Texans' settlement with 30 Deshaun Watson accusers shouldn't absolve team from NFL

Every time I think of the Deshaun Watson situation, I think of the numbers.

They're astounding. They tell the story.

On Friday, a new number was added to the Watson story, and once again it's sickening. And at least two new questions are begging to be asked.

The number: Thirty.

On Friday, attorney Tony Buzbee announced that the Houston Texans had reached settlements with 30 women who had or had planned on filing lawsuits against the team, alleging that it turned a blind eye to Watson's behavior while he was employed there.

One woman formally filed a lawsuit against the Texans after reporting from Jenny Vrentas of The New York Times in June showed that the franchise had provided the venue Watson used for at least some of his many massage appointments and that the team's head of security had provided the quarterback with a non-disclosure agreement after a woman threatened to expose Watson's allegedly grimy behavior.

According to Buzbee, she would not be the only one looking at filing a lawsuit. Rather than have the case go to trial, the Texans settled with 30 women.

FILE - Houston Texans' Deshaun Watson (4) walks along the sideline in the first half of a preseason NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas, on Aug. 24, 2019. Thirty women who had accused the Houston Texans of turning a blind eye to allegations that Watson was sexually assaulting and harassing women during massage sessions have settled their legal claims against the team, their attorney said Friday, July 15, 2022. Watson, who has since been traded to the Cleveland Browns, has denied any wrongdoing and vowed to clear his name. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth, File)
Before being dealt to the Browns, Deshaun Watson spent all of last season deactivated from the Texans' roster. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth, File)

In a statement attributed to Houston team owners Janice, Hannah and Cal McNair, the team said in part, "Although our organization did not have any knowledge of Deshaun Watson's alleged misconduct, we have intentionally chosen to settle this matter amicably. This is not an admission of any wrongdoing, but instead a clear stand against any form of sexual assault and misconduct."

Given that the Texans' head of security, former Secret Service agent Brent Naccara, was the person who reportedly supplied the NDA to Watson, it's hard to believe Texans' brass were clueless to what Watson was allegedly doing away from the team facility.

Other numbers, in case you need to be reminded: The Times found 66 women — 66! — over 17 months whom Watson reached out to under the guise of seeking a massage, with some of the women not even licensed or trained to provide that service but with him insisting they do; 24 women formally filed civil lawsuits against Watson alleging various degrees of sexual harassment and/or misconduct; 20 women settled with the quarterback last month while four have not.

It's worth repeating that professional athletes who need actual therapeutic massage will have one or two they use on a regular basis, and these days many NFL teams provide them at the practice facility.

At the time the Cleveland Browns surrendered three first-round draft picks to acquire Watson, he was facing 22 lawsuits. The Browns didn't care and signed him to an unprecedented $230 million, fully guaranteed contract that, in a show of what really matters, included a deflated base salary for 2022 to financially protect Watson in case the league suspended him this season.

The new questions to be asked: If the Texans faced a civil lawsuit tied to the Watson allegations and came to an agreement with 30 women, will the NFL sanction the organization? And, if Watson hadn't requested a trade from the Texans in January 2021, would the public know about any of this?

On the former question, the answer should be yes. Since it's the NFL, don't be optimistic the right thing will be done. This is, of course, a group that seems to be completely ignoring the conduct and allegations made against Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder, who has refused to appear before a Congressional panel investigating the gross mistreatment of women in team offices and other potential issues within the franchise.

A potential punishment for the Texans: the loss of the 2023 first-round draft pick Houston got from Cleveland as part of the Watson trade. They may have settled relatively quickly with the 30 women, but that doesn't mean we should all forget that the Texans played a role in enabling Watson's alleged predatory behavior. They shouldn't skate because they wrote a check.

On the latter question, we'll never know. But pro and college teams have a long history of doing what they can to protect players from sticky situations, especially star players.

The NFL has held its hearing with Watson, so now there's at least one more number we're waiting to find out: how many weeks he'll be suspended.

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