Watson violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy by committing sexual assault on massage therapists, as defined by the NFL. He is serving an 11-game suspension but can now participate in team meetings, meet individually with the coaches and work out at the team’s facility.
“We’ll work through what we’re allowed to do with him for the foreseeable future,” said Browns coach Kevin Stefanski, who spoke with Watson earlier Monday morning. “He’s in the meeting rooms with our guys. … Which is great for him and for us to have him back with his teammates.”
Watson can’t practice with the team until Nov. 14. He won’t be eligible to play again until Week 13, when the Browns travel to face his former team, the Houston Texans, on Dec. 4.
Since Aug. 30, Watson has been banned from having contact with Browns coaches or entering the practice facility. He’s been working out on his own with his personal quarterback coach, Quincy Avery.
“He’s in a good spot,” Stefanski said. “I think he worked real hard, was in [Cleveland], working locally, making sure he was staying on top of it physically. So now he’s just got to catch up a little bit in the meeting room.”
On Aug. 18, the NFL and NFL Players Association reached a settlement on Watson’s 11-game suspension, after he was accused by more than two dozen women of sexual assault and inappropriate sexual misconduct during massage sessions. Watson was also fined $5 million and has had to undergo a mandatory treatment program.
Over the summer, Watson agreed to settle 23 of the 24 lawsuits against him. Two other women filed criminal complaints against Watson but did not sue him.
Two grand juries in Texas declined to pursue criminal charges against Watson earlier this year. But Sue L. Robinson, an independent arbiter jointly appointed by the league and players’ union, found that “the NFL carried its burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Mr. Watson engaged in sexual assault.” Robinson also concluded in her report that Watson’s behavior was both “egregious” and “predatory.”
Watson has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and said that people haven’t been interested in listening to his side of the story.
“I’ll continue to stand on my innocence, just because, you know, settlements and things like that happen doesn’t mean that a person is guilty for anything,” he said Aug. 18, after the settlement agreement. “I feel like a person has an opportunity to stand on his innocence and prove that, and we proved that from a legal side, and just going to continue to push forward as an individual and as a person.”
The Browns traded for Watson in March, giving the Texans three first-round draft picks. Cleveland also gave Watson a new five-year deal worth $230 million guaranteed, the richest contract in NFL history.
Cleveland (2-3) faces the New England Patriots on Sunday.