Deshaun Watson, the superstar quarterback the Cleveland Browns signed to a record-breaking deal even as a messy sex scandal hung over his head, learned Monday how long he will be suspended in the upcoming season: six games.
Watson, who has been accused of sexual assault and inappropriate conduct by 25 female masseuses between March 2020 and March 2021, is not expected to appeal the decision. Two Texas grand juries declined to indict him on criminal charges and he has settled out of court with all but one of his accusers.
The punishment was handed down by NFL disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson, a former federal judge, for violations of the league’s personal conduct, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. According to Schefter, Watson, who signed a fully guaranteed, five-year, $230 million contract with the Browns earlier this year, will not be fined.
Deshaun Watson will serve a six game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy following accusations of sexual misconduct, disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson ruled Monday, a source told Adam Schefter. https://t.co/1x3cpIOLT0 pic.twitter.com/n1WW6JXIe2
— ESPN (@espn) August 1, 2022
Robinson, whose salary is paid jointly by the league and the NFL Players Association, was expected to suspend Watson for as long as a full season. Either the league or Watson and the NFLPA would have three days to submit an appeal in writing.
Cleveland moved on from former No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield, its starter since 2018, when it signed Watson. Mayfield’s acrimonious exit came when the team managed to trade him to the Carolina Panthers for a late-round draft pick and an agreement to pay a large portion of his salary.
The Browns now have one of the best rosters, built to contend immediately. Until Watson is cleared to play, journeyman Jacoby Brissett is set to be the starter.
Watson, who played college football at Clemson before being a first-round pick of the Houston Texans in 2017, is widely considered an elite quarterback. He helped lead Houston to a pair of winning records from 2017-2020, throwing a career-high 33 touchdowns in his last season on the field. He sat out all of 2021 in a contract dispute with the team, which forced the trade.
To land him, the Browns gave up their first-round draft picks in 2022, 2023, and 2024, as well as their third-round pick in 2023 and fourth-round picks in 2022 and 2024.
Last month, the Texans reached settlements with 30 women who threatened to sue the organization for its alleged role in the allegations against Watson.
Robinson heard arguments from the league, the union, and Watson’s attorney Rusty Hardin during a three-day hearing held in her home state of Delaware in late June.
Under the suspension, Watson will still be able to participate in practice during the preseason. He will also be allowed to return to the Browns to practice after sitting out the first three games, according to the league’s collective bargaining agreement.
Watson has denied any wrongdoing and said he has no regrets for any of his actions during the massage sessions. Watson also said he cooperated with the NFL’s investigation and “answered every question truthfully” that he was asked by the league’s investigators.