Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson will be suspended for six games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy following allegations of sexual misconduct, Discipline Officer Sue L. Robinson ruled Monday, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Watson will not be fined, the source said Schefter.
The players’ union made it clear in a statement Sunday night that it would “stand by” Robinson’s verdict and called on the NFL to do the same.
Both sides have three days to lodge a written objection. In that event, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or his designee will “enter a written decision constituting a full, final and complete resolution of the dispute,” pursuant to the provisions of Article 46 of the CBA.
Watson has been accused of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior during massage sessions in civil lawsuits filed by 25 women. The encounters cited in the lawsuits took place between March 2020 and March 2021 while Watson was a member of the Houston Texans. One of the 25 lawsuits was dropped after a judge ruled in April 2021 that plaintiffs would have to amend their filings to disclose their names. In June, Watson settled 20 of the 24 lawsuits he faced; On Monday, he agreed to settle three of the remaining four, according to Houston attorney Tony Buzbee, who represents the women suing Watson.
Last month, the Texans reached settlements with 30 women who have made or were willing to make claims against the organization for their alleged role in the allegations against Watson.
Robinson heard arguments from the league, the union and Watson’s attorney during a three-day hearing in her 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 that the quarterback shouldn’t be suspended at all. The sides discussed a possible settlement until the end of the hearing, but failed to reach an agreement.
In the days leading up to Robinson’s decision, the league and Watson’s side held further settlement talks, sources told ESPN’s Dan Graziano, but neither side ever felt close to an agreement. According to sources, the most Watson’s side were willing to offer was a suspension in the six- to eight-game range. The best the league was willing to offer was a 12-game suspension and a substantial fine — on the order of $8 million, sources said.
If his suspension is upheld, Watson will still be able to attend training in preseason. He is also allowed to return to the Browns to train in the second half of the Week 4 suspension, according to the CBA. But he’s not allowed to be with the team during the first half of the suspension.
Although two Texas grand juries earlier this year declined to seek criminal charges against Watson, the NFL has been investigating for last year whether he violated its personal conduct policy. 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 has no regrets about his actions during the massage sessions. Watson also said he was cooperating with the NFL’s investigation and “truthfully answered every question” put to him by league investigators.
The Browns traded for Watson in March, sending three first-round draft picks to the Texans. Cleveland then handed Watson a new five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed contract, the richest deal in NFL history for a player.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said at the start of training camp last week that Jacoby Brissett would become Cleveland’s starter in the event of Watson’s suspension. During the first week of camp, Watson took most of the first-team offense snaps, but Stefanski hinted the Browns could “adjust” their plan after Robinson’s decision.