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Deshaun Watson Suspended 11 Games, Fined $5 Million

Deshaun Watson

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was suspended for the first 11 games of the 2022 regular season and fined $5 million after the NFL and the NFLPA reached an agreement on Thursday.

Watson is facing the discipline after violating the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy. The league investigated the claims of 24 massage therapists who accused Watson of sexual assault and presented their findings to Judge Sue L. Robinson. The judge initially recommended a suspension of only six games. However, the NFL chose to appeal that suspension seeking a more severe penalty.

The agreement will take the case out of the hands of former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey. Harvey had been appointed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to oversee the NFL's appeal of Judge Robinson's decision.

The two sides settled on a deal that includes a $7 million fund — consisting of Watson's fine and $1 million each from the Browns and the NFL — to promote the work of non-profit organizations that educate young people on healthy relationships, promote education and prevention of sexual misconduct and assault, support survivors, and other related causes. The deal also stipulates that Watson will be required to undergo a professional evaluation by behavioral experts and will follow their treatment plan. 

Although Watson started the first preseason game, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski announced his QB would not play in either of the team's final two preseason games. Officially, the suspension will begin on the NFL’s cutdown day, Aug. 30. Watson will not be permitted to join team activities until Oct. 10. On Nov. 14, the quarterback will be cleared to practice, and on Dec. 4, Watson will, in all likelihood, take the field.

His first game after the end of his suspension will be a Week 13 matchup with the Texans in Houston, where he was drafted and spent the first four years of his career. Cleveland will follow up with a game in Cincinnati the following week before heading home to play the Ravens and Saints. Then, after a Week 17 matchup in Washington, they’ll close out the season with a divisional game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh.

After announcing an agreement had been reached, Watson released a public statement.

In a subsequent press conference, Watson spoke to reporters.

"I have always stood by my innocence and always said that I never assaulted anyone or disrespected anyone," said Watson. "And I'm continuing to stand on that. But at the same time, I have to continue to move on with my life and my career, and for us to be able to move forward, I have to be able to take steps and put pride to the side. I'm going to continue to stand on my innocence and keep pushing forward. I've always stood on not disrespecting or sexually assaulting anyone."

Big Picture Reactions

Joe Banner, longtime NFL executive and co-founder of the 33rd Team, believes Watson’s suspension was earned.

“He deserved to be suspended for at least a year,” Banner said. “At least this settles the issue and is a significant penalty. I remain appalled that his behavior resulted in an improved situation from both a football and contractual perspective.”

Mike Tannenbaum, former NFL general manager and The 33rd Team’s co-founder, thinks this suspension is going to significantly affect the Browns' chances of making the playoffs. 

“An 11-game suspension for Deshaun Watson is going to make it very difficult for the Browns to win the division this year,” Tannenbaum said. “The increased five-game suspension from his original suspension will be very meaningful in terms of the AFC North race this year.”

Where Do the Browns Go From Here?

The Browns, meanwhile, will turn to backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett to lead their team while Watson is sidelined. Brissett’s former coach in Indianapolis, Chuck Pagano, believes Cleveland will be in capable hands in Watson's absence.

“Jacoby, from a talent standpoint, he's got an NFL arm. ... He's big and strong. He's mobile. He can get out of harm's way. He can make all the NFL throws,” Pagano said. “You know, from an intangible standpoint, he's very, very tough. He's smart. You've seen it. He started 37 games in the National Football League. So he's played a lot of football. He's a top, top competitor.”

Nobody understands the position Brissett is in better than our own Matt Cassel. Cassel took over the Patriots when Tom Brady tore his ACL in 2008, and he led them to a winning season.

"Now, the biggest challenge is blocking out the outside noise surrounding the team, staying together and creating focus on the season amidst all the drama," Cassel said. "In terms of Jacoby, he has been in the league for a long time, he’s been a starter and should approach this as an incredible opportunity to prove himself. His approach shouldn’t change now that the suspension being official."