Cleveland, Ohio (92.3 The Fan/WGR 550) – Deshaun Watson’s Browns debut will have to wait until December, but Cleveland's starting quarterback will get to play this season.
After reaching a settlement on discipline with the NFL for multiple violations of the league’s personal conduct policy stemming from allegations of sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions, Watson will be suspended 11 games without pay and fined $5 million.
As part of the agreement, Watson will also undergo a professional behavioral evaluation and follow their treatment program. The NFL and Browns will each contribute $1 million to combine with Watson’s fine, which will go to nationwide non-profit programs for the prevention of sexual misconduct and assault.
“I’m grateful that the disciplinary process has ended and extremely appreciative of the tremendous support I have received throughout my short time with the Browns organization,” Deshaun Watson said in a statement released by the team. “I apologize once again for any pain this situation has caused. I take accountability for the decisions I made. My focus going forward is on working to become the best version of myself on and off the field and supporting my teammates however possible while I’m away from the team. I’m excited about what the future holds for me in Cleveland.”
This means Watson will not be eligible to play in Cleveland's Week 11 matchup with the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 20. Buffalo will likely face Jacoby Brissett under center for the Browns.
Other quarterbacks currently on the Browns' roster as the preseason continues includes Joshua Dobbs and former 2018 first-round pick Josh Rosen.
Watson's first game is now scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 4 against his former team, the Houston Texans in Week 13 at NRG Stadium.
The NFL appealed Sue L. Robinson’s six-game ban issued on Aug. 1 after Robinson found Watson to be in violation of the NFL’s personal conduct policy in three separate ways – conduct that qualifies as a sexual assault as defined by the NFL, conduct that posed a danger to the safety and well-being of another person and conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity of the NFL.
“As we have previously conveyed, Deshaun and his representatives have abided by the NFL and NFLPA structure awaiting a final decision and we have respected the process,” Dee and Jimmy Haslam said in a statement. “Now that a decision on discipline has been reached, we understand this is a real opportunity to create meaningful change and we are committed to investing in programs in Northeast Ohio that will educate our youth regarding awareness, understanding, and most importantly, prevention of sexual misconduct and the many underlying causes of such behavior. Since Deshaun entered our building, he has been an outstanding member of our organization and shown a true dedication to working on himself both on and off the field. We will continue to support him as he focuses on earning the trust of our community.”
A total of 25 lawsuits were filed against Watson, who settled 23 of them this summer. One case remains active, and another was dropped after a judge ruled the plaintiffs would be required to use their names in court filings.
The Texans also settled 30 lawsuits that were filed against the team this summer alleging they enabled Watson’s alleged behavior.
Watson was not charged with a crime after two separate Texas grand juries declined to indict him following multiple criminal complaints being filed against him by therapists.
Watson has maintained his innocence and denied any wrongdoing throughout the process.
Under the NFL’s conduct policy, a player does not have to be charged with a crime to face discipline and the burden of proof required through the league’s disciplinary process is not as stringent as the criminal justice system or civil court.
Former New Jersey attorney general Peter C. Harvey was designated by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to handle the league’s appeal. Harvey was among those who helped craft the conduct policy and he served as an arbitrator on several of the league’s cases, including Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game ban related to a domestic violence allegation.
The league, which had been seeking an indefinite suspension, mandatory treatment and a hefty fine for Watson, felt the accusations made against Watson were too egregious and required much stiffer discipline.
Robinson found the circumstantial evidence presented to her by the NFL during a three-day disciplinary hearing surrounding four therapists’ accusations was credible enough to deem Watson to be in violation of league rules.
Prior to Robinson’s ruling being issued, Watson in conjunction with the NFLPA said they would accept Robinson’s ruling and they urged the NFL to do the same.
The suspension will begin Aug. 30 at 4 p.m. ET when rosters around the league are reduced to 53. Watson will be placed on the Reserve/Suspended by the Commissioner list.
The Browns acquired Watson, a three-time Pro Bowler who led the NFL in passing during the 2020 season, in March from the Texans for six draft picks, including three first rounders and gave him a five-year, fully guaranteed $230 million contract.