Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry
Head Coach Kevin Stefanski
QB Deshaun Watson
Berry: "Good afternoon, everyone. Before we introduce Deshaun, I thought it was important to say that we as an organization know that this transaction has been very difficult for many people, particularly women in our community. We realize that it is has triggered a range of emotions, and that, as well as the nature of the allegations, weighed heavily on all of us – myself, Kevin (Stefanski), Jimmy (Haslam), Dee (Haslam), (Chief Strategy Officer) Paul (DePodesta), Whitney (Johnson) and JW (Johnson), as well as the men and women up and down the organization who are involved in the decision-making and vetting process. It was because of the weight of the anticipated reaction and the nature of the allegations that really pushed us to do as much work as possible, both internally and externally, in terms of understanding the cases and who Deshaun was as a person. It was through this really five-month odyssey and information that we were able to amass and the reference work, and obviously working through due process and the legal process, that got us comfortable pursuing the trade for Deshaun. I want to touch on a little bit on the work that we did do. First, it starts with, like I mentioned, the reference work and understanding and talking to people who knew Deshaun intimately and interacted with him frequently at different phases of his life, whether that is when he was in Gainesville or at Clemson, and then really multiple people up and down the Texans organization across multiple leadership regimes. We used independent investigative resources within the Harris County and Houston law enforcement community in order to get an unbiased, well-rounded and comprehensive perspective on the allegations. We did not want it just to be one sided. We used third-party legal counsel that allowed us to really analyze really all of the information that we were able to collect and amass. I should note because I know a lot has been said about this, we were advised by our attorneys we were advised against reaching out directly to the 22 women out of concern that it would be considered interfering with the criminal investigation. This, among several other reasons, made it important for us to use independent investigative resources that were unbiased and comprehensive so that we can get a full picture and a full perspective of the criminal and civil cases. It was through this time and through this work and what we learned about Deshaun the person and what we learned about the civil and criminal proceedings and obviously working through due process and legal process that got us comfortable with Deshaun the person. We realize and we are not naive to the fact that there are many people who are not as comfortable with this transaction as we are today, but this is something that is a trade that we made to be evaluated over the long run, we do think that there is a strong and detailed body of work about Deshaun and we do have faith in him as a person. We are not naive to the fact that there is still work to do – I think Deshaun will be the first to tell you – as we integrate him into our organization and the Cleveland community, but we do have faith that Deshaun will not only meet the expectations that we have of any player who we bring into the organization but exceed them, and we are looking forward to having Deshaun as our starting quarterback for hopefully a long period of time. With that, I will pass it to Kevin."
Stefanski: "Just to echo what Andrew said, this organization did a tremendous amount of work on Deshaun – Deshaun the person, and a tremendous amount of background. I understand the concerns completely. I understand the questions. Like Andrew talked about, we understand that there are questions to be answered. I have confidence in the work that we put in. I have confidence in the extensive work that our group put in to understand Deshaun. I am really looking forward to coaching Deshaun. I know he is ready to get to work. I am looking forward to him being around his teammates. Really, I am looking forward to him making a very positive impact in this community. With that, I will turn it over to Deshaun."
Watson: "First, I want to say thank you to Dee and Jimmy Haslam and the Haslam family for giving me this awesome opportunity to be the quarterback of this historical organization in the Cleveland Browns. I want to thank AB and Coach Kevin for also giving me the opportunity to come here to join this organization, to join this locker room, to lead these guys and be a servant leader, and then another opportunity for this organization for me to come in here and have the opportunity to show this community, show this city, show this organization and show this locker room who the person I really am. That is the main focus that I want to do is continue to show people who I really am and get my story out eventually."
On what Watson wants people to know about him as a person, given some fans' concerns about him joining the Browns:
Watson: "The biggest thing for me is as a person is I am genuine, I am a hard-working and a servant leader who loves to be social in the community and who loves to give back and am very kind of team-oriented so I love hanging out with my teammates. Also, I want to be able to show that eventually and get out into the community. I have always been hands-on in the community of Houston, back home in Gainesville and back home in Clemson, and that is what I want to do is be able to get back to that brand or get back to that person that people knew I was before all of these allegations."
On if anyone from the Browns spoke to the women involved in the suits:
Berry: "Like I mentioned earlier in my opening statement, our attorneys advised us that reaching out directly could be considered interfering with the criminal investigation, but that is the reason that we did hire independent investigators to make sure that we could get that comprehensive and wholistic perspective."
On if the independent investigators the Browns hired spoke to the women involved in the suits:
Berry: "I would say that the investigators that we hired were able to get full perspective of all the cases."
On if the independent investigators the Browns hired did not speak to the women involved in the suits:
Berry: "A full perspective of all the cases. I am not going to go necessarily in the details of everything the investigators did, but they got the full perspective for all of the criminal and civil cases."
On the team's statement referring to the team's investigation extensive based on those answers, as well as that not all of the women involved in the suits have given court testimony:
"Again, I will refer back to my statement. The independent and unbiased investigators were able to be comprehensive in all of the information they were able to bring forward. Some of the information, quite honestly, I understand can't be necessarily be public, but we do feel good about the work that we did, and we feel good about the work that the investigators did for us. We got a comprehensive perspective of all the cases."
On how much the Browns and Berry evaluated the information from the investigation about whether the allegations against Watson were criminal compared to rising up to the standard of player conduct expected for a member of the team:
Berry: "Both things were considered in the work that we did."
On if the Browns and Berry came to the conclusion that the alleged acts in the past were not 'beneath the standards' expected or rather if they reached a conclusion that the alleged acts would not happen again:
Berry: "I go back to we felt good about everything that we collected. We felt good about Deshaun as a person. We feel good about what we learned from the cases to a point where we felt comfortable pursuing the trade and bringing him into the building. If we did not, in terms of what happened or moving forward, we would have not made the trade."
On why Watson asked to be traded from the Texans, even prior to the criminal and civil cases:
Watson: "The biggest thing was I think at the time we just both were going in different directions, and so for me to be able to accomplish the things that I want to do, we started it off doing it privately through my agency and then it led to the whole big situation, but it was a time for both of us to kind of part ways."
On what triggered the decision to part ways with the Texans, given Watson received a new contract extension months before that occurring:
Watson: "For this circumstance and this situation, it is hard to get too far into the details, but like I said before, it was just a time for both of us to part ways. I know that previously the contract was given to me that summer, but at the same time, I was honest and straightforward with the organization; they were honest with me; and we came to a conclusion that this was the best situation."
On explaining the number of massage therapists Watson employed in the past:
Watson: "I can't get too far into detail because there is an ongoing investigation still, but I can say that with this now day and age, especially with my age group, social media is a big business part that goes into it. That is a factor into, it but as far as the details, I can't get too far into it because there is an investigation going on. Hopefully, once everything is resolved, I can speak freely on it."
On if Watson is re-evaluating his methods for finding and employing massage therapists moving forward:
Watson: "Definitely. It is something that with my team and now with the Cleveland Browns the organization, we find a plan and move forward from there."
On Watson's message to Browns fans and the people of Cleveland to help show that he is not the person who is described in the civil suits:
Watson: "Definitely, I understand the whole circumstance is very difficult, especially for the women side of the fans in this community. I am not naive to that. I know these allegations are very, very serious. Like I mentioned before, I have never assaulted any woman. I have never disrespected any woman. I was raised by a single-parent mom, who has two aunties as her sisters, and that is who raised me. I was raised to be genuine. I respect everyone and everything around me. I have always defended that, and I will continue to stand on that. I just want the opportunity to be able to show who I really am in the community and be hands-on and help people and serve other people."
On why Watson worth a groundbreaking contract, including the risk with the possibility of a suspension by the NFL:
Berry: "It is a good question. For us, once we got comfortable with Deshaun as a person and Deshaun the person, it became pretty straightforward from a football perspective. We think he is one of the best players at the position in this sport, he is obviously in his prime and we think it is the most important position in this sport. Once we were able to get comfortable with him as a person, the football part in terms of the evaluation was easy."
On Watson initially saying the Browns were out of consideration before ultimately joining the team and how much the contract influenced the decision:
Watson: "Actually, it had nothing to do with the contract. I did not know about the contract until I told my agent that I wanted to come and be a Cleveland Brown. That was secondary. That was after the fact that we spoke on the phone with AB, Kevin and the Haslam family. That had nothing to do with me choosing the Cleveland Browns."
On what led Watson to change his mind and join the Browns:
Watson: "It was not necessarily a turndown. I think the media was kind of rushing me to make a decision, and I was not comfortable making that right decision. The news gets out and things like that, but for me, I knew that Cleveland was the best situation from a football standpoint and a community and family atmosphere. These guys mentioned it before, once I got to meet these guys – Coach Kevin, AB and the Haslam family – there was just that connection that we just had that bond, and I knew that this was a perfect situation for me to have a fresh start, go win some Super Bowls and move forward and build this community as where we want to build it as."
On how Watson can repair his image and restore his name:
Watson: "I understand that. I know that there is going to be a stain that will probably stick with me for a while, but all I can do is keep moving forward and continue to show the person I am – the true character, the true person and the true human being I am. Like I said before, I never did the things that these people are alleging, and I will continue to fight for my name and clear my name, and like I have been doing, just cooperating with everything that comes with it and just keep moving forward. As far as the job and what I need to do on the football side is to lead this team, help this team win multiple, multiple games and Super Bowls. That is my job is continue to put all of that together and work with the Cleveland Browns and just keep pushing forward."
On when the Browns and Berry felt comfortable Watson was the guy the team wanted to acquire:
Berry: "I do not know if I can pinpoint a specific moment, but it was a long process. Like I mentioned, it was a five-month odyssey. I do not know that I know the specific day or time, but it really was a combination of all the factors. As we were able to accumulate more and more information, the pure volume of it and the amount of time and work we placed into it, that ultimately was what got us comfortable with it."
On if a decision was made to replace QB Baker Mayfield five months ago:
Berry: "No, it is a good question. That is typically the time of the year that we begin our planning for the next offseason. Usually, once the trade deadline passes, you are building your free agency board and you are getting to late fall in terms of your draft process. That is a time that you will begin a lot of work on a lot of players. Obviously, given the complexity of Deshaun's situation at the time, there was going to be additional work needed to make sure to vet it as thoroughly as possible. At that time, we had made no specific decisions really probably anywhere on the roster, but we were trying to make sure that we obviously had enough time to do as much research as we could."
On if the Browns made a subconscious decision five months ago that the team needed to improve at QB:
Berry: "No. I think I mentioned to you guys before that every offseason, we do go and look at player availability or look at the roster as if we have an expansion team. Certainly, as we got more involved into the research process, we did think through a number of different possibilities, but I can't say that there was a specific decision made at that time."
On why Watson should be believed instead of more than 20 women:
Watson: "I can't speak on what people's opinions are because everyone has their own opinions. What I can continue to do is tell the truth, and that is I have never assaulted, disrespected or harassed any woman in my life. Like I said before, I was raised differently. That is not my DNA. That is not my culture. That is not me as a person, and that is not how I was raised. For me, that is continuing to push forward and show people who I really am. A lot of people have not met me before. A lot of people have not spoken to me before. A lot of people have not been in the same environment as me before. I want to continue to open that up and be able to have people come to me and be able to talk to me about certain things."
On if Watson will try to settle the civil suits:
Watson: "That is not my intent. My intent is to continue to clear my name as much as much as possible, and that is what I am focused on."
On why the contract was structured with $1 million base salary in Watson's first year, given the public assumption that it was done to protect Watson from potential financial impact, if suspended by the NFL:
Berry: "Appreciate the question. As you guys know, I typically do not talk about contracts in this setting. I actually will make a departure from that because I do think a little bit of context is important. A couple things: No. 1, we understand the optics of it. I think for us, after we got comfortable with Deshaun, the contract was really a football decision. The things that were important to us from a club perspective were to have Deshaun under contract for another year and to have it structured in a manner that would allow us maximum flexibility to execute the rest of our offseason plan. That is specifically true as we really kind of facilitate the next steps with Baker and Baker's contract on our cap. I think probably the other to mention is that structure is very similar to a lot of the larger player contracts we already have on the books."
On if the NFL may need to take a new look at how the league enforces suspensions when 'contracts can be circumvented easily in terms of financial penalty':
Berry: "That is not something I can speak to. That is a better question for the league. I can just talk through really the club considerations from our perspective."
On the decision to give Watson a new contract, given Watson already planned to come to Cleveland:
Berry: "Again, for us, getting an additional year of control was very important for us."
On what work Watson will do in the community and personally going forward, including potentially working with women-focused groups :
Watson: "Definitely [will do community work]. Especially on the end of that question, working with women's groups, I think it has to be something that I have to earn that trust to be honest. I have to earn that trust back into the community so I can step out. I do not want to just jump out and make it seem like I am just doing it just to try to clear my name. I have always been a community leader with Habitat for Humanity, with kids with cancer because my mom had tongue cancer, with education, giving back to schools and also with just all types of charity work around the community of building communities, building houses and things. I am going to work with this organization and my team to [identify] the perfect opportunity for us to come out and just help because I have always been that type of person. That is how I was raised. That is why I continue to say I am a servant leader because I wrote a book on it. That is how I was before any of these allegations. At the same time, I know and I am not naïve to the point that I have to earn that trust back from the community and people outside who are looking at these allegations and have not spoken to me before. That is my goal is to be able to earn that trust and keep pushing forward."
On if Watson will seek counseling:
Watson: "It is hard for me to say the counseling part because I do not have a problem. I do not have an issue, and that is what I have been saying from the beginning. The situation is definitely tough, and it is very difficult. But me as having a problem and going to counseling and things like that, I am willing to talk to people about certain situations to make sure I am not getting back in this. Like I said before, I never assaulted anyone. I never disrespected anyone. I have always been respectful. That is what I have always stood on, and that is who I am as a person."
On employing 40 massage therapists in the past:
Watson: "I never as far as the team – when I say team, I am not saying the Cleveland Browns but my agency and things like that – 40 is just over the time. It is not in one period of time. I have been in Houston five years so you go to different people. Like I said before, I can't get too far into the details, but as businesses work and you move and meet different people and people have different schedules and blocks, you kind of meet people over time."
On what kind of QB the Browns are getting in Watson:
Watson: "You are getting a strong leader who loves to work, who loves to make sure he uplifts everyone around him, who is going to compete super, super hard and who is going to fight until the end of time of each and every game. A guy like I said who is going to push everyone to their full potential so we can win a lot of Super Bowls."
On if there were skeptics within the Browns organization about acquiring Watson and if it was 'a difficult sell':
Berry: "I can't speak for everyone in the organization. That would probably be inappropriate. We had a broad number of people, men and women, in the decision-making group. We all did feel comfortable with the trade and the transaction after the body of work that we were able to amass."
On if the Browns expect Watson to be suspended by the NFL and if the team has an indication of how long it may be or when it may occur:
Berry: "We have had an open line of communication with the NFL and will cooperate with the investigation as appropriate. They have their own process that they have to work through. Like I mentioned, we will cooperate with that and work with them. When they render their decision, we will obviously respect it."
On what Watson can say about what actually happened with the women who have filed suits and if he is saying they are all lying, understanding Watson cannot get into specifics:
Watson: "All I can say is, again, I never assaulted, I never disrespected and I never harassed any woman in my life. I was not raised that way. My mom and my aunties did not raise me that way. Over the course of my life, that is not in my DNA. As far as the details about the things they are alleging, I can't speak on that because there is an ongoing investigation, but in the future once everything is resolved, I will sit down and would love to talk about it."
On how the situation resulted in facing 22 civil lawsuits:
Watson: "I can't control that. The only thing that I can control is continue to clear my name, cooperate with any legal force or any legal system that is requiring me to cooperate and just keep pushing forward."
On at point the Browns and Berry felt comfortable acquiring Watson:
Berry: "I do not know that I can pinpoint necessarily a specific date, but certainly as we got closer to the grand jury proceedings, we had gathered enough information – I should say a lot of information – regarding the criminal and civil proceedings, as well as Deshaun the person. I would say it was certainly perhaps a little before that time when we did feel good about the information we had, but obviously, you want due process and legal process to bear out."
On if the Browns would have gone down the same path and doing the same due diligence if Watson was just an average player:
Berry: "I would tell you that on the one hand, any player we would try and do as much work on as possible, and then on the other hand, if we did not get comfortable with Deshaun the person, it would not have mattered how talented he was; we would not have pursued the trade."
On Watson has talked to Browns teammates to clear the air or explain to them who he really is as a person:
Watson: "Yes, a lot of my teammates reached out to me when the trade was happening or when the information and news came out, but I have known a lot of people in that locker room also from the course of high school, college and just playing the game. Some guys were in Houston with me and vice versa. A lot of the guys have definitely reached out. We have definitely talked, and a lot of guys know me as a person. I am going to continue, the guys that have not met me before once they get in April – I think it is the 18th – I am going to continue to show who I am and we can sit down and we can speak about it."
On if Watson can live with the notion that some people are never going to believe him:
Watson: "All I can do is continue to just stay focused, speak the truth, speak my honesty and just keep trying to help other people. I can't speak for everyone else."
On if the Browns had conversations with women in the building when considering the acquisition of Watson:
Berry: "There absolutely were [conversations with women in the building]. We have talked a lot about building a diverse group within the organization and bringing all of the perspectives to the table, and that is certainly something that we did with this decision, as well."
On if Watson has had conversations with women who are part of the Browns team and the message to fans who may feel concerned about the acquisition:
Watson: "I have only been here a day so I have not been able to meet everyone. As the time continues and I am in the building, like I said before, I want people to be able to come to me and have an open dialogue and we speak about it and show the person that I really am. That is how I was raised: to respect everyone and continue to respect people like I want to be respected. That is just how I was raised. Continue to build that with the organization and build that trust."
On if Watson's contract is guaranteed in the event of a suspension:
Berry: "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."
On message to Browns fans who may have been victims of sexual assault or are close to someone who has been impacted and now have said they will no longer support the team due to the decision to acquire Watson:
Berry: "I would tell you that we will never fully be able to walk in the shoes of individuals who have been affected by sexual assault. That is something that we thought about a lot as we went through this process, understanding what the reaction would be. That is something that weighed heavily on me. We empathize with that emotion, and we empathize with that sentiment. At the same time, we also do feel good about the work that we did as we vetted this transaction. We do have confidence and faith in Deshaun as a person, and that did weigh into the decision, but between the information that we were able to gather, working through due process and working through the legal process, we do think that this is a decision that as it is evaluated over the long run will be something that is positive for the organization. We totally respect and we totally empathize with those sentiments right now and totally understand that there are people who are not comfortable with the transaction right now, but again, we followed our information, we feel good about Deshaun as a person and we think that he is going to do a lot of positive in the community."
On discussions with family members about acquiring Watson:
Stefanski: "I think for all of us – Andrew has talked about it – this is difficult. It is hard. Just like we were talking about earlier with Nate (Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal), this is not easy. I certainly have sincere empathy for anybody who is a victim of sexual abuse in any way. These are hard, hard conversations. Obviously, I am sure just like Browns fans and my family, it is something that you talk about. Those are uncomfortable conversations that are hard, but I think there is growth that comes out of those conversations. Certainly, I think there is a positive that can come out of this with those conversations. As it relates to Deshaun, I think Deshaun is ready to make a positive impact on this community. I can tell you just with my time spent with Deshaun in the past few days getting to know him and getting to know this person, I am looking forward to this community getting to know this person."
On how the Browns offense will be different with Watson at QB:
Stefanski: "We are going to work through it. We are going to spend a lot of time with Deshaun and the coaches – sit down and make sure we are doing what he is comfortable with. Obviously, we have some good players who we are excited about on our offense. That is our challenge right now that we have to work through is figure out ways that we want to pivot and ways that we want to adapt to make sure that we are utilizing Deshaun to the best of his abilities."
On will the offensive scheme mostly be similar to what the Browns have done recently:
Stefanski: "If you watch a bunch of what Deshaun has done in his past, there are similarities to what Houston was doing to what we were doing; there are some differences. That is our job that we are working hard of understanding where we want to move to. Yeah, I do think you will see differences."
On if he has any regrets:
Watson: "I do not have any regrets. Like I said before, the things that are off the field right now that came up caught me by surprise because I never did anything that these people are alleging. I know a lot of people say that I took the year off – I used that to be able to clear my name in the previous two weeks, and just continuing to fight that. I just continue to work and become a better person, a better player and just a better son, like my mom has always taught me."
On the hardest part of the past year:
Watson: "I think the hardest part is having everyone come at me from different directions and without me being able to publicly speak on it because of the ongoing investigation, but I took the route of following my legal team and telling the truth to the legal side so I can bring my innocence. Once, like I said before, it is resolved in the near future, hopefully, I can speak freely."
On if the Browns and Berry believe there was no wrongdoing by Watson after their investigation, given Watson continues to maintain his innocence:
Berry: "We feel confident in Deshaun the person. We have a lot of faith in him. We believe that as he gets into the community and our organization, he is going to make a positive impact."