(NewsNation) — Cleveland Browns starting quarterback Deshaun Watson faces civil lawsuits from 22 women who allege sexual assault and inappropriate conduct.
Watson continues to maintain the allegations are without merit, saying he does not plan to settle any of the civil lawsuits filed against him, according to an ESPN report,
Previously, two Texas grand juries declined to indict Watson on criminal charges of sexual misconduct.
The allegations in the lawsuits range from touching women with his genitals to forced oral sex.
The Browns acquired Watson in a trade with the Houston Texans and signed him to a five-year contract worth $230 million — the most guaranteed money on a single contract in NFL history.
Watson, 26, still could face punishment from the NFL, but the league is unlikely to act until his civil trial concludes.
Historically, the league has handed out suspensions in such situations.
Anticipating a suspension from the NFL, the Browns reduced Watson’s base salary to $1 million in the first season, which would limit his financial hit.
General manager Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski answered questions about the background checks the Browns did before acquiring the quarterback during an introductory news conference.
Two things were clear during the news conference. The Browns organization believes its extensive vetting of Watson showed the team acquired a solid citizen, and Watson reiterated at every opportunity that he didn’t do what he’s accused of by 22 women.
Berry said the Browns used outside investigators to look into Watson’s background, as well as the accusations made by the women.
There has been outrage from many corners of the Cleveland Browns community, including women’s groups and fans who say they no longer will support the team.
“We as an organization know that this transaction has been very difficult for a lot of people, particularly women in our community,” Berry said. “That in addition to the nature of all the allegations weighed heavily on all of us.”
But, he said, the franchise is confident in the character of Watson after reviewing the findings of the independent investigators who looked into his background.
Barry said under advice of team counsel, the Browns didn’t attempt to interview any of the 22 women because it could have been construed as attempting to interfere with an investigation.
“We do feel good about the work that we did as we vetted this transaction,” Berry said. “We do have confidence and faith in Deshaun as a person.”
Reuters contributed to this report.