Cleveland Browns QB Deshaun Watson and NFL agree to 11-game suspension over sexual misconduct allegations

The NFL and Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson agreed to an 11-game suspension, officials said Thursday, for his “sexualized contact” with massage therapists.

Watson also signed off on a $5 million fine in an agreement that will keep him off the field until Cleveland’s Week 13 game against his former team, the Houston Texans, on Dec. 4.

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

Watson said he’s looking forward to getting back on to the field once the suspension is over.

“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. “I apologize once again for any pain this situation has caused. I take accountability for the decisions I made.”

Minutes after issuing that statement, Watson spoke to reporters and re-asserted his “innocence.”

“I’m moving on with my career, with my life and I continue to stand on my innocence,” he said.

“Just because settlements and things like that happen doesn’t mean that person is guilty for anything. I feel like a person has the opportunity to stand on his innocence and prove that and we proved that on the legal side.”

Earlier this month, a league disciplinary officer had ruled that Watson should be banned for six games, in punishment the league deemed as inappropriately light in its appeal.

Retired federal Judge Sue L. Robinson, who presided over the disciplinary hearing and issued the six-game ban, said Watson “knew such sexualized contact was unwanted.”

But she stopped short of the NFL’s desire to bench Watson for all of 2022, arguing there’s no such precedent to punish a player that severely for acts she deemed as “non-violent sexual conduct.”

Watson signed a five-year, $230 million guaranteed contract with the Browns in March amid allegations of sexual misconduct during massage sessions involving more than 20 women.

He has already missed a considerable amount of time on the field, having not played for Houston all of last season as his legal challenges unfolded and the team sought to trade him.

Two grand juries in Texas declined to bring charges against Watson in March. The district attorneys in both instances did not elaborate on why the grand juries declined to indict.

Watson had previously denied any wrongdoing involving the incidents, but last week finally expressed remorse to the women who had come forward.

In a meeting with reporters after the suspension was announced on Thursday, Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam both declined to say whether they believed Watson has shown enough contrition or fully admitted to poor behavior.

“We’ve seen him grow the past four or five months. I think we’ve seen him recognize some things he wished he’d done differently, positions he wished he’d not put himself into,” Jimmy Haslam said. “We anticipate that work continuing to go forward.” 

Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, said in a June statement: “Deshaun Watson did nothing wrong. And as two grand juries have made clear, Deshaun did nothing illegal.”

The Browns now could be left with journeyman Jacoby Brissett as their starting signal caller in Watson’s absence.

Even with this 11-game ban, Jimmy Haslam said he “absolutely” has no regrets about making the March trade that brought the embattled QB to Cleveland.

“People deserve second chances,” the owner said.

“Is he never supposed to play again? Is he never supposed to be part of society? Does he get no chance to rehabilitate himself? And that’s what we’re going to do. Well you can say, ‘That’s because he’s the star quarterback.’ Well of course, but if was Joe Smith he wouldn’t be on the headlines every day.”

This is a developing story, please refresh here for updates.

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