Sean Pendergast

Deshaun Watson Will Not Face Criminal Charges for Sexual Abuse

The path to trading Deshaun Watson got much clearer on Friday afternoon.
The path to trading Deshaun Watson got much clearer on Friday afternoon. Photo by Eric Sauseda
The biggest hurdle to the Houston Texans' granting Deshaun Watson his wish to be traded to another NFL city was cleared on Friday afternoon, when a Harris County grand jury returned a "no bill" decision on nine criminal complaints presented against the Texans quarterback:
This was a massive development for both Watson and the Texans, as the potential for criminal charges would have likely delayed the Texans movement of Watson into the summer, and possibly the 2022 season, in which the Texans would be paying Watson's $35 million salary, a massive increase from the $10.5 million he made in 2021(for sitting out and doing nothing).

Additionally, the criminal charges were the most ominous threat to his availability, as the worst case scenario would have involved jail time. The criminal proceedings are finished now, and the remaining hurdles are the 22 civil lawsuits filed by plaintiffs represented by Tony Buzbee, and the potential punishment from the NFL, i.e. a yet to be determined suspension.

The 22 civil lawsuits are for various allegations of sexual misconduct in a massage setting, and the accusers are all in the massage therapy business. Coincidentally, while the grand jury was making their decision on one side of town, on the other side fo town, Watson was completing the first two of his 22 depositions he must do (one for each plaintiff). Because the criminal cases were still open when Watson was being deposed this morning, he reportedly invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege in response to every one of Buzbee's questions, so as not to incriminate himself.

It remains to be seen how or if today's news on Watson not facing criminal charges affects the civil cases. Watson was reportedly ready to settle all 22 cases back in November at the trade deadline when the Miami Dolphins had a trade offer lined up contingent on Watson's settling those cases. As it turns out, only 18 of the 22 were willing to settle, so the trade crumbled. Now, it's fair to wonder what the civil plaintiff accusers (eight of whom were also filing criminal charges) are thinking. Do today's developments weaken their cases at all, and thus make settling with Watson the primary option?

As for the NFL, spokesperson Brian McCarthy had this to say on Friday afternoon after the grand jury rendered its decision:
Watson's attorney, Rusty Hardin, issued the following statement:

“We are delighted that the grand jury has looked at the matter thoroughly and reached the same conclusion we did. Deshaun Watson did not commit any crimes and is not guilty of any offenses.
Now that the criminal investigations have been completed, we are happy to move forward with the civil case depositions. We will vigorously defend those cases with every ounce we have.
There were no crimes here but there is a plaintiffs’ attorney churning up negative press and churning up his clients hoping for a pay day. These cases have been the product of a lawyer maximizing his own personal publicity at the expense of others, including his own clients. 
It is time to let Deshaun move on.”
Make no mistake — today's decision by the grand jury was the best possible outcome for everyone involved with the football side of the Watson saga — the Texans, the teams wanting to make an offer for Watson, and Watson himself. After the report of the grand jury's decision, Twitter exploded with trade speculation, salary numbers, and various victory laps by people close to Watson, including his agent, David Mulugheta:
Twelve months of gridlock on the Watson trade market should give way to one of the craziest weeks in Texans history, with the league year set to begin on Wednesday of next week. Watson trade season is finally here.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast