“It was just a practical decision,” Hardin said. “I knew what he was going to say so I took the position that I am willing to gamble my license on letting him testify on one case.”
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Hardin said the Browns were aware that criminal charges could still be brought against Watson before they traded for him. A Browns spokesman did not specify when the team was informed about the Brazoria County case.
N.F.L. teams viewed the decision in Harris County as a green light to pursue Watson via trade, and the Browns gave Watson a guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract, a record for a guaranteed deal. The structure of the deal — with a 2022 base salary of only about $1 million — would mitigate Watson’s financial penalty for missing games if the N.F.L. suspends him for a violation of its personal-conduct policy this season.
The Browns said in a statement on Sunday that they undertook a “comprehensive evaluation process” before trading for Watson and did “extensive” investigative, legal and reference work. The statement also acknowledged that “some legal proceedings” were continuing, but it was unclear whether that statement was referring to any criminal cases.
The N.F.L.’s investigation into the allegations against Watson is ongoing. A person who identified himself as a security representative for the N.F.L. requested information from the Houston Police Department on March 15, including witness statements and phone records or social media messages, and also asked for interviews with the police investigators who worked the case, according to police records.
Before the deal with the Browns, Watson also met with the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints last week.