the written disclosure says it’s a “fair assumption” that it refers to the 22 pending civil lawsuits.

Here’s where it gets interesting, and potentially risky, for Watson. What if he eventually admits to having consensual sexual encounters with one or more of the 18 massage therapists who issued statements of support on his behalf? Earlier this week, a judge concluded that Watson must answer whether he did indeed have sexual encounters with any, some, or all of those 18 women.

If Watson admits to having sexual encounters with any, some, or all of those 18 women, could that get him suspended, regardless of the outcome of the investigation regarding the 22 massage therapists who accuse him of wrongdoing? The Commissioner could decide that Watson should miss games without pay as part of the effort to intervene and to resolve the behaviors that resulted in Watson repeatedly (if the evidence supports that conclusion) using massage sessions as cover for the solicitation of prostitution. If that occurs, and if that specific wrinkle hasn’t been included in the written disclosure mentioned in Watson’s contract, the Browns possibly would be able to void his guarantees and/or to recover a portion of his signing bonus, if it so chooses.

Finally, the contract presumes that Watson will be suspended in 2022 or 2023. For any suspension imposed after 2023, the default language would apply, no matter what.