BEREA, Ohio – Deshaun Watson’s complex legal situation has the Cleveland Browns in limbo and unclear about the quarterback’s immediate future.
They have a better handle on Baker Mayfield's.
The team said Wednesday that Mayfield, who lost his job when the Browns traded for and signed Watson in March to a $230 million contract, has been excused from next week's mandatory minicamp.
“Obviously that was a decision made between our organization, Baker and Baker’s team,” coach Kevin Stefanski said following an organized team activities practice. “Felt like that was the best decision for both sides.”
Mayfield remains on the Browns' roster while the team tries to trade the No. 1 overall pick from 2018. Mayfield, who started 59 games over the past four seasons and led Cleveland to a playoff win in 2021, has been estranged from the team since the Browns publicly pursued Watson.
While Mayfield's situation is headed toward a resolution, Watson's continues to change.
Now facing 24 civil lawsuits — and potential NFL discipline — from massage therapists accusing him of sexual misconduct during sessions while he played for Houston, Watson practiced amid the release of new details contained in a report by The New York Times.
In an article published Tuesday, the Times reported Watson booked appointments for massages with 66 women over a 17-month period. The list of women includes the 24 who have filed lawsuits, with two of those being added in the past week.
Watson has denied all wrongdoing and two grand juries in Texas declined to indict him on criminal complaints.
After signing autographs for school kids and fans on the field following practice Wednesday, Watson, who has not spoken to the media since March 25, declined to comment to the AP about the latest report.
Watson said he preferred that any statements come from his lawyer, Rusty Hardin, or agent, David Mulugheta.
Hardin's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Stefanski was asked direct questions about the latest Watson allegations. As he has done for weeks, the third-year coach provided little insight and stuck to comments about “respecting the legal process” and "letting the investigation play out.”
Since acquiring Watson, the Browns have said they were comfortable with what they learned about the 26-year-old during their own investigation.
Stefanski wouldn't say if the new allegations changed the team's stance with Watson or his standing.
This is third straight week Cleveland's media availability has come a day after a major development in Watson's case.
Two weeks ago, a pair of massage therapists gave graphic details of encounters with him during an interview with HBO's “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” and last week the 23rd lawsuit was filed as the Browns held OTAs.
Stefanski was asked if he was frustrated with handling questions while general manager Andrew Berry and owner Jimmy Haslam have been silent.
“I wouldn’t characterize it that way and I do understand that you have a job to do,” he said. “So just going to provide as much information as I can, when I can.”
The Browns are anxious to hear from the league whether Watson will be suspended. Investigators from the league office met with the three-time Pro Bowler over three days in Houston last month.
It's not known if lawsuits Nos. 23 and 24 or the Times' revelations have had any bearing on the league's decision or any timeline. Former federal judge Sue L. Robinson, a disciplinary officer appointed by the league and the NFL Players Association, will decide whether Watson violated the NFL's personal conduct policy.
While Robinson will handle any discipline, Commissioner Roger Goodell will have jurisdiction over any appeal.
As he awaits the league's decision, Watson has been shuttling between Houston and Cleveland in recent weeks. While his off-field situation is muddled, he's been working out with his new teammates.
NOTES: Rookie K Cade York put on an impressive display of distance and accuracy. The fourth-round pick from LSU made six of seven kicks from long range, ending with a 59-yarder that had room to spare. It's the first time the media had seen York kick. He's been working out at FirstEnergy Stadium. “The ball just flies off of his foot,” safety John Johnson III said. “It could be a 30-yard kick, he’s going to hit it for 60. It flies through the uprights, accurate.”
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