Cleveland Browns QB Deshaun Watson suspended 11 games and fined $5 million after NFL-NFLPA settlement


The NFL and the NFL Players Association reached a settlement in the disciplinary case of Deshaun Watson on Thursday, agreeing that the Cleveland Browns quarterback will serve an 11-game suspension without pay after being charged by more than two dozen women of sexual misconduct during massage sessions. .

Watson will also pay a $5 million fine and undergo a mandatory evaluation by behavioral experts and follow their suggested treatment program.

Watson’s fine and contributions from the NFL and Browns of $1 million each will create a fund to support nonprofit organizations in the United States “that educate young people about healthy relationships, promote education and preventing sexual misconduct and assault, supporting survivors and causes,” the NFL said in announcing the settlement.

Watson’s suspension takes effect Aug. 30, when NFL teams reduced the 53-player limit. He will be eligible for reinstatement Nov. 28 and will be available to play for the Browns again in Week 13, when Cleveland takes on his former team, the Houston Texans, on the road.

Watson must comply with evaluation and treatment recommendations from a third-party behavioral expert to be reinstated, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. If Watson does not comply with the treatment plan, his reinstatement could be delayed and he could face additional disciplinary action, the sources said.

“I am grateful that the disciplinary process has been completed and extremely grateful for the tremendous support I have received throughout my short time with the Browns organization,” Watson said in a statement released by the Browns. “I apologize once again for any pain this situation has caused. I take responsibility for the decisions I have made. My goal going forward is to work towards becoming the best version of myself on and off the field and to support my teammates as much as possible while I’m away from the team. I’m excited for what the future holds for me in Cleveland.”

However, Watson then met the media on Thursday and maintained his innocence.

“I will continue to stand on my innocence, just because you know about the settlements, and things like that don’t mean a person is guilty of anything,” he said. “I feel like a person has the opportunity to stand on their innocence and prove that, and we’ve proven that from a legal standpoint, and we’re just going to keep moving forward as individual and as a person.”

Watson also said he wanted to tell his side of the story one day to prove his innocence.

“That’s definitely the plan, that’s definitely the goal,” he said. “I feel like throughout the process I tried to tell my side of the story. But a lot of people just didn’t pay much attention to it.”

Browns co-owner Dee Haslam, when asked about Watson’s comments about his innocence, said Thursday: “We respect his opinion. I think by advising Deshaun will learn a lot more about himself.”

She added: “Counseling is a process. It’s going to take time for him. We feel like he’s doing process.”

Watson, who started the Browns’ preseason opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars last Friday, will not play again this preseason, coach Kevin Stefanski said Thursday.

The settlement between the two sides overturns a ruling by former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey, who Commissioner Roger Goodell appointed to oversee the NFL’s appeal of Disciplinary Officer Sue L. Robinson to suspend Watson for six games.

“Deshaun is committed to doing the hard work on himself that is necessary for his return to the NFL,” Goodell said in a statement. “This settlement requires adherence to a professional assessment and treatment plan, a significant fine and a more substantial suspension. We are grateful to Judge Robinson and Peter Harvey for their efforts in resolving these issues, which have laid the groundwork for reaching this conclusion.”

Robinson, an independent arbitrator jointly appointed by the league and the players’ union, initially ruled on August 1 that Watson would serve a six-game suspension but not be fined for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, writing in a 16-page report that “The NFL has met its burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Mr. Watson engaged in sexual assault (as defined by the NFL) against the four identified therapists in the report.”

Goodell, in explaining the league’s decision to appeal Robinson’s decision, said the evidence required at least a one-year suspension.

“As we have previously stated, Deshaun and his representatives have respected the structure of the NFL and NFLPA pending a final decision and we have respected the process,” Browns co-owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam said in a statement. a statement. “Now that a decision on discipline has been made, we understand this is a real opportunity to create meaningful change and are committed to investing in programs in Northeast Ohio that will educate our young people about awareness, understanding, and most importantly, prevention of sexual misconduct and the many underlying causes of such behavior.Since Deshaun came into our building, he has been an outstanding member of our organization and has shown true dedication to working on himself both on and off the pitch. We will continue to support him as he focuses on earning the trust of our community.”

Watson has been charged with sexual assault and other inappropriate behavior during massage therapy sessions in a lawsuit brought by 25 women. The actions alleged in the lawsuits took place from March 2020 to March 2021, when Watson was a member of the Texans. One of the 25 lawsuits was dropped after a judge ruled in April 2021 that the plaintiffs should amend their motions to release their names. Two other women filed criminal complaints against Watson but did not prosecute him.

Watson has settled or agreed to settle all of the remaining lawsuits except one, which remains outstanding. In July, the Texans reached settlements with 30 women who made or were willing to make claims against the NFL organization for its alleged “empowerment” of Watson’s behavior.

“The message to all victims today is clear: if you think you have been sexually assaulted by a powerful person, shut your mouth and walk away,” said attorney Tony Buzbee, who represents the women who sued Watson, in reaction to Thursday’s settlement. . “The NFL has certainly demonstrated ownership and the organization doesn’t care. To all sexual assault survivors, don’t let this recent ‘punishment’ deter you. Keep talking and talking. Your voice matters. You make a difference, we’re on your side.

Although two grand juries in Texas declined to prosecute Watson earlier this year, the NFL was investigating whether he violated its personal conduct policy since 2021. The league interviewed Watson for several days earlier this summer. NFL investigators also spoke to several of the women.

In his report, which concluded that Watson violated the Personal Conduct Policy with “flagrant” and “predatory” behavior, Robinson noted that an aggravating factor in his decision to suspend Watson for six games was his “expressed lack of remorse.” “.

After previously denying any wrongdoing and saying he had ‘no regrets’ for any of his actions during the massage sessions, Watson publicly apologized to ‘every woman I touched’ on Friday before Cleveland’s preseason opener.

The Browns traded for Watson in March, sending three first-round picks to the Texans. Cleveland then gave Watson a new five-year contract which was the richest contract in NFL history for any player.

Watson’s contract with the Browns guarantees him a league-record $230 million, with base salary rising to $46 million in 2023 and a signing bonus of $44.965 million.

Yet because Cleveland structured his contract to include a base salary of just $1.035 million in 2022, Watson was only going to lose $57,500 per suspended game, without the $5 million fine imposed in the settlement. . Watson’s total lost salary this season will be $632,500.

Stefanski said at the start of training camp that Jacoby Brissett would become Cleveland’s starter if Watson was suspended, and recently indicated he’s been “very impressed” with Brissett so far.

“Very comfortable with him,” Stefanski said. “I think he has a very good understanding of what we’re trying to do offensively.”

Despite being a substitute for much of his career, Brissett has 37 starts and a 14-23 record.


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