Deshaun Watson cleared of criminal charges, but legal battle continues
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) celebrates after throwing a pass to setup the game-winning field goal during overtime of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Buffalo Bills Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, in Houston. The Texans won 22-19 in overtime. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

There are wins. Then there are victories.

Embattled Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson certainly realized the latter last Friday when a grand jury returned nine “no bills” – meaning no criminal charges – after hearing six hours of testimony on nine criminal complaints of sexual assault or harassment presented by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.

For the better part of a year now, Watson’s name has dominated headlines not for touchdowns thrown or winning on the NFL football field, but for 22 massage therapists who have filed civil lawsuits against him, with nine of those women also filing criminal complaints.

Watson finally cleared his biggest hurdle Friday when the grand jury decided there was not sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges, which took some of the tarnish off of his name and will effectively allow Watson to resume his football career.

Watson’s career has been on pause since the allegations first began to surface.

“This is definitely a very emotional moment for me,” said Watson, who spoke to reporters for the first time since the last time he played a game at the end of the Texans’ 2020 season. “Today is definitely a big day and I think my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for letting the truth be heard and I thank everyone that was a part of this of seeing and hearing both sides.”

Watson still has 22 civil lawsuits pending, so his legal issues are far from over. But he is no longer facing criminal charges and jail time. Ironically, Watson faced his first deposition hearing in connection with the civil lawsuits Friday while the grand jury met and the depositions continued March 15.

Watson invoked his Fifth Amendment Rights in last Friday’s hearing because the criminal investigation was ongoing but he testified during Tuesday’s deposition.

“I know we’re far from being done of handling what we need to handle on the legal side, but today is definitely a big day,” Watson said Friday. “… That’s what my point and my team wanted to do, is have a fair slate of us telling our side of the story and letting the conclusion come to what happened today, and that’s what the grand jury decided on.

“I’m just going to keep fighting to rebuild my name and rebuild my appearance in the community. And on the legal side handle what we need to handle. But also ready to get on the field, and prep for that.”

It seems that that process started in earnest following Friday’s decision. Watson, the Texans’ three-time Pro Bowl quarterback, made it known in January of 2021 that he no longer wanted to play for the Texans after team CEO Cal McNair went back on his word to give his franchise quarterback a say on the impending head coach and general manager hires.

Initially, the complication with moving Watson was thought to be the four-year, $156 million contract extension he had signed with the team months earlier. But then came the first reports of allegations of sexual misconduct against Watson with massage therapists. Eventually, there were 22 civil lawsuits being brought by attorney Tony Buzbee and the criminal investigation.

Watson’s legal issues made it far more difficult for the Texans to trade him, especially with the king’s ransom that new general manager Nick Caserio was asking in return.

But with Watson no longer facing criminal charges, Watson’s stock again is on the rise and several teams are lining up to work out a trade with Texans for Watson.

Watson, who has a no-trade clause and has to approve any trade, since Friday has already met with the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns. The Seattle Seahawks, Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles have also expressed interest.

Watson did not play a down for the Texans this past season, while he collected $10 million from the final year of his rookie contract. He will be due $35 million this upcoming season as his new contract kicks in.