“I continue my career, my life, and I will continue to stand on my innocence,” Watson said in a press conference at the Browns training facility. “Just because settlements and things like that are happening doesn’t mean a person is guilty of anything.”
Watson’s suspension is without pay, costing him $632,500 off his base salary of $1.035 million for this season. He signed a five-year contract worth $230 million guaranteed with the Browns when they completed a trade with the Houston Texans for him in March. The settlement also requires Watson to undergo a professional assessment and treatment plan.
The NFL and the Browns will each add $1 million to Watson’s $5 million fine, and the $7 million will be used to support organizations working to prevent sexual misconduct and sexual assault.
According to a person familiar with the NFL’s perspective, the league backed down from its insistence on a season-long suspension and agreed to the settlement because this resolution was “meaningful, final, immediate and final.” The NFL highlighted the treatment portion of the settlement.
“Deshaun is committed to doing the hard work on himself that is necessary for his return to the NFL,” Goodell said in a statement Thursday. “This settlement requires compliance with a professional assessment and treatment plan, a significant fine and a more substantial suspension.”
Watson issued a public apology in a television interview last Friday before playing the Browns’ first preseason game in Jacksonville, Florida. But at Thursday’s press conference after the settlement was announced, he said he “has always held to not disrespecting or sexually assaulting anyone.”
When asked why he had apologized if he maintained he had done nothing wrong, Watson replied: “For everyone who has been affected by the situation. There were many people who were triggered.
Watson said he “can’t speak to the fairness” of the discipline in the settlement, adding he had an opinion but would keep it to himself. His agent, David Mulugheta, wrote on Twitter that Watson “always stated he was innocent of sexual assault. Nothing changed in what he said. Watson “also said he was remorseful,” Mulugheta wrote.
Deshaun has always said he was innocent of sexual assault. Nothing has changed in what he said. He also said he was remorseful, the decisions he made created this situation. The settlement allows him to move forward in his life and career.
— David Mulugheta (@DavidMulugheta) August 18, 2022
Thursday’s settlement comes nearly two months after Robinson conducted a three-day hearing. She then reviewed a post-hearing brief from each side, and earlier this month she ruled that Watson violated the conduct policy and that the NFL had proven its case on the three points she raised, including that Watson had committed sexual assault (as defined by the league as unwanted sexual contact with another person).
Robinson also ruled that Watson, as the league argued, violated the policy with conduct that posed a real danger to the safety and well-being of another person, and by undermining or endangering the integrity of the NFL. She called Watson’s conduct “predatory” and “blatant.” But Robinson also wrote that Watson’s sexual assault was non-violent. She was bound, she said, on the suspension period by the previous NFL discipline for non-violent sexual assault.
Under a revised personal conduct policy established by the 2020 collective bargaining agreement, the league and union could have appealed Robinson’s decision to Goodell or someone he designated. The NFLPA and Watson announced the day before Robinson’s decision that they would respect his decision, urging the league to do the same. The NFL instead exercised its right of appeal on August 3, and Goodell chose Peter C. Harvey, the former New Jersey attorney general, to hear the case.
Each side submitted a brief, and Harvey was to have made his decision without additional testimony or evidence beyond what was available to Robinson. The league has requested an indefinite suspension of at least a full season, a fine and an appeal, according to a person familiar with the situation.
According to the ABC, a decision on the appeal would have represented the “full, final and complete disposition of the dispute.” But if Harvey had decided to increase Watson’s suspension to a full season, that language might not have stopped Watson and the NFLPA from challenging the appeal decision in federal court, renewing the indoor clashes. hearing between the league and the union regarding player discipline. The union managed to delay but not overturn previous suspensions involving the quarterback Tom Bradythen with the New England Patriots and the Dallas Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott going to court.
“We will support [Watson] in every way possible during the suspension and during what will hopefully be a long career with the Cleveland Browns,” said team owner Jimmy Haslam. at a press conference Thursday.
Haslam said he was “absolutely, 100%” comfortable having Watson on the team and later added, “We think Deshaun Watson deserves a second chance.”
When asked if the Browns would still make the trade for Watson that they did in March, general manager Andrew Berry replied, “Yes, we would. … We think Deshaun has strong positive qualities.
Haslam’s wife, Browns co-owner Dee Haslam, said the team had “tremendous empathy for the women involved.” When pressed on the discrepancy between Watson’s depictions of remorse and his renewed statements that he had done nothing wrong, she said: ‘Counseling takes time. …He’s making progress, but it won’t happen overnight.
More than two dozen women have filed civil lawsuits against Watson over his conduct during massage therapy sessions. Of the 25 lawsuits filed, Watson has entered into settlement agreements with 23 of the women, according to their attorney, Anthony Buzbee. One lawsuit has been withdrawn and one is still pending.
Buzbee also announced colonies of 30 women with the Texans. A woman had filed a lawsuit accusing Watson’s former team of allowing his alleged behavior.
Watson has not been charged with a crime. The Personal Conduct Policy allows a player to be disciplined without criminal charges.
Last season, the Texans placed Watson on their game-day inactive roster on a weekly basis, and he didn’t play a game. He was not suspended and received his full $10.5 million salary.
Watson’s suspension officially begins on August 30. He could return to the Browns facility on October 10 and resume training on November 14. Jacoby Brissett will serve as the starter throughout Watson’s absence. Watson’s suspension leaves him eligible to play for the Browns beginning in a Dec. 4 game in Houston.
“I have to do what’s best for Deshaun Watson, at the end of the day,” Watson said Thursday. “And I know what happened. I was in these situations. But I have to keep moving forward and keep moving forward.