Under 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 personal conduct policy on based on allegations of sexual misconduct.
The deal announced Thursday ends the disciplinary process and prevents a ruling from a lawyer appointed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to resolve the league’s appeal against Watson’s original suspension. Sue L. Robinson, a former U.S. district judge who is the disciplinary officer appointed jointly by the league and the NFLPA, initially imposed a six-game suspension on August 1.
“I will move on with my career, with my life, and I will maintain my innocence,” Watson said in a statement a press conference at the Browns’ training facility. “Just because settlements and things like that happen doesn’t mean someone is guilty of anything.”
Watson’s suspension is unpaid and will cost him $632,500 of his $1,035 million base salary for this season. He signed a five-year, $230 million guaranteed contract with the Browns when they finalized a deal with the Houston Texans for him in March. The settlement also requires Watson to undergo a professional evaluation and treatment plan.
The NFL and the Browns will each add $1 million to Watson’s $5 million fine, and the $7 million will be used to support organizations that prevent sexual misconduct and assault.
According to one person familiar with the NFL’s opinion, the league withdrew at its insistence on a full-season suspension and agreed to the settlement because this resolution was “important, final, immediate and final.” The NFL highlighted the treatment portion of the settlement.
“Deshaun has committed to doing the hard work on himself necessary for his return to the NFL,” Goodell said in a statement on Thursday. “This settlement requires adherence to a professional evaluation and treatment plan, a substantial fine and a more substantial suspension.”
Watson apologized in a televised interview last Friday before playing in the Browns’ opening preseason game in Jacksonville, Florida. attack someone.”
Asked why he had apologized when he claims he did nothing wrong, Watson said: “To everyone affected by the situation. There were a lot of people who were triggered.”
Watson said he “cannot speak to 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 “has always stated that he is innocent of sexual assault. Nothing has changed in what he said.” Watson also “said that he is remorseful,” Mulugheta wrote.
Thursday’s settlement comes nearly two months after Robinson held a three-day hearing. She then considered a post-hearing briefing from both sides, and earlier this month ruled that Watson had violated the conduct policy and that the NFL proved its case on all three counts it raised, including that Watson had committed sexual assault ( as defined by the competition as unwelcome sexual contact with another person).
Robinson also ruled that Watson, as the league claimed, violated policy by engaging in 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 assault was nonviolent. She was bound, she said, on the duration of the suspension by previous NFL discipline for nonviolent assault.
Under a revised personal conduct policy established by the 2020 collective bargaining agreement, both the league and the union could have appealed Robinson’s decision to Goodell or a person designated by him. The NFLPA and Watson announced the night before Robinson’s ruling that they would abide by her decision and urged the league to do the same. The NFL instead exercised its right to appeal on August 3, and Goodell chose Peter C. Harvey, the former New Jersey Attorney General, to hear the case.
Each party submitted a brief letter and Harvey would have made his decision without additional testimony or evidence beyond what was available to Robinson. The league demanded an indefinite suspension of at least one full season, a fine and an appeals hearing, according to a person familiar with the situation.
According to the CBA, a decision on the appeal would have meant the “complete, final and complete settlement of the dispute”. But had Harvey decided to extend Watson’s suspension to a full season, that language may not have stopped Watson and the NFLPA from challenging the appeal’s ruling in federal court, escalating courtroom disputes between the league and the NFLPA. the union on player discipline would start again. The union was able to postpone but not reverse previous suspensions of quarterback Tom Brady, the New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys that backed Ezekiel Elliott by going to court.
“We are going to support [Watson] in every way possible during the suspension and during what will hopefully be a long career with the Cleveland Browns,” said team owner Jimmy Haslam at a press conference Thursday.
Haslam said he felt “absolutely 100 per cent” comfortable with Watson on the team and later added: “We believe Deshaun Watson deserves a second chance.”
When asked if the Browns would still make the trade for Watson they made in March, General Manager Andrew Berry said, “Yes, we would. … We believe that Deshaun has strong positive qualities.”
Haslam’s wife, Brown’s co-owner Dee Haslam, said the team has “enormous empathy for the women involved”. When urged on the discrepancy between Watson’s portrayals of remorse and his renewed declarations that he had done nothing wrong, she said, “Counseling takes time. … He’s making progress, but it doesn’t happen overnight.”
More than two dozen women filed civil lawsuits against Watson based on his behavior during massage therapy sessions. Of the 25 lawsuits filed, Watson has settled with 23 of the women, according to their lawyer, Anthony Buzbee. One lawsuit was withdrawn and one is still pending.
Deshaun Watson banned for six games by disciplinary judge
Buzbee also announced settlements by 30 women with the Texans. A woman had filed a lawsuit accusing Watson’s former team of enabling his alleged behavior.
Watson has not been charged with a felony. The Personal Conduct Policy ensures that a player can be disciplined without criminal prosecution.
Last season, the Texans placed Watson weekly on their list of inactive game days and did not play in a game. He was not suspended and was paid his full salary of $10.5 million.
Watson’s suspension officially begins on August 30. He may return to the Browns facility on October 10 and may resume on November 14. Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said Watson will not play in either of the remaining two games of the Browns’ preseason, and he reiterates that backup Jacoby Brissett will serve as starter during Watson’s absence. Watson’s suspension qualifies him to play for the Browns, starting with a game on December 4 in Houston.
“In the end I have to do what’s best for Deshaun Watson,” Watson said on Thursday. “And I know what happened. I was in those situations. But I have to persevere and keep moving forward.”