Browns’ Deshaun Watson receives six-game suspension, but that might not be the final word

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson has received a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy in a ruling issued Monday by a third-party disciplinary officer — but the final decision still belongs to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Sue L. Robinson, a former U.S. district judge, was jointly appointed by the NFL and the NFL Players Assn. to oversee the matter. Her ruling comes more than a month after a three-day hearing in Delaware in which the NFL argued for an indefinite suspension of at least one full season, while the players’ union reportedly proposed no suspension.

According to an individual familiar with the language of the ruling, Robinson notes the six-game suspension without pay is the harshest for any player facing accusations of “non-violent” sexual conduct.

The sides now have three days to file an appeal in writing to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, or to a person he designates, for the final decision. The league’s personal conduct policy allows for a player to be disciplined even when there are no criminal charges.

Although Watson has not been charged and has denied any wrongdoing, he was accused by 25 women of sexual assault and inappropriate conduct during massage sessions in 2020 and 2021, when he was quarterback of the Houston Texans. One of those civil cases was dropped, and Watson reached confidential settlements with 23 of the remaining 24. The NFL has said those settlements would not have any impact on ultimate disciplinary action.

Among the women’s allegations are that Watson exposed himself during massage sessions and forced his penis into their hands.

The NFLPA issued a statement Sunday night saying it would not appeal Robinson’s ruling and urged the NFL to pledge the same.

Arguing it has provided the league with “the most comprehensive set of information for any personal conduct investigation,” the union said: “Every player, owner, business partner and stakeholder deserves to know that our process is legitimate and will not be tarnished based on the whims of the League office. This is why, regardless of [Robinson’s] decision, Deshaun and the NFLPA will stand by her ruling and we call on the NFL to do the same.”

Watson was acquired by the Browns in March after Cleveland sent three first-round picks to the Texans. He got the richest deal in NFL history: a fully guaranteed $230 million over five years.

Under the cloud of the accusations, Watson was benched by the Texans for all of 2021.

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