CLEVELAND — More than four months after trading for Deshaun Watson, the Cleveland Browns now know how they’ll have to wait for the star quarterback to make his debut. On Monday morning, former U.S. District Judge Sue L. Robinson issued her ruling that Watson will be suspended for six games of the 2022 season for violations of the league’s personal conduct policy.
Watson will not be fined as a part of his punishment. All massages he receives now must come from his team's massage therapists.
Robinson was jointly appointed by the NFL and NFL Players Association (NFLPA) as the independent arbiter in the case, which was heard in Delaware last month. It remains unclear whether the NFL will make an appeal on the case, which would then be heard by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or a designee. On Sunday evening, the NFLPA and Watson issued a statement saying that they would not appeal the ruling and called on the league not to either.
Both sides have three days to make such an appeal.
Robinson ruled that Watson violated the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy and that the league met the burden of proof to demonstrate that the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback engaged in conduct that qualifies as sexual assault, conduct that poses a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another person and conduct that undermines, or puts at risk, the integrity of the NFL. Robinson also said that while she didn't believe that Watson's behavior qualified as "violent," she called his conduct "more egregious than any before reviewed by the NFL."
But based on the precedent set in previous cases, as well as the CBA, Robinson said that she couldn't justify suspending Watson for more than six games. Additionally, she also ruled that he now must only receive massages from team-appointed therapists.
"While it may be entirely appropriate to more severely discipline players for non-violent sexual conduct, I do not believe it is appropriate to do so without notice of the extraordinary change this position portends for the NFL and its players," Robinson wrote.
Robinson's decision comes after several women accused Watson of sexual misconduct, including harassment and assault, during his time with the Houston Texans. In total, 25 women -- primarily massage therapists in the Houston area -- filed lawsuits against the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback, who has since reached settlements on 23 of those 24 civil suits, with a 25th suit having been dropped.
Watson has publicly maintained his innocence in the matter.
While two Texas grand juries declined to indict Watson on criminal charges, the NFL conducted its own investigation into the matter, with Robinson ruling that the Clemson product violated the league’s personal conduct policy. As a result, barring an appeal, he’ll now miss the first six games of the 2022 NFL season and is eligible to return to the field of the Browns’ Week 7 game vs. the Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 23.
Allegations against the 26-year-old signal-caller first became public in early 2021, weeks after he had requested a trade from the Texans. He ultimately sat out the entirety of the 2021 season.
But after the first Texas grand jury declined to indict Watson on criminal charges in March, several teams inquired about acquiring him from Houston via trade. It was the Browns, however, who convinced the 2017 first-round pick to waive his no-trade clause to come to Cleveland, acquiring him for a package including three first-round picks before signing him to a record five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed contract extension.
Without Watson in the lineup, veteran free agent signee Jacoby Brissett is currently expected to start at quarterback for the Browns.