Most of Deshaun Watson’s lawsuits have been settled, but the first – and potentially most problematic – remains

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(Warning: This column contains allegations of sexual misconduct.)

It should come as no surprise that when Houston-area attorney Tony Buzbee announced that 20 of his 24 clients had settled civil lawsuits against Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, he spent most of the time talking about one of the complainants who hadn’t resolved things. .

Ashley Solis.

Tuesday’s settlements are a step toward Watson eventually moving past this scandal and possibly returning to play NFL games, but it was by no means the end, or even close to it.

Solis and three other women who allege sexual assault, harassment and inappropriate behavior by Watson after he hired them for massage work remain. And Solis has always had a particularly strong case – and therefore ugly and potentially dangerous for Watson.

It was Solis who had a well-established professional massage therapy business. It was Solis who was contacted out of the blue by Watson via Instagram. It is Solis who describes a frightening preparation for the meeting, alleging Watson asked if she would be alone before lying naked on the massage table with just a small towel and repeatedly directing contact towards the groin. , then the penis.

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It was Solis who testified that she ended the meeting abruptly and cried in front of Watson, which Watson admitted under oath, describing Solis as “tears in her eyes”. It was Solis who received an apologetic text from Watson, but also a message that Solis considered threatening if she spoke about the encounter.

“I know you have a career and a reputation,” Watson wrote. “And I know you’d hate anyone meddling with yours, just like I don’t want anyone meddling with mine.”

It’s on Solis that Buzbee hopes the attention will stay.

“Ashley Solis is one of the heroes of this story,” Buzbee wrote in a statement. “Her case is unsettled and so her story and that of the other three brave women will continue. I look forward to trying these cases in a timely manner consistent with the other obligations of the docket and the court schedule.

Although 20 of the 24 civil lawsuits against Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson have been settled, the first and potentially most problematic for him remains. (TSWT Photo/Ron Schwane)

In other words, Ashley Solis’ very compelling case stands and the court will eventually hear it, probably in 2023.

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Watson can either figure out how to settle this one or risk the NFL delaying its disciplinary decision or being swayed for fear of the headlines and potential details that will arise if it ever makes it to court. The league said Tuesday that the settlements have “no impact on the collectively negotiated disciplinary process,” according to spokesman Brian McCarthy.

The Watson situation will eventually go to former federal judge Sue L. Robinson to determine if a breach occurred. If Robinson thinks there has been one, then she will recommend a punishment, although ultimately Commissioner Roger Goodell, or a designate, makes the final decision.

This is as much a public relations situation for the league as it is player discipline. As such, the NFL would understandably be concerned about imposing a sanction that appears light if further details come to light or if a real trial takes place and impacts public opinion.

Or Goodell could put Watson on the commissioner’s exemption list, which would place Watson on indefinite paid leave and a possible decision could come later.

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As this dragged on and a continued drip, drip, of details and lawsuits emerged, the situation for Watson’s future in the NFL grew more serious. Where a six- or eight-game suspension once seemed most likely, hardly anyone is now ruling out an entire season.

Financially, Watson would only be slightly impacted by the NFL sanction. His Cleveland contract is structured to protect as much money as possible. His $45 million signing bonus is untouchable and his base salary of $1.035 million is said to be calculated on a game-by-game basis.

Still, the 26-year-old Watson, after being retained by Houston for the 2021 season, doesn’t want to miss another full season of his prime. And Cleveland, which has committed considerable monetary, draft pick and public relations assets to acquiring Watson, doesn’t want to lose him for 2022 when it has a roster capable of competing for a Super Bowl.

Yet we are still here.

Yes, 20 of the 24 cases disappeared, the hurdle passed by Watson. Yet those that remain are still potentially problematic, especially Solis.

“The case against Deshaun Watson began with a phone call, from a brave and strong woman,” Buzbee said in a statement.

It is likely to end with this same woman.

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