The Browns finally have some clarity on Deshaun Watson’s playing status. Now they are waiting for closing.
It can take hours or days.
More than four months after Cleveland signed him to a five-year, $230 million deal, Watson was suspended six games without pay on Monday by independent referee Sue L. Robinson, who ruled he violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy after he was accused by more than two dozen women in Texas of sexual misconduct.
But while the long-awaited decision came as the Browns braced for the possibility that he could be suspended for the entire 2022 season, nothing is final.
The league, which has been pushing for Watson to be harshly disciplined, plans to appeal Robinson’s decision, which it detailed in a 16-page document. If there is an appeal – the league has until 9 a.m. Thursday to file it – the case will go to commissioner Roger Goodell or someone he designates to shorten, lengthen or maintain the sentence.
For now, Watson’s debut for the Browns will be delayed until Oct. 23 in Baltimore – nearly 22 months since he last appeared in an NFL game.
About 90 minutes after Robinson’s decision was released, Watson ran onto the training ground in his orange No. 4 jersey to cheers. It felt like any other day at work as he joked with his teammates during the stretch period, threw precision passes and waved at fans clamoring for a better view or to get the QB’s autograph by the after.
“I haven’t noticed any difference,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said when asked about Watson’s behavior after the decision.
Watson is allowed to train and play in exhibition games during his suspension. He continued to take most of the shots with Cleveland’s first-team offense on Monday, with backup Jacoby Brissett getting the others.
Brissett, 29, is set to play Cleveland’s first six games, pending a modification to Watson’s suspension. Stefanski said the team will prepare both QBs for the start of the season.
Watson is still on the front line, however.
“More than anything, he’s our starter, and we have to get him ready to play games,” Stefanski said. “Jacoby is our replacement, we have to prepare him to play games. Obviously Week 1 with the suspension, we expect Jacoby to be in there.
“So there’s a point in our training plan where we’re going to switch gears, if you will. But for now, we feel comfortable with the plan we have.
Stefanski was the only member of the Cleveland organization to speak publicly, and it didn’t happen until eight hours after Robinson’s decision.
Owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam released a statement, with a team spokesperson saying they will wait with general manager Andrew Berry until the process is complete before commenting in person.
Stefanski said he hadn’t read Robinson’s decision, but planned to. When he does, he’ll see where she called his behavior “blatant” and “predatory” and noted that the player’s “expressed lack of remorse” factored into his decision.
She also weighed her first offense and her reputation ahead of the allegations.
Stefanski has defended the team’s pursuit of Watson, and he believes the 26-year-old, who has previously said he has no regrets, does indeed feel remorse.
“He told me privately that he wanted to be the best version of himself,” Stefanski said. “I believe in it wholeheartedly. He’s working on it.”
Stefanski is also aware that some Browns fans will never be comfortable with Watson.
“I feel incredible empathy for everyone affected by this decision,” he said. “It’s something I don’t take lightly, I’ve spoken to women in our organization, I’ve spoken to women in the community, and it’s something I will continue to do.
“And our fans, whether you’re male or female, our fans are really important to us, so I want to make sure they understand that and never get fired in any way.”
The Haslams attended the fifth practice of training camp in Cleveland, but did not speak to reporters.
In their statement, the Haslams, who have been widely criticized for trading for Watson despite his huge legal troubles, offered their sympathy to the victims while supporting their star.
“We respect Judge Robinson’s ruling, and at the same time sympathize and understand that many people have been triggered throughout this process,” they said. “We know Deshaun is remorseful that this situation has caused a great deal of grief to many and he will continue the work necessary to show who he is on and off the pitch, and we will continue to support him.”
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