The Cleveland Browns have returned quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has faced allegations of sexually assaulting women, to their 53-man roster on Monday after an 11-game suspension without pay for violating the National Football League’s personal conduct policy.
Watson, a three-times Pro Bowl selection, is expected to start Sunday’s away game against his former team, the Houston Texans. ‘He’s done a nice job with his time away physically staying sharp, mentally staying sharp so I think he’ll be ready to roll,’ Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters on Monday. An independent disciplinary officer found that Watson violated league policy in August after more than 20 women came forward last year and filed lawsuits accusing him of sexual assault.
Watson denied the allegations and two Texas grand juries declined to indict him. The three-time Pro Bowler agreed to a settlement with the league for violating its personal conduct policy. ‘Our mindset with him is when he’s available and back, we’ll welcome him back and get him ramped up appropriately,’ Berry said on November 2.
He also accepted the 11-game suspension, a $5million fine, and to undergo professional counseling and treatment. Watson returned to practice on November 14 and will now face the franchise which drafted him in 2017 before trading him to the Browns for three first-round draft picks in March.
The 27-year-old initially turned down Cleveland’s offer Carolina and Atlanta also courted him before owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam enticed him with a five-year, $230m contract that’s fully guaranteed.
Earlier this month, general manager Andrew Berry said the Browns anticipate Watson being ready to play in what will be his first regular-season appearance in 700 days. Watson, who returned to the Browns’ facility last month, sat out the 2021 season while his legal issues festered.
Watson has been able to work out and attend meetings with the Browns since October 10. He had been banned since his suspension began on August 30. He played briefly in one exhibition game before the suspension.
On Sunday, the Browns beat the Bucs 23-17 in overtime to go third in the AFC North standings ahead of the Steelers with a 4-7 record. Nick Chubb scored on a 3-yard touchdown run with 19 seconds left on the clock to carry Cleveland to its first win since Halloween.