Deshaun Watson is officially on the Cleveland Browns.
Despite allegations of sexual misconduct against him, the team announced Sunday that Watson had officially signed with the Browns and would be their new quarterback following a trade with the Houston Texans. The Browns' star quarterback for the last few years, Baker Mayfield, is reported to have asked to be traded.
In a statement, the Browns' owners, Dee and Jimmy Haslam, acknowledged the mixed feelings fans had about signing Watson but expressed confidence in their decision.
Texans trade Deshaun Watson to Cleveland BrownsMarch 19, 202200:35
"We are acutely aware and empathetic to the highly personal sentiments expressed about this decision," the Haslams said. "Our team's comprehensive evaluation process was of the utmost importance due to the sensitive nature of his situation and the complex factors involved."
Watson has been accused of sexual misconduct by nearly two dozen women while he was in Houston. He has denied any wrongdoing, and his lawyer said this month that he “did not commit any crimes and is not guilty of any offenses.”
A Texas grand jury his month declined to indict and charge Watson.
Watson is still dealing with civil lawsuits from the women — massage therapists who accused him of assault and harassment. He has also possibly facing a suspension by the NFL for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
The trade will not affect the league’s inquiry.
The trade stunned fans and experts alike after Watson initially rejected the move. Watson waived his no-trade clause Friday and accepted a trade to the Browns.
His position as starting quarterback in Cleveland will make Watson the highest-paid player in the NFL, according to The Associated Press. The guaranteed contract is worth $230 million over five years.
Ahead of the official announcement, Watson posted a picture of himself to Instagram wearing a Browns' jersey.
"Cleveland, LETSSSS GOOOO!! #DawgPound Ready To Work!" he wrote.
Representatives for Watson did not immediately reply to a request for comment about the signing.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski echoed the Haslams, saying that while he understands the concerns some might have, he has confidence in Watson.
"It was important for us to meet with Deshaun in person as part of our team's evaluation process, we had a candid conversation regarding his approach to coming into our organization and community," Stefanski said in a statement.
Stefanski added that he is looking forward to coaching Watson and that he believes he will help the team improve while having a positive impact on the community.
Browns General Manager Andrew Berry said he also believes Watson will be a positive addition to the team and the community. In a statement, Berry said the team did extensive "investigative, legal and reference work over the last several months" before it brought Watson on.
"Deshaun has been among the very best at the position and he understands the work needed to re-establish himself on and off the field in Cleveland," Berry said.
However, not everyone appeared ready to give Watson the benefit of the doubt.
After the announcement, the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center released a statement acknowledging how difficult the news would be for some.
“We understand the story surrounding DeShaun Watson joining the Cleveland Browns team is triggering for far too many of our friends and neighbors. For those who need additional support, please know Cleveland Rape Crisis Center is available to you 24/7/365," the statement reads.
It goes on to say: "To the community we say, we see you. We hear your outrage. We feel it too. Every click. Every post and every tweet. Every donation sends a clear message."
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. The hotline, run by the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), can put you in contact with your local rape crisis center. You can also access RAINN’s online chat service at https://www.rainn.org/get-help.