Browns GM: QB Watson on track to start Dec. 4

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BEREA, Ohio — Cleveland quarterback Deshaun Watson remains on track to start Dec. 4 when his suspension ends, Browns general manager Andrew Berry said Wednesday.

Watson continues to serve an 11-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy by committing sexual assault on massage therapists, as defined by the NFL.

Watson can’t begin practicing until Nov. 14. But he’ll be eligible to play in Week 13, when the Browns travel to face his former team, the Houston Texans.

Since Oct. 10, Watson has been allowed to participate in team meetings, meet individually with coaches and work out at the Browns’ training facility.

“It’s been great to have him back in the building,” Berry said. “He’s been focused on working on himself, he’s stayed in great shape, he’s been a part of the meetings. He’s done everything and more that’s been asked of him. We’ll be excited to have him when he can continue to ramp up football activities and get back on the practice field.”

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 fined $5 million and has had to undergo a mandatory treatment program, as well. Watson also was banned from the team’s facilities from Aug. 30 to Oct. 10.

Over the summer, Watson agreed to settle 23 of the 24 lawsuits against him at that time. A 25th lawsuit was dropped by the plaintiff when the judge ruled her petition had to be amended with her name. 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. He has yet to do an interview since reentering the team’s training facility.

On Oct. 13, another woman filed a civil lawsuit against Watson, claiming he pressured her into oral sex during a massage session in 2020. Two weeks later, Watson’s attorneys filed a series of court exhibits as evidence to undermine the allegation.

“Like we’ve said from the beginning, [with] the legal situation with Deshaun, you understand that’s got to run its course,” Berry said, “and we’ll obviously let Deshaun’s legal team speak for that.”

The Browns are just 3-5 headed into their bye, though are coming off an impressive 32-13 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night.

Despite the losing record, Watson’s replacement Jacoby Brissett has shined, posting the eighth-best QBR (60.7) in the NFL to this point.

Berry said that Brissett “has been everything that we had hoped when we signed him” and that Cleveland’s focus until Watson returns would remain on “getting Jacoby ready to play.”

Watson hasn’t played in a regular-season game since 2020, sitting out all of last year in Houston while waiting for a trade. He did play the first quarter in Cleveland’s preseason opener in Jacksonville, but completed just 1 of 5 passes for seven yards. Berry admitted that while Watson got plenty of snaps with the team during the offseason and in training camp, it may take time to shake off the rust — even as Cleveland hopes to make a push for the playoffs with him behind center.

“Our approach isn’t to, really any quarterback, but certainly with the time Deshaun has had off, expect him to shoulder everything,” Berry said. “That’s not how the team is designed or put together. And I don’t think that would be a fair ask for any quarterback.”

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