The NFL and NFLPA came to an agreement on Wednesday that Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson will be suspended for the first 11 games of the 2022 regular season and fined $5 million for violations in the league's Personal Conduct Policy.
The announcement comes after Watson was accused of sexual misconduct and faced 24 civil lawsuits, 23 of which he settled.
“I have always stood on my innocence and am going to continue to stand on that, but at the same time I have to continue to push forward on my life and my career,” Watson said Thursday in a news conference. “And for us to be able to move forward, I have to be able to take steps and put pride to the side. I’m going to continue to stand on my innocence and keep pushing forward. I’ve always stood on not disrespecting or not sexually assaulting anyone.”
The first game Watson is eligible to return would be on the road against his former team, the Houston Texans, on Dec 4.
In addition to Watson's suspension and fine, he must commit to mandatory professional evaluation by behavioral experts, following a treatment plan, the NFL announced.
"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," the Browns' organization said in a statement on Wednesday.
Aditi Kinkhabwala of CBS Sports reported that Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, when asked if he’d go back and sign Watson again, said “Absolutely.”
“People deserve second chances...does he get no chance to rehabilitate himself?” Haslam said. “We gave Kareem Hunt a second chance. That’s worked out pretty well."
It was announced in March 2021 that the first sexual assault lawsuit had been filed against Watson by the first of 24 massage therapists. In March 2022, a Texas grand jury declined to indict Watson on nine cases following a police investigation. A week later he was traded to the Browns and signed a record-breaking five-year, $230 million deal.
On March 24, a second Texas grand jury declined to charge Watson on a criminal complaint filed by one of the 22 accusers.
Days later, the NFL and NFLPA agreed to have former U.S. District Court Judge Sue L. Robinson serve as an impartial arbitrator to determine disciplinary action for Watson. Robinson, on Aug. 1, recommended a six-game suspension for Watson. The NFL appealed, with Roger Goodell designating Peter Harvey, a former attorney general of New Jersey who is on the NFL’s Diversity Advisory Committee, to decide Watson's suspension.
Since the suspension did not apply to preseason games, Watson started the Browns' preseason opener on Friday. Watson will not play for the remainder of the preseason.
"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," Watson said in a statement prior to meeting with the media Thursday. "I apologize once again for any pain this situation has caused. I take accountability for the decisions I made. My focus going forward is 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."