New Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson made his Cleveland debut on Friday, speaking to reporters for the first time since he was traded from the Houston Texans.

In exchange for the three-time Pro Bowler, Cleveland parted ways with six draft picks — including three first-round picks in the next three NFL drafts — in one of the biggest trades in NFL history.

Watson’s introduction comes under a cloud of intense controversy, as the 26-year-old faces accusations of sexual misconduct and assault by 22 women in civil lawsuits filed earlier this year. Though he does not face criminal charges on these counts, Watson could be suspended by the NFL. But the five-year, $230 million contract he signed with the Browns is set up to prevent him from taking much of a financial hit if he’s forced to missed games.

Watson has denied the allegations.

“I’ve never assaulted any woman. I never disrespected any woman,” Watson told reporters Friday. “I never done the things that these people are alleging, and I’m going to continue to fight for my name and clear my name.”

The Eagles had some interest in Watson replacing starting quarterback Jalen Hurts. The Inquirer’s Jeff McLane reported the Eagles did their due diligence, but beyond reaching out to the Texans, things never really progressed.

“Deshaun Watson and the Eagles never came up this offseason, not once, not once, from their standpoint or his standpoint,” ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter said last week on 97.5 The Fanatic. “That was never even in the realm of possibility this offseason. It never went anywhere.

» READ MORE: Eagles miss out on Deshaun Watson. Was it their choice or the opposite?

Who is Deshaun Watson?

Watson, 26, was a star quarterback for the Texans, selected with the No. 12 pick in the 2017 NFL draft. In college, he played quarterback for Clemson University, and led the team to two consecutive national championship appearances, including the school’s second national championship in 2016.

Watson signed a four-year, $156 million contract with the Texans in September 2020. After his third Pro Bowl season in 2020, Watson requested a trade, reportedly because he was unhappy with the direction of the team and upset how it handled its search for a new head coach after firing former Penn State coach Bill O’Brien.

The Texans declined, leading to a standoff that ended when allegations of sexual misconduct emerged. Watson didn’t play a down during the 2021 season, though he wasn’t suspended — he was ruled out for “non-injury reasons/personal matter.

What is Watson accused of?

Twenty-two women have filed civil lawsuits against Watson with allegations of sexual misconduct and assault. The lawsuits, filed in Harris County, Texas, allege that Watson coerced massage therapists into touching him sexually or exposed himself to them.

The lawsuits lay out a pattern of lewd behavior from the quarterback, which often began with him reaching out to a woman via Instagram to book a massage. Many of the women allege Watson requested they focus on massaging his lower abdomen, glutes, and inner groin area; he would then cause his penis to touch their hand, or move their hand to touch him. A few women claim Watson ejaculated on them.

Two of the lawsuits include claims of sexual assault: Watson is accused of pressuring two women into performing oral sex, and grabbing the buttocks and vagina of one of them.

The lawsuits were filed in Harris County, where Watson works and lives. Many of the incidents are said to have taken place in Texas from March 2020 to March 2021, but a few allegedly occurred in Georgia, California, and Arizona.

Does Watson face potential jail time for these cases?

No. Watson will not face criminal charges by the Houston Police Department after a grand jury rejected nine criminal complaints made against him. A tenth criminal complaint was not presented by prosecutors in Harris County, Texas, because they didn’t believe it was supported by the evidence, according to the New York Times.

A second grand jury in Brazoria County, Texas, also declined to indict Watson on Thursday, Brazoria County district attorney Tom Selleck said in a statement. The criminal complaint was filed with the Houston Police Department, but the alleged incident took place outside the jurisdiction of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, according to the New York Times.

» READ MORE: Deshaun Watson cleared of criminal charges in sexual assault case

How has Watson responded?

After Watson was cleared of criminal charges on March 11, he told reporters outside the courthouse in Houston he is going to fight to “rebuild my name and rebuild my appearance in the county.”

Watson’s lawyer Rusty Hardin — who has represented numerous high-profile athletes embroiled in scandal — called the accusations baseless, and in a statement said that one of the two sexual assault allegations was being used as blackmail against Watson. At a news conference in April, Hardin acknowledged that Watson engaged in sexual acts with some of the women, but that it was consensual.

“I believe that any allegation that Deshaun forced a woman to commit a sexual act is completely false,” Hardin said.

How has the NFL responded?

Watson could still be suspended. In a statement, spokesperson Brian McCarthy said the NFL had “been closely monitoring all developments in the matter which remains under review of the personal conduct policy.”

The NFL took no action last season with the accusations in civil court and making their way through the criminal justice system. In October, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said there wasn’t enough information to place Watson on paid administrative leave.

“We don’t have all the access to that information at this point in time,” Goodell told reporters after the first day of owners meetings. “We pride ourselves on not interfering in that... We don’t feel that we have that necessary information at this point.”

Why are the ongoing cases civil and not criminal?

The lawsuits against Watson were filed in civil court, which deals with disputes between individuals or organizations, and in which compensation is awarded to the victim; criminal courts deal with crimes and legal punishment.

About seven in 10 sexual assaults are not reported to law enforcement, according to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, for reasons that include fear of retaliation or a belief that police would not help. Law enforcement officers and prosecutors are often not well-trained in working with assault survivors, which can make the criminal-court process painful and traumatic, said Justine Andronici, a Pennsylvania-based lawyer who represents and advocates for women’s rights and sexual assault survivors.

For those reasons, assault survivors may prefer to go the civil-courts route because they are often in more control of their story and how the case proceeds, and can work with better-trained lawyers who specialize in assault and understand survivors’ needs, Andronici said.

Additionally, she said, financial compensation for the pain assault survivors have experienced should be considered just as valid as for a person who was badly injured in a car accident or medical malpractice case.

“Nobody ever asks why they would sue in a civil case,” she said. “It’s only in the cases of sexual assault where you have these questions of, ‘Why should we be giving these victims money for the harm that they’ve suffered?’”

Who are the women and why are most remaining anonymous?

Most of the women claim they had never met Watson prior to him reaching out and that they had never had such a high-profile client. Some had more than 10 years of massage experience, while others were new to the industry or lacked a massage license entirely.

Most of the women have remained anonymous to the public, though two appeared publicly last year. Watson’s attorney has criticized Buzbee for not providing his team with the women’s names — though the judge has a complete list.

Anonymity is often an important tool in the legal process to protect victims from safety risks, harassment, and retraumatization, said Andronici, especially if the alleged perpetrator is famous.

“They’re not anonymous to the court,” Andronici said. “The general public doesn’t have a right to identify a victim of sexual assault in an extremely public way and harass that person, and that is what often happens in these cases.”