PALM BEACH, Fla. – Falcons owner Arthur Blank discussed the team's exploration of a Deshaun Watson trade Tuesday afternoon at the NFL owners meetings, the first time he has commented on the matter of possibly acquiring a quarterback facing 22 civil cases, but no criminal charges, alleging various forms of sexual misconduct.
He discussed the organization's preliminary interest in Watson and the work they did delving into his off-field matters prior to a 1 hour, 15-minute meeting with the quarterback and his agent earlier this month.
"We did enough, at that point, from a legal perspective, to feel like having a conversation with him was worthwhile doing," Blank said. "One of the criminal cases [was not pursued by the grand jury]. The second one was a little later. We were comfortable with that, but we had a lot more questions if we were going to go down that path and follow it super seriously.
"The level of pursuit that we had, in the exploratory stage, was the right thing to do. If it made sense to go further than that, there would've been a much more intensive process."
The Falcons only had the one meeting with Watson, who ultimately waived his no-trade clause to allow the Houston Texans to send him to Cleveland. The Browns reportedly agreed to pay him $230 million over the life of a five-year contract.
The Browns have received criticism for the Watson acquisition, considering the off-field issues he's still facing, since making the trade.
Blank said he remains comfortable with Falcons' preliminary exploration of Watson and made a clear point to say more work would've been required before possibly acquiring him.
"The word 'explore' is the key word," Blank said. "We matched the amount of work we're doing to the word exploring. It wasn't more than that. It wasn't less than that. It was the commitment we made. We had the interview with him and that was the last of it. [The issues surrounding Watson are] an area of concern. I don't know what the truth is. I know what Deshaun says, but I also know there are 22 allegations out there and that's a very significant, serious subject."
Blank and the Falcons have a connection to Watson, a Gainesville, Ga., native who was a Falcons ball boy, but that wasn't a driving force in their decision to explore the possibility of an acquisition.
"I think our job is to pursue opportunities," Blank said, in response to a question about how the Falcons exploration was perceived. "In this case, professionally we knew he could play at a high level. We had an experience with him. He was in our facility for four years as a ball boy, developed a great relationship with Matt [Ryan] and with others in the work that he had. We had that as a frame of reference that we had, which is a little bit different. To get to the point of the interview was a comfortable commitment for us. What would've happened if we had gone further, I'm not sure."
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