Cleveland Browns strategist Deshaun Watson will serve a six-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy following accusations of sexual misconduct, disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson said Monday, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter .
Watson will not be fined, the source told Schefter.
Robinson’s full 15-page conclusion stated that although Watson violated the personal conduct policy, there was insufficient evidence to warrant an indefinite suspension, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
The players’ union, in a statement late Sunday, made it clear it would “stand by” Robinson’s decision and urged the NFL to do the same.
Each party would have three days to appeal in writing. In such event, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or his designate “will render a written decision which shall constitute a full, final and complete resolution of the dispute”, pursuant to the terms of Section 46 of the CBA.
Watson was charged with sexual assault and improper conduct during massage sessions in civil lawsuits brought by 25 women. The encounters cited in the lawsuits took place between March 2020 and March 2021, when Watson was a member of the Houston Texans. One of the 25 lawsuits was dropped following a judge’s ruling in April 2021 that the plaintiffs should amend their motions to release their names. In June, Watson settled 20 of the 24 lawsuits he faced; On Monday, he agreed to settle three of the other four, according to Houston attorney Tony Buzbee, who represents the women suing Watson.
Last month, the Texans reached settlements with 30 women who made claims or were prepared to make claims against the organization for its alleged role in the allegations against Watson.
Robinson heard arguments from the league, union and Watson’s attorney during a three-day hearing held in his home state of Delaware in late June. The NFL had been pushing for a suspension of at least a year, while the NFL Players Association and Watson’s attorney argued the quarterback shouldn’t be suspended at all. The parties discussed a potential settlement throughout the hearing, but could not agree on a deal.
In the days leading up to Robinson’s decision, the league and Watson’s team engaged in further settlement negotiations, sources told ESPN’s Dan Graziano, but neither side ever felt that she was close to an agreement. The most Watson’s team indicated they were willing to offer was a suspension in the range of six to eight games, sources said. The best the league has indicated it is willing to offer was a 12-game suspension and a significant fine – in the range of $8 million, sources said.
If his suspension is upheld, Watson will still be able to participate in training during the pre-season. He will also be allowed to return to the Browns for training during the second half of the suspension, in Week 4, according to the ABC. But he won’t be allowed to be with the team during the first half of the suspension.
Although two grand juries in Texas declined to prosecute Watson earlier this year, the NFL is investigating whether he has violated its personal conduct policy since last year. The NFL interviewed Watson for several days earlier this summer. League investigators also spoke to several of the women.
Watson has always denied any wrongdoing and said he does not regret any of his actions during the massage sessions. Watson also said he cooperated with the NFL’s investigation and “answered all questions honestly” put to him by league investigators.
The Browns traded for Watson in March, sending three first-round picks to the Texans. Cleveland then gave Watson a new five-year contract worth $230 million fully guaranteed, the richest deal in NFL history for any player.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said at the start of training camp last week that Jacoby Brisset would become Cleveland’s starter if Watson is suspended. In the first week of camp, Watson won the majority of snaps with the first-team offense, but Stefanski indicated the Browns “may adjust” their plan following Robinson’s decision.