CLEVELAND — While he's still more than two weeks away from making his 2022 debut, it doesn't appear that Deshaun Watson will have to wait long to take reps with the Cleveland Browns' first team.
According to Monday Morning Quarterback's Albert Breer, Watson "will get some, albeit minimal, practice reps with the first-team offense this week to acclimate him back to the group and the group back to him" as he is eligible to return to practice as he continues to serve an 11-game suspension for violating the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy.
"It’ll be important, too, for teammates to hear his voice and cadence, in preparation for his return in 20 days," Breer wrote, referencing Cleveland's Week 13 matchup against Watson's former team, the Houston Texans, when the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback is eligible to make his Browns debut.
That Cleveland is already giving first-team reps to Watson doesn't come as much of a surprise considering that Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski has already announced that the Clemson product will start at quarterback as soon as he's eligible to. Speaking to reporters on Monday, the 2020 NFL Coach of the Year said that Watson's return to practice won't interrupt his team's preparation for its final two games with backup Jacoby Brissett at quarterback.
“That is the next step for Deshaun is getting out there and being able to practice. We as coaches can be out there with him now and work with him, which we haven’t been able to do. We will have a plan for him to start getting ready," Stefanski said. "Jacoby is the No. 1 priority in getting him ready to play in this game. Whatever we do with Deshaun won’t take away from Jacoby’s preparation.”
As for what Watson will be playing for when he returns to the Browns' lineup, that remains to be seen. Following Sunday's 39-17 loss to the Miami Dolphins, Cleveland lays claim to a 3-6 record and has lost five of its past six games.
While Breer noted that the Browns could remain in the playoff picture by amassing at least one more win before Watson returns to the lineup, it's worth noting that Cleveland's next two games come against two of the league's best teams in the Buffalo Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Browns also have issues that extend beyond the quarterback position -- most notably a defense that has been one of the league's worst this season.
As for Watson, the 27-year-old signal-caller's Cleveland debut next month will mark his first action in an NFL regular season game in nearly two years. In August, the NFL and NFL Players Association reached an agreement for Watson to serve an 11-game suspension and pay a $5 million fine following multiple accusations of sexual misconduct, including harassment and assault. Watson, who has not been criminally charged as a result of the allegations, has reached financial settlements with 23 accusers, with another two lawsuits still ongoing.