At the same time his teammates started practicing, Deshaun Watson headed in a different direction.
Cleveland’s rookie quarterback began serving his lengthy NFL suspension for sexual misconduct on Tuesday, a punishment that will keep Watson away from the Browns until Oct. 10.
Watson was placed on reserve/suspended from the commissioner’s list shortly before practice began after the Browns finalized their starting 53-man roster on the final day. Wearing a baseball cap, Watson walked out of the team facility shortly after 3:00 PM EDT, got into his car and drove away.
He was asked to leave by 4 p.m. in accordance with the suspension he agreed to in an Aug. 18 settlement with the league.
A three-time Pro Bowler, Watson agreed to sit 11 games, pay a $5 million fine and undergo mandatory treatment and counseling before he could join the Browns. As long as he meets the NFL’s settlement requirements, he will be eligible to play in Week 13 – on the road against the Houston Texans.
The 26-year-old was accused of sexually assaulting and harassing two dozen women during massage therapy sessions when he played for the Texans. He has settled 23 out of 24 civil lawsuits filed by women.
During the suspension, Watson cannot have contact with Browns personnel.
Coach Kevin Stefanski met with Watson before the QB’s departure. While not giving specifics of their conversation, Stefanski said he’s confident Watson will make the product time away.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for him now while he’s away from this building to work on football, work on himself and work on a bunch of different things,” Stefanski said.
Stefanski would not comment on whether Watson will remain in the Cleveland area during the suspension.
“I know he’s going to be here for a few days at least to start,” Stefanski said. “I think he has a very good plan. Obviously, we can’t direct it and we can’t follow it. There’s no contact with him until October 10. I’m sure he has a good plan for do some good work while he’s away from the building.”
Watson has always denied any wrongdoing, and he has maintained his innocence since agreeing to the settlement reached between the NFL Players Association and the NFL following the league’s appeal of his original six-game suspension.
In reviewing his case, Sue L. Robinson, a former federal judge appointed to handle league discipline, found Watson’s behavior “appalling” and “predatory.”
As long as Watson abides by the league’s rules, he can return to the Browns’ practice facility about halfway through his suspension. He can resume training on November 14 and officially return two weeks later.
Under league rules, when Watson returns, he will be allowed to receive treatment from the team’s medical and athletic staff. As part of his deal, any massage must be scheduled by the Browns and only with massage therapists mandated by the club.
Stefanski said Watson plans to work with Quincy Avery, a well-known quarterbacks coach.
Watson played in Cleveland’s first preseason game at Jacksonville, his first live action since Jan. 3, 2021, after sitting out last season with Houston. By the time he plays for the Browns, who signed him to a fully guaranteed $230 million contract in March, Watson will not have played in a regular season game in 700 days.
Jacoby Brissett has moved into Watson’s starting spot and will try to keep the Browns competitive during the suspension. Brissett, who has made 37 career starts, will be backed up by Joshua Dobbs.
Reporting by the Associated Press.
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