Deshaun Watson is officially back.
The Browns quarterback, suspended 11 games by the NFL amid 24 civil allegations of sexual assault and sexual misconduct, has been reinstated and joined Cleveland's 53-man roster on Monday at the conclusion of his ban. He's been practicing with the team since he was eligible on Nov. 16 and will "be ready to roll" against the Houston Texans on Sunday, according to Browns coach Kevin Stefansksi.
“He’s been doing a nice job getting the defense ready with the scout-team reps that he’s got," Stefanski told reporters on Monday, per Cleveland.com. "So I think he’s done a nice job with his time away physically staying sharp, mentally staying sharp. So I think he’ll be ready to roll.”
While Watson didn't face criminal charges, the NFL suspended him in light of the civil lawsuits for violating the league's personal conduct policy. All but one of the lawsuits has been settled. In addition to the suspension, the NFL fined Watson $5 million. His contract with the Browns will pay him a guaranteed $230 million.
Stefanski told reporters that the Browns never considered holding Watson out of Sunday's game, which will take place on the road against his former team that benched him for the entire 2021 season as the allegations surfaced. The Texans traded Watson last offseason to the Browns, who then signed him to the richest guaranteed contract in NFL history.
Protest of Watson's return to football is expected to surround Sunday's game in Houston. Stefanski's plan is for Browns players and coaches to remain as impervious as possible to the outcry while keeping their focus on football.
“Really right now, his focus and my focus is on the Houston game and that’s what we have to do as players, as coaches, is put the blinders on," Stefanski said. "Whatever’s going on the outside really can’t matter to us. We’ve got to focus on doing our job. And I think he definitely understands that.”
Watson, 27, made three Pro Bowls in four active seasons with the Texans before sitting out the 2021 season amid a trade request. The Browns acquired Watson in spite of the allegations with the hope that he could elevate an already-talented roster into Super Bowl contention.
The Browns have started the season 4-7 with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. While disappointing for the Browns, the start hasn't completely eliminated them from the playoff picture. Watson hasn't thrown a live NFL pass since Jan. 3, 2021, a span of nearly two years.
The Browns waived backup quarterback Joshua Dobbs in a corresponding roster move on Monday.