Deshaun Watson saga: Breaking down QB's suspension, effect on Cleveland Browns this season

·6 min read

The NFL and NFL Players Association agreed to a settlement Thursday in the disciplinary case for Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, stemming from two dozen civil lawsuits against him that alleged sexual misconduct.

The NFL had appealed the six-game ban imposed Aug. 1 by jointly appointed disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson. On Aug. 4, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell appointed former New Jersey attorney general Peter Harvey to oversee the appeal, though discussions between the NFL and the union continued throughout the process, leading to the announcement of the settlement, which results in a suspension of 11 games and a fine of $5 million.

Deshaun Watson warms up before the Browns' preseason game against the Jaguars.
Deshaun Watson warms up before the Browns' preseason game against the Jaguars.

OPINION:  Browns owners harmed women with enthusiastic support of Watson

DEFIANT:  Watson maintains innocence after settlement: 'I have always stood on that'

OPINION: Suspension doesn't fix Watson's issue with accountability, and that's a serious problem

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Here's everything you need to know about the Watson case:

What are the terms of the settlement?

Watson will be suspended 11 games and fined $5 million for violating the league's personal conduct policy. Additionally, the league announced Watson "will promptly undergo a professional evaluation by behavioral experts and will follow their treatment program." In order to be reinstated, Watson will need to show that he has complied with the treatment program suggested by the experts.

The Browns and NFL have also each pledged an additional $1 million to create a fund of $7 million that will go to non-profit organizations across the country to help create awareness and education about the prevention of sexual misconduct.

What does this mean?

Essentially, this acts as a resolution to Watson's disciplinary case with the NFL and avoids any legal action from the NFLPA on behalf of Watson. He still has some pending legal matters, however. One civil lawsuit against him remains outstanding after 23 were settled out of court with confidential agreements.

It also means that backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett will fill in for Watson while he serves his suspension. "We’re pretty comfortable with how we’re operating right now," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said Thursday, "knowing that we'll get Deshaun back after 11 games."

Which games will Deshaun Watson miss?

Week 1 (Sept. 11) at Carolina Panthers

Week 2 (Sept. 18) vs. New York Jets

Week 3 (Sept. 22) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Week 4 (Oct. 2) at Atlanta Falcons

Week 5 (Oct. 9) vs. Los Angeles Chargers

Week 6 (Oct. 16) vs. New England Patriots

Week 7 (Oct. 23) at Baltimore Ravens

Week 8 (Oct. 31) vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Week 10 (Nov. 13) at Miami Dolphins

Week 11 (Nov. 20) at Buffalo Bills

Week 12 (Nov. 27) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

When is Deshaun Watson eligible to return?

Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said Thursday that Watson will not play in the team's final preseason games in order to prepare Brissett for the season. Watson, though, is still eligible to practice with the team until Aug. 30. He will begin serving his suspension after the Browns make their final roster cuts before the start of the season.

Watson will be eligible for reinstatement on Nov. 28, the Monday before the Browns travel to play Watson's former team, the Houston Texans (Dec. 4), in Week 13.

Watson, however, will be eligible to return to the practice field Nov. 14, which is two weeks prior to the date when he can apply for reinstatement.

What has Watson said about the matter?

Just minutes after the news of the settlement came down Thursday, Watson maintained his innocence in a news conference but also apologized "for everyone that was affected by this situation, there was a lot of people that was triggered." The conference ran for about 10 minutes.

"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. "... I've always stood on not disrespecting or not sexually assaulting anyone."

Watson had previously avoided making many public comments about his case and issued his first public apology Friday, hours before the team's preseason opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Has Deshaun Watson been consistent in his statements?

Not exactly. Contrast his comments from the Thursday's news conference against his written statement earlier in the day, released through the Browns, that came just minutes before he stepped to the podium.

"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 the statement. "I apologize once again for any pain this situation has caused. I take accountability for the decisions I made. My focus going forward is on 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."

What about his representatives?

Watson's agent, David Mulugheta, posted a message to his verified Twitter account in which he suggested that the NFL had influenced the investigation led by Robinson. Mulugheta later deleted that tweet.

"To be clear, Judge Robinson repeated the NFL's narrative," Mulugheta said in the deleted post. "She received a brief from the NFL weeks before we had the opportunity to talk to her. In our 1st call with the Judge she referred to 'Deshaun’s pattern of behavior'. Her mind was made up before we ever presented a counter."

In a follow-up tweet, Mulugheta walked back those comments and reiterated the talking points Watson brought up during his news conference Thursday.

What have Browns executives said?

Amid the ongoing civil litigation and disciplinary investigation, Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam have expressed their continued support for Watson.

They held a news conference Thursday minutes after Watson concluded his and were joined by Browns general manager Andrew Berry.

"I think in this country and hopefully in the world, people deserve second chances," Jimmy Haslam said. "I really think that. I struggle a little bit. Is he never supposed to play again? Is he never supposed to be a part of society? Does he get no chance to rehabilitate himself? That's what we’re gonna do, OK.

"You can say that's because he’s a star quarterback. Well, of course. But if he was Joe Smith, he wouldn't be (in) the headlines every day. We think people deserve a second chance."

What about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell?

"Deshaun has committed to doing the hard work on himself that is necessary for his return to the NFL," Goodell said Thursday in a written statement. "This settlement requires compliance with a professional evaluation and treatment plan, a significant fine, and a more substantial suspension. We are grateful to Judge Robinson and Peter Harvey for their efforts in addressing these matters, which laid the foundation for reaching this conclusion."

What is Deshaun Watson accused of?

Watson, 26, was sued by 24 women alleging sexual misconduct in massage sessions in 2020 and early 2021 during the quarterback's time in Houston. The Texans reached confidential settlements with 30 women with claims related to Watson after being accused of enabling his behavior and not stopping it.

Watson was never arrested or charged and has consistently denied wrongdoing. In March, two separate grand juries in Texas declined to indict him for the alleged misconduct.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Deshaun Watson: How suspension will affect Cleveland Browns in 2022