BEREA, Ohio — If everything goes according to plan (and we know that's been a big "if" this offseason), Deshaun Watson will take the field Friday night for the first time as a Cleveland Brown.
The team announced Wednesday that Watson is expected to start at quarterback in this week's preseason opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The three-time Pro Bowler will be joined in Florida by "most" of the first team, although the coaching staff did not specify exactly who would play.
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For Watson, this would be his first in-game action of any kind since December of 2020, when he was still a member of the Texans. He sat out the entire 2021 season after both requesting a trade out of Houston and multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, the latter of which have continued to cloud his time in Cleveland.
The Browns acquired Watson from the Texans last March in exchange for multiple top draft picks, but just over a week ago he was suspended six games by NFL disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson after she ruled Watson had committed "egregious" violations of the league's personal conduct policy. Watson has denied any wrongdoing and settled all but one of the 24 lawsuits against him, and two grand juries in Texas declined to indict him on criminal charges.
Nevertheless, the NFL has appealed Robinson's decision and is seeking a ban of at least a year for Watson, with Commissioner Roger Goodell calling the 27-year-old's behavior "predatory." Former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey has been appointed by Goodell to hear the appeal, and if Harvey issues an "indefinite" suspension prior to Friday, then Watson will not be able to play in the game and will be immediately barred from the Browns' facilities until he is reinstated by the league (or a possible court injunction is issued).
Head coach Kevin Stefanski has said backup Jacoby Brissett, a former starter with the Indianapolis Colts, will take over as QB1 for the duration of Watson's current suspension. So far, Watson has continued to take most of the first-team reps during training camp, even though the team knows he almost certainly won't be available for the regular-season opener on Sept. 11 in Carolina.