Cleveland Browns QB Deshaun Watson suspended 11 games and was fined  million

Cleveland Browns QB Deshaun Watson suspended 11 games and was fined $5 million

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As part of a settlement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was suspended for the first 11 games of the 2022 season and fined $5 million for violating the league’s conduct policy which was based on allegations of sexual misconduct.

The agreement, announced Thursday, ends the disciplinary process and forestalls a decision by an attorney appointed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to resolve the league’s appeal of Watson’s original suspension. Sue L. Robinson, a former U.S. District Judge and disciplinary officer appointed jointly by the league and the NFLPA, imposed an initial six-game suspension on Aug. 1.

“I’m moving on with my career, with my life, and I will continue to stand by my innocence,” Watson said a press conference at the Browns training center. “Just because settlements and things like that happen doesn’t mean a person is guilty of anything.”

Watson’s suspension is unpaid and will cost him $632,500 of his $1.035 million base salary for the season. He signed a five-year, guaranteed $230 million deal with the Browns when they struck a trade for him with the Houston Texans in March. The settlement also requires Watson to undergo a professional evaluation and treatment plan.

The NFL and Browns will each add $1 million to Watson’s $5 million fine, and the $7 million will be used to support organizations working to prevent sexual misconduct and sexual assault.

According to a person familiar with the NFL’s view, the league has withdrawn its insistence on a season-long suspension and approved the settlement because that decision was “significant, final, immediate and final.” The NFL emphasized the treatment portion of the settlement.

“Deshaun is committed to putting in the hard work on himself necessary for his return to the NFL,” Goodell said in a statement Thursday. “This settlement requires compliance with a professional evaluation and treatment plan, a substantial fine and a more substantial suspension.”

Watson issued a public apology in a television interview last Friday before playing in the Browns’ preseason opener in Jacksonville, Fla. But in Thursday’s press conference after announcing the settlement, he said he had “always insisted not to be disrespectful or sexually assault anyone.”

When asked why he apologized when he claims he did nothing wrong, Watson said: “For everyone affected by the situation. There were a lot of people that got fired.”

Watson said he “couldn’t speak about the fairness” of the discipline in the settlement, adding that he had an opinion but would keep it to himself. His agent, David Mulugheta, wrote on Twitter that Watson “always stated that he was innocent of sexual assault. Nothing has changed in what he said.” Watson “also said he was repentant,” Mulugheta wrote.

Thursday’s settlement comes almost two months after Robinson held a three-day hearing. She then viewed a post-hearing letter from both sides and ruled earlier this month that Watson violated the conduct policy and that the NFL proved her arguments on all three counts she raised, including that Watson committed sexual assault (as defined by the League as unwelcome sexual contact with another person).

Robinson also ruled that, as the league alleged, Watson violated the policy with conduct that posed a real threat to the safety and well-being of another person and by undermining or endangering the integrity of the NFL. She called Watson’s behavior “predatory” and “outrageous”. But Robinson also wrote that Watson’s sexual assaults were nonviolent. She is bound by the length of suspension from previous NFL disciplines for nonviolent sexual assault, she said.

Under a revised version of the personal conduct policy set out in the 2020 Collective Labor Agreement, both the league and union could have appealed Robinson’s decision to Goodell or someone he nominated. The NFLPA and Watson announced the night before Robinson’s verdict was announced that they would honor their decision and urged the league to do the same. The NFL instead exercised its right of appeal on Aug. 3, and Goodell selected former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey to hear the case.

Each side filed a brief, and Harvey should have made his decision without additional testimony or evidence beyond what was available to Robinson. The league was asking for an indefinite suspension of at least one full season, a fine and treatment on their appeal, according to a person familiar with the situation.

According to the CBA, a decision on the appeal would have represented the “complete, final and complete settlement of the dispute.” But if Harvey had decided to extend Watson’s suspension to a full season, that language might not have prevented Watson and the NFLPA from challenging the appeals ruling in federal court and renewing courtroom arguments between the league and the union over player discipline. The union managed to delay but not reverse previous suspensions with quarterback Tom Brady, then the New England Patriots, and Dallas Cowboys pushing back Ezekiel Elliott by going to court.

“We will support [Watson] in every way possible during the suspension and throughout what will hopefully be a long career with the Cleveland Browns,” said team owner Jimmy Haslam at a press conference Thursday.

Haslam said he was “absolutely, 100 per cent” happy to have Watson on the team, later adding: “We think Deshaun Watson deserves a second chance.”

When asked if the Browns would still make the swap for Watson they made in March, general manager Andrew Berry said: “Yes, we would. … We believe that Deshaun has strong positive attributes.”

Haslam’s wife, Browns co-owner Dee Haslam, said the team had “a tremendous empathy for the women involved”. When asked about the discrepancy between Watson’s portrayal of his remorse and his renewed assertion that he had done nothing wrong, she said: “Deliberations take time. … He’s making progress, but it won’t happen overnight.”

More than two dozen women filed civil lawsuits against Watson for his behavior in massage therapy sessions. Of the 25 lawsuits filed, Watson has reached settlement agreements with 23 of the women, according to attorney Anthony Buzbee. One lawsuit has been withdrawn, one is still pending.

Deshaun Watson has been suspended for six games by the disciplinary officer

Buzbee also announced comparisons of 30 women to the Texans. A woman had filed a lawsuit, accusing Watson’s former team of enabling his alleged conduct.

Watson has not been charged with any crime. The Personal Conduct Policy allows a player to be disciplined without criminal charges.

Last season, the Texans put Watson on their game-day inactive list weekly, and he didn’t appear in a game. He was not suspended and received his entire salary of $10.5 million.

Watson’s suspension officially begins August 30. He could return to the Browns’ facility on October 10 and return to training on November 14. Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said Watson will not play in any of the Browns’ remaining two preseason games and reiterated that support Jacoby Brissett will serve as a starter during Watson’s absence. Watson’s suspension makes him eligible to play for the Browns beginning with a Dec. 4 game in Houston.

“At the end of the day I have to do what is best for Deshaun Watson,” Watson said on Thursday. “And I know what happened. I have been in such situations. But I have to keep pushing forward and keep going.”