Deshaun Watson picks Browns in stunning reversal as Texans agree to trade

Deshaun Watson has made up his mind.

In a stunning reversal Friday, the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback for the Houston Texans was traded to the Cleveland Browns after Watson chose them as his next team and agreed to waive his no-trade clause.

The Browns and Texans subsequently worked out a trade package in which Houston received three first-round selections as well as a third-round pick and a late-round pick swap.

Watson later confirmed the news on Instagram, writing: "Cleveland, LETSSSS GOOOO!! 😤 #DawgPound Ready To Work!"

Watson will receive a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract from the Browns as part of the deal, a person with knowledge of the deal told USA TODAY Sports. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose financial terms of the contract. The guarantee breaks the previous high for an NFL contract, which was set by Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen in August 2021 and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers earlier in March with $150 million each. 

His 2022 base salary will be $1 million, which will serve as a potential safeguard against a potential suspension from the NFL.

Watson, 26, sat out all of last season amid his trade demand from the Texans and series of allegations of sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions, including 22 civil lawsuits. A grand jury opted last Friday not to indict Watson on any of the nine criminal complaints against him.

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Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) before an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019, in Houston.

By Monday, several teams had already lined up as suitors for the quarterback, who has a no-trade clause in his contract, allowing him to deny any destination not to his liking. The Browns, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons all met with Watson this week, with the Saints meeting with him for a second time Wednesday. His camp informed the Browns on Thursday that they were no longer under consideration, a person familiar with the situation told USA TODAY Sports. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to divulge details about Watson's process.

By Friday, however, Watson had apparently reversed course.

"I felt it was the right move for our organization as we head into the new league year focused on building our roster for the 2022 season," Texans general manager Nick Caserio said in a statement. "Our priority right now is adding talented players to the foundation we have already put in place over the last 15 months and this trade supports that plan. As we navigate through the rest of the offseason, we remain open-minded to all avenues that allow us to improve our roster and add to our program."

Watson still could face a suspension from the NFL under the league's personal conduct policy, and the 22 civil lawsuits are still pending.

The Browns' pursuit of Watson prompted quarterback Baker Mayfield to request a trade from the team on Thursday, when it appeared the team was out of the running for the signal-caller's services. 

"It’s in the mutual interest of both sides for us to move on," Mayfield told ESPN. "The relationship is too far gone to mend. It’s in the best interests of both sides to move on."

The Browns initially made it clear that they would not grant Mayfield's request, a person with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports. With Watson in the fold, however, the former No. 1 pick - and his fully guaranteed $18.858 million salary - would appear to be superfluous for Cleveland.

Mayfield is not expected to be part of the trade with the Texans, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported, and instead would be moved in a separate deal. 

Watson will face his former team at some point in 2022, when the Texans are scheduled to play host to the Browns.

Contributing: Jori Epstein