Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson’s suspension was increased to 11 games for punishment over allegations of sexual misconduct.
Watson was also fined $5 million and must undergo a professional behavioral evaluation and follow a treatment program as part of a deal worked out between the NFL and NFLPA that was announced on Thursday.
While Watson apologized last week and again in a statement released by the Browns after the deal was made public, he continued to proclaim his innocence as he’s done since the first of 24 lawsuits from massage therapists hit a Houston court in March 2021.
“I have always stood on my innocence,” Watson told reporters from the Browns’ practice facility. “I have always said that I didn’t assault anyone or disrespected anyone. I continue to stand on that.
“At the same time, I have to continue to push forward with my life and my career. For us to be be able to move forward, I have to continue to take steps and put pride [off] to the side. … Settlements and things like that happen, but that doesn’t mean a person is guilty [of] anything.”
Watson’s fine will go to a new fund aimed at efforts on sexual assault and misconduct prevention. The NFL and the Browns will contribute $1 million each for the effort.
“Deshaun has committed to doing the hard work on himself that is necessary for his return to the NFL,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “This settlement requires compliance with a professional evaluation and treatment plan, a significant fine, and a more substantial suspension. We are grateful to Judge Robinson and Peter Harvey for their efforts in addressing these matters, which laid the foundation for reaching this conclusion.”
The talks that led to the settlement began after the NFL announced it would appeal Watson’s original six-game suspension handed down by former federal judge and the appointed disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson earlier this month.
Watson received a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million extension when he was acquired via a trade with the Houston Texans in March. That extension, however, doesn’t fully kick in until the 2023 season, when his base salary jumps from $1 million to $46 million.
The prorated base salary this season of roughly $400,000 with his unpaid 11-game ban factored in means that even with the fine, Watson will be out just $5.6 million — or about 2.4% of the total value of contract with the Browns.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam told reporters Thursday that the team would “absolutely” have made the deal despite the fallout.
The deal between the NFL and NFLPA came before former New Jersey Attorney Peter C. Harvey issued his ruling on the appeal. Goodell, who had the authority to hear the appeal himself, selected Harvey to hear the case.
Watson will be eligible return for the Browns’ Week 13 game against the Texans — the team that traded Watson to Cleveland in March — on Dec. 4.