The Cleveland Browns finally know how many games Deshaun Watson will miss this season after the quarterback reached an agreement with the NFL on Thursday.
CBS Sports NFL insiders Josina Anderson and Jonathan Jones have reported that Watson will be suspended for 11 games, a significant increase from the six-game ban originally imposed. In addition to the suspension, Watson was also fined $5 million, which is the largest fine ever imposed on a player in NFL history.
The settlement also requires Watson to adhere to a professional treatment plan, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced.
“Deshaun is committed to doing the hard work on himself necessary for his return to the NFL,” Goodell said. “This settlement requires compliance with a professional evaluation and treatment plan, a substantial fine and a more substantial suspension.”
To to ESPN.comWatson’s reinstatement is “contingent on his compliance with the treatment plan,” and if he doesn’t comply, the NFL could delay his reinstatement, which could result in a lengthy suspension.
On Watson’s side, he was just glad to have the whole case over with.
“I am grateful that the disciplinary process has ended and very grateful for the tremendous support I have received during my short tenure with the Browns organization,” Watson said in a statement. “I apologize once again for any pain this situation has caused. I take responsibility for the decisions I have made.”
Although Watson mentioned accountability in his statement, he appeared not to take on any when asked about the settlement during a press conference following the announcement of the new penalty.
“I will continue to stand by my innocence,” Watson said told the media on Thursday. “Just because settlements and things like that happen doesn’t mean a person is guilty of anything.”
Watson’s decision to accept the NFL’s settlement offer means the case is officially closed from a football perspective. Watson will sit out Cleveland’s first 11 games of the season before returning to the team on November 28. In a twist, Watson’s first game will be against his former team, the Houston Texans. The Browns are scheduled to play in Houston on CBS on December 4th.
The extra five games of suspension mean Watson will miss several key encounters that he would not have missed on his original six-game suspension. Here are the five new games he will miss after his sentence was extended by five additional weeks: at Ravens (Week 7), Bengals (Week 8), Dolphins (Week 10), Bills (Week 11) and Buccaneers (Week 12). The Browns also have a Week 9 reunion in store.
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Although Watson turned down a settlement offer last month, he wasn’t really in a position to turn down an offer this time. The NFL’s decision to appeal the original punishment put the ball squarely in the league’s courthouse, as the appeal was overseen by former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey, who was appointed by Roger Goodell.
As for the settlement, Watson has the advantage of now knowing how much time he will be missing. On the downside, the upside for the NFL is that the league doesn’t have to worry about the quarterback taking the case to federal court, which could happen if Watson had received an indefinite suspension of at least a year.
The settlement ends a long road for this case, which began back in March 2021, when Watson was stalked by a massage therapist with a single civil lawsuit alleging him of sexual misconduct. The total number of lawsuits eventually rose to 24, although Watson had settled 23 of those cases over the past two months.
The Browns struck a deal for Watson in March 2022, despite knowing that two dozen lawsuits had been filed against him and that punishment was almost certain to be forthcoming.
Watson was originally suspended for six games by former federal judge Sue Robinson, the disciplinary commissioner appointed jointly by the NFL and NFLPA to handle the case. After a three-day hearing in June, Robinson waited more than a month before publishing her decision on August 1. In a 16-page ruling, Robinson agreed that Watson had violated the league’s personal conduct guidelines, but she didn’t feel there was enough precedent to ban him for more than six games.
Although the NFL didn’t get the sentence it wanted from Robinson — the league was hoping for a suspension of at least a year — the judge gave the NFL enough legal ammunition to appeal. In her decision, Robinson agreed with essentially everything the NFL argued during the June hearing. In the ruling, Robinson wrote that Watson’s conduct violated three provisions of the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy “by being involved in: (1) sexual assault; (2) conduct that presents a real threat to the safety and well-being of another person; and (3) conduct that undermines or threatens the integrity of the NFL.”
Although the longer ban means Watson will now be out until Week 13, he will be allowed to play in preseason games if the Browns want to play him, but it doesn’t sound like that’s going to happen.
Watson does not have to start his suspension on August 30 ESPN.com, he will be eligible to return to the team facility on October 10th to participate in limited activities. Watson is then allowed to return to training on November 14, a full two weeks before his suspension ends.
Regarding their quarterback situation once the regular season has started, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski has said the team plans to start Jacoby Brissett in Week 1, but it will now be interesting to see if that’s still his plan. The Browns don’t have many options right now, but they could try to strike a trade for Jimmy Garoppolo, which the team seems to have been mulling over for the past few weeks.