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Browns stay mum on Deshaun Watson, excuse Baker Mayfield from minicamp

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The Cleveland Browns are keeping one of their quarterbacks out of sight, while another was very much top of mind for reporters pressing the team’s coach Wednesday about the latest developments regarding Deshaun Watson.

When Coach Kevin Stefanski spoke with the media last week, a 23rd lawsuit had just been filed against Watson, who was acquired by Cleveland in March in a trade from the Houston Texans and then given a contract worth a guaranteed $ 230 million. At the time of that transaction, the quarterback faced civil lawsuits from 22 women alleging Watson committed sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions.

That number now stands at 24 after an additional Houston-area woman sued Watson for what her court filing described as another episode of “disgusting and abhorrent conduct” by him during a massage session in 2020.

That was quickly followed Tuesday by a New York Times report that found Watson booked appointments with 66 women, a greater amount than had been indicated in previous coverage, from late 2019 to early 2021. Not all of the women lodged complaints against him, but the The Times reported that at least three who did not are among the 24 who have filed civil suits. The story also included details of Watson’s alleged behavior, including an anonymous massage therapist claiming he was “begging” her for oral sex in one incident.

In addition, the Times reported that the Texans helped set up Watson with access to a hotel room where some of the sessions took place and provided him with a nondisclosure agreement after a spa employee – who eventually filed the 23rd lawsuit – took to social media to complain about him.

Deshaun Watson faces 24th lawsuit accusing him of sexual misconduct

At Wednesday’s news conference, Stefanski repeatedly told reporters he understood why they had questions about Watson and offered replies that centered on his inclination to keep his thoughts mostly to himself.

“For me, I’m going to be respectful of the investigation, of the legal proceedings – I’m going to let that play out,” he said.

Grand juries in two Texas counties declined earlier this year to charge Watson with any crimes, but an NFL probe is ongoing and the league could determine his actions merit a suspension. If that happens, the Browns have an experienced backup in Jacoby Brissett, whom they signed in March, but also still have Baker Mayfield on the roster.

Mayfield had been Cleveland’s starting quarterback since it made him the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft, but he was effectively replaced after the Browns acquired Watson and has since asked for a trade. The team has been unable to find a taker, at least in part because Mayfield is owed almost $ 19 million this season and the Browns reportedly want a valuable draft pick in exchange for picking up a large portion of that salary.

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In the meantime, Mayfield has not been attending Cleveland’s voluntary organized team activities, and he was excused from a mandatory minicamp that starts next week.

“Obviously that was a decision made between our organization, Baker and Baker’s team,” Stefanski said Wednesday following a workout in which Watson participated. “We felt like that was the best decision for both sides.”

Mayfield said in April that he felt “disrespected, 100 percent” by the Browns, because in his view he “was told one thing and they completely did another.”

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It is unclear how much the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner at Oklahoma might have been able to do at Cleveland’s minicamp, given he is rehabilitating from surgery on his non-throwing left shoulder. In that respect, he is in a similar situation to that of San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who was also excused from 49ers minicamp while recovering from shoulder surgery. Garoppolo is thought to be on the trade block as well, with the 49ers expected to turn their offense over to second-year quarterback Trey Lance, the No. 3 pick in the 2021 draft.

After Browns traded for Watson, General Manager Andrew Berry said at a news conference that team officials felt “good about the work that we did as we vetted this transaction.” Berry added then, “We do have confidence and faith in Deshaun as a person.”

Asked Wednesday whether he still felt “comfortable” with Watson in the light of the newest allegations, Stefanski provided one of many responses in which he attempted to stay mum. On whether the Browns were considering keeping Mayfield, he replied, “I’m not going to speculate on those types of things, but we’re just going to deal with the day-to-day.”

Later in the day, the attorney for the 24 women who have filed lawsuits said he was amending those legal actions to add the Texans as defenders for having, as he put it, “facilitated” Watson’s alleged behavior.

“We intend to make sure all involved in Watson’s conduct are held accountable,” attorney Tony Buzbee said in a statement, “in addition to and including Watson himself.”

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