Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson suspended for 6 games

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was suspended for six games Monday for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, according to The Associated Press.

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Watson signed a five-year, $230 million guaranteed contact with the Browns in March amid allegations of sexual misconduct during massage sessions involving more than 20 women.

NBC Sports’ Pro Football Talk also reported the suspension and added no other fine was included in the discipline.

Watson’s lawyer and representatives of the NFL, the Browns and the National Football League Players Association could not immediately be reached for comment Monday morning.

Watson has already missed a considerable amount of time on the field, having not played for the Houston Texans all of last season as his legal challenges unfolded and the team sought to trade him.

Retired federal judge Sue L. Robinson presided over the disciplinary hearing and issued the decision.

Before the suspension came down, the National Football League Players Association and Watson said in a joint statement Sunday that they “will stand by her ruling” and called on “the NFL to do the same.”

Few, if any, American companies are more closely monitored for their handling of domestic violence incidents by employees than the NFL.

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was initially suspended for just two games in 2014 after troubling surveillance video showed him knocking out his future wife and dragging her body off an elevator.

Rice was eventually suspended indefinitely, but the seemingly light initial discipline forced NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to admit: “I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”

Other notable cases of domestic violence suspensions in recent years have included: Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (six games in 2017), Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy (10 games in 2015) and Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith (four games in 2018) .

The lawyer representing the women accusing Watson of misconduct announced confidential settlements in 23 of 24 civil lawsuits.

“Today I announce that all cases against Deshaun Watson, with the exception of four, have settled. We are working through the paperwork related to those settlements. Once we have done so, those particular cases will be dismissed,” attorney Tony Buzbee, who is representing the plaintiffs in the case, said in a statement to NBC News.

“The terms and amounts of the Settlements are confidential. We won’t comment further on the Settlements or those cases.”

In his statement, Buzbee gave credit to plaintiff Ashley Solis, who was the first to come forward and accuse Watson of sexual misconduct. Solis’ case remains one of four unsettled cases.

Buzbee said of the open cases: “Ashley Solis is one of the Heroes of this story. Her case has not been settled and thus her story and that of the other three Brave women will continue. I look forward to trying these cases in due course, consistent with other Docket obligations and the court’s schedule.”

Watson’s accusers allege they improperly Touched them after hiring them as massage therapists and personal trainers.

Two grand juries in Texas declined to bring charges against Watson in March. The district attorneys in both instances did not elaborate on why the grand juries declined to indict.

Watson has denied wrongdoing.

His attorney, Rusty Hardin, said in a June statement: “Deshaun Watson did nothing wrong. And as two grand juries have made clear, Deshaun did nothing illegal.”

“Deshaun has always acknowledged consensual sexual activity with three of the plaintiff massage therapists after massages. And Deshaun has repeatedly sworn under oath that he did not force any of his accusers to have sexual contact.”

Watson, a 26-year-old native of Gainesville, Georgia, and Clemson University alumnus, has been in the NFL since 2017. Watson had his best season in 2020 with the Texans, leading the league with 4,823 yards passing along with 33 touchdowns.

A six-game ban would make Watson eligible to play in the Browns’ seventh game of this upcoming season on Oct. 23 when Cleveland is set to visit the Baltimore Ravens.

The Browns, who traded for the embattled quarterback in March, could be left with journeyman Jacoby Brissett as their starting signal caller in Watson’s absence.

This is a developing story. Please refresh here for updates.

The Associated Press and David K.Li contributed.

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