1 of 5 | Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson warms up for a preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Friday at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fla. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo
MIAMI, Aug. 18 (UPI) -- The NFL and NFL Players Association agreed to suspend Deshaun Watson for 11 games and to fine the Cleveland Browns quarterback $5 million for violating the NFL personal conduct policy, the league announced Thursday.
Watson also will undergo a mandatory "professional evaluation by behavioral experts and will follow their treatment program," the league said in a news release.
The disciplinary measure stems from accusations of sexual assault and inappropriate conduct Watson faced from more than two dozen women through civil lawsuits.
He has denied criminal wrongdoing, and two grand juries in Texas declined to indict him earlier this year.
Former federal Judge Sue L. Robinson, whom the NFL and players' association appointed to settle Watson's disciplinary dispute, announced Aug. 1 that Watson would be suspended for six games for violating the league's personal conduct policy.
The NFL appealed Robinson's two days later, seeking a suspension of at least a full season. The players' association did not appeal Robinson's decision.
"Deshaun has committed to doing the hard work on himself that is necessary for his return to the NFL," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. "This settlement requires compliance with a professional evaluation and treatment plan, a significant fine and a more substantial suspension.
"We are grateful to Judge Robinson and Peter Harvey for their efforts in addressing these matters, which laid the foundation for reaching this conclusion."
One of the 25 lawsuits was dropped in April 2021. Watson later settled 23 of the remaining 24 lawsuits.
Those alleged encounters occurred between March 2020 and March 2021, when Watson was the starting quarterback of the Houston Texans.
"I'm grateful that the disciplinary process has ended and extremely appreciative of the tremendous support I have received throughout my short time with the Browns organization," Watson said in a release from the Browns. "I apologize once again for any pain this situation has caused.
"I take accountability for the decisions I made. My focus going forward is on working to become the best version of myself on and off the field and supporting my teammates however possible while I'm away from the team. I'm excited about what the future holds for me in Cleveland."
Watson's suspension will take effect Aug. 30. He will be eligible for reinstatement Nov. 28. The Browns' next game after that will be against the Texans on Dec. 4 in Houston.
Watson's fine will be paired with contributions from the NFL and Browns to create a $7 million fund, which will be used to support non-profit organizations, the NFL said.
"This fund will support the work of non-profit organizations across the country that educate young people on healthy relationships, promote education and prevention of sexual misconduct and assault, support survivors, and related causes," the league said.
Watson started the Browns' preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Friday in Jacksonville, Fla., despite his six-game suspension. He completed just 1 of 5 passes for 7 yards in the 24-13 win.
The three-time Pro Bowl selection did not appear in a game in 2021 amid his legal battles. He completed a career-best 70.2% of his throws for a league-high 4,823 yards, 33 scores and seven interceptions in 16 starts in 2020.
Watson is entering the first year of a five-year, $240 million contract extension he signed in March after he joined the team in a trade from the Texans.
He was listed as a starter on the Browns' first unofficial depth chart. Jacoby Brissett and Joshua Dobbs were listed as respective second- and third-string options. Backup quarterback Josh Rosen also is on the Browns' roster.
The Browns will host the Philadelphia Eagles at 1 p.m. EDT Sunday in Cleveland. They will face the Chicago Bears in their final preseason game Aug. 27 in Cleveland. The Browns will battle the Carolina Panthers in their first regular-season game Sept. 11 in Charlotte, N.C.
Cleveland Browns players participate in training camp in Berea, Ohio, on August 3, 2022. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo