In the Deshaun Watson mess, the Browns got exactly what they bargained for | Opinion

·4 min read

Jimmy Haslam put a number on it: 100.

“Absolutely,” the Cleveland Browns owner declared of his comfort level in having suspended quarterback Deshaun Watson on his team. “100%. 100%.”

Add that to the smorgasbord of big numbers attached to Watson. He agreed to a settlement on Thursday that included an unprecedented $5 million fine on top of an 11-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, stemming from 24 women making allegations of sexual misconduct during massage sessions.

Watson has a five-year contract worth $230 million that is fully guaranteed – which to some degree may explain why Haslam insists he’s harboring no regrets for swinging the huge trade that brought the quarterback from Houston and signing him to the big deal.

After all, despite the intense backlash, this is what Haslam signed up for. Perhaps, given that Cleveland gave up three first-round picks as part of the package to get him, Watson will ultimately be the catalyst for a Super Bowl run. But for now and many months, if not years, the face and by extension the franchise’s brand, is associated with the term sexual predator. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, after all, called the quarterback's behavior "egregious" and "predatory."

“Since Deshaun came into our building in April, he has done everything we have asked of him and more,” Haslam told reporters shortly after the settlement was announced. “He has been the person and the leader that we expected him to be.”

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Did Haslam expect Watson would maintain his innocence – “I always said that I never assaulted anyone or disrespected anyone, and am continuing to stand on that,” Watson said – while reversing course on the tone of contrition he expressed last weekend?

The settlement includes a mandatory evaluation and treatment plan that the Browns brain trust may be banking on as a game-changer. Haslam insists that he’s seen growth over the past four or five months, since Watson took up the suggestion from the team owners to voluntarily enroll in counseling.

“I think we have seen him recognize some things that he wished he had done differently and some positions he wished he had not put himself into,” Haslam said. “He has been very open to counseling and seeking help.”

Maybe so, but in front of the mic on Thursday, Watson was a man with mixed signals and none of the remorse that Haslam says is there. Obviously, on the heels of settling 23 civil suits, Watson welcomes the clarity that came the settlement for his NFL discipline. He’s pegged to be back in the field on Dec. 4 in Week 13, at Houston, of all places. This, while some doubt that he will ever claim accountability for his alleged actions.

“Counseling takes time,” said Dee Haslam, the fellow Browns owner. “You do not just go to a counseling session, wake up and understand the impact it has. I think it is a layering effect, and it takes weeks, months and a long time to get where you understand so much more about yourself…but it is not going to happen overnight.”

Watson, 26, is fortunate to have the support of the Haslams, along with GM Andrew Berry, coach Kevin Stefanski and others within the organization. Then again, they all need each other.

The Browns have pledged $1 million to efforts that include preventing sexual misconduct and assault. No doubt, that’s a noble cause. But it’s also the least that you’d expect when the face of the franchise was accused of serial sexual misconduct – and in the NFL’s eyes, guilty, even without a criminal conviction – during his final years with the Houston Texans.

Haslam surely feels the heat, realizing that many expected a harsher punishment. Yet this is a case where talent – and Watson has so much of that as a multiple-threat playmaker – creates more opportunity.

"People deserve second chances,” Jimmy Haslam said. “Is he supposed to never play again? Is he never supposed to be a part of society? Does he get no chance to rehabilitate himself? That is what we are going to do.”

And if that helps turn the Browns into a Super Bowl contender, even better for Haslam.

“You can say, ‘Well, that is because he is a star quarterback,’ “ Haslam added. “Well, of course, but if he was ‘Joe Smith,’ he would not be in the headlines every day.”

Haslam believes that with the disciplinary punishment that the high-profile Watson will have paid his debt for his alleged transgressions. It is a staggering tally. A record fine. Nearly two dozen civil settlements. Massive legal fees.

The Browns, too, have paid a price in excess of Watson’s mega contract. Although the association with the new face of the franchise hasn’t resulted in corporate sponsors pulling out or reduced season ticket demand, Haslam and Co. have taken a tremendous PR hit.

In other words, they are getting 100% of what they bargained for in “winning” the sweepstakes to land Watson.

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Deshaun Watson mess is exactly what Jimmy Haslam, Browns bargained for