Deshaun Watson Settlement Allows Him To Play Six Games This Year After Mandatory Counseling And Treatment

It was another uncomfortable press conference for Browns co-owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam and GM Andrew Berry in reasserting their comfort in Deshaun Watson as the face of the franchise. (TheLandOnDemand)

It was another uncomfortable press conference for Browns co-owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam and GM Andrew Berry in reasserting their comfort in Deshaun Watson as the face of the franchise. (TheLandOnDemand)

Deshaun Watson settlement allows him to play six games this year after mandatory counseling and treatment

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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.

Deshaun Watson still doesn’t get it.

“I have always stood on my innocence, and I always said that I never assaulted anyone or disrespected anyone, and I am continuing to stand on that,” the Browns quarterback said after receiving the harshest penalty ever – 11 games suspension and a $5 million fine – for non-violent sexual assault and other violations of the NFL personal conduct policy.

Sue L. Robinson, the independent disciplinary officer who initially ruled on the case after a long NFL investigation, termed his conduct “egregious” and “predatory.” She handed Watson a six-month suspension and cited his lack of remorse for what she considered an unprecedented suspension.

The NFL appealed Robinson’s penalty for a full-year suspension, which was endorsed by Commissioner Roger Goodell.

The discipline announced on Thursday was the result of a settlement agreement reached between the NFL Players Association and the NFL. It headed off a potential longer suspension from NFL appeals officer Peter C. Harvey. That would have triggered nuclear war waged in the federal court system by the union that could have disclosed details of NFL owners violations that were not similarly penalized by the league.

Watson’s first game back will be Dec. 4 in Houston, the city in which his transgressions took place, against the Texans, the team he came to despise and demanded a trade from.

He will be eligible for the Browns’ last six games of the season, including three against AFC North division rivals.

When Watson was introduced as Browns quarterback in March, Watson said he intended to fight to clear his name and he would not settle. But this deal followed financial settlements of 23 civil lawsuits against him brought by massage therapists. One is still active and Watson’s legal team reportedly is working on paying that one off, too.

Despite maintaining his innocence, Watson said he agreed to all the settlements to “push forward with my life and my career. For us to be able to move forward, I have to be able to take steps and put pride to the side.”

The settlement includes mandatory evaluation by behavioral experts and possible treatment. If Watson does not comply with the treatment plan, he could risk reinstatement and further discipline, ESPN reported.

Although Watson has apologized “to all women, to everyone, that was affected by this situation,” his insistence he did nothing wrong is evidence that he is in need of professional counseling and treatment.

“Counseling takes time. You do not just go to a counseling session, wake up and understand the impact it has,” said Browns co-owner Dee Haslam. “I think it is a layering effect, and it takes weeks, months and a long time to get to where you understand so much more about yourself.

"I think Deshaun has made progress from the time he came here to now. He is making progress, but it is not going to happen overnight. He is 26 years old, and he is just getting into counseling. It is going to take some time.

“I do think in counseling Deshaun will grow to learn a lot more about himself.”

The nuts and bolts

The suspension takes effect on Aug. 30. He will then be banished from the Browns’ facility and prohibited from engaging in club activities or having any contact with Browns’ personnel.

He can return to the facility at the midway point of his suspension on Oct. 10. He may not practice, but can attend meetings and other team activities.

Watson can begin practicing with the team on Nov. 14, two weeks before he is reinstated. His first game eligible to play is Dec. 4 in Houston. That would be 700 days since his last regular-season game with Houston on Jan. 3, 2021.

The 11-game suspension will cost Watson $632,500 in game checks, in addition to the $5 million fine. His $45 million signing bonus given by the Browns is untouched.

The Browns and the NFL agreed to contribute $1 million each to a fund, along with Watson’s $5 million fine, to go toward education and prevention of sexual assault and related misconduct.

Co-owner Jimmy Haslam declined to answer if he envisioned Watson’s saga ending in an 11-game suspension when he authorized his football staff to trade three No. 1 draft picks (plus three more picks) to Houston, and then green-lighted a record-smashing $230 million fully guaranteed contract for Watson to change his mind and agree to waive his no-trade clause to play for the Browns.

“I don’t think we had any way of knowing,” Haslam said. “I don’t think anybody knew how many games Deshaun might miss. We did not know definitively until today. I think it is important to remember that Deshaun is 26 years old and is a high-level NFL quarterback, and we are planning on him being our quarterback for a long time.”

Asked if he would do it all again, Haslam replied, “Absolutely.”

Is it really the end?

The next-to-last line of the NFL’s statement on the settlement said what it was all about: “Today's announcement concludes the process and there will be no designee ruling or additional legal steps.”

Watson admitted he agreed to settle to get on with his career and life.

Neither side got what it wanted and Watson’s declaration of innocence will add to the public blow-back of the Browns’ deeds and continue to divide their fan base.

“We are aware that the transaction has elicited a number of strong emotions and it has created tension within the overall fan base,” said GM Andrew Berry. “At the same time, I do not think anyone necessarily wants to be – their life and their career – be defined by the mistakes that they have made. Our view with Deshaun is we see someone who has been committed and will continue to be committed to a very long process of personal growth. That is something we believe that we can support him in.”

Jimmy Haslam said, “We have unbelievable fans. The fan support has been outstanding. Our ticket sales are great. Our corporate support is outstanding. We are not naïve enough to think that there are not some people who disagree with that. It is our hope that over a period of time, we will win them back.”

Haslam got irritated as his choice of Watson as the “face of the franchise" was questioned.

“I think in this country, and hopefully in the world, people deserve second chances,” Haslam said. “I really think that. I struggle a little bit … Is he never supposed to play again? Is he never supposed to be a part of society? Does he get no chance to rehabilitate himself?

“That is what we are going to do. You can say, ‘Well, that is because he is a star quarterback.’ Well, of course, but if he was ‘Joe Smith’, he would not be in the headlines every day. We think people deserve a second chance. We gave [running back] Kareem Hunt a second chance, and that has worked out pretty well.

“We are hoping this will work out, and we have strong belief it will. That does not mean we do not have empathy for people affected and we will continue to do so, but we strongly believe, strongly believe, that people deserve a second chance. We believe Deshaun Watson deserves a second chance.”