Following an initial six-game suspension from Judge and NFL disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson, the NFL and Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson have negotiated a new discipline settlement.
Per the agreement, Watson will now serve an 11-game suspension, be fined $5 million and undergo a "treatment program," per Ari Meirov of Pro Football Focus.
Deshaun Watson's suspension is the result of the multiple accusations of sexual assault and sexual misconduct by multiple massage therapists and a dozen women that resulted in over 22 civil lawsuits against the quarterback.
Deshaun Watson's Punishment: 11 Regular Season Games
"I'm grateful that the disciplinary process has ended and extremely appreciative of the tremendous support I have received throughout my short time with the Browns organization. I apologize once again for any pain this situation has caused. I take accountability for the decisions I made. My focus going forward is on working to become the best version of myself on and off the field and supporting my teammates however possible while I'm away from the team. I'm excited about what the future holds for me in Cleveland," said Watson following the settlement.
Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski confirmed that Watson would not play in the Browns preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
With the NFL disciplinary process, Judge Robinson is somewhat of an arbiter who reviews the evidence and recommends a suspension. In this case, she chose six games, a ruling that was agreed to by the NFL Players Association.
However, the NFL can counteract her recommendation using a designee of Goodell's choosing, which is what happened here. Former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey was tapped to be that man.
The NFL initially wanted a suspension for an entire season, with some reporting that an indefinite suspension was on the table, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell even said that Watson engaged in "predatory behavior" that violated the league's personal conduct policy.
However, the NFL and the NFLPA were able to reach a new agreement.
Jimmy Haslam, Dee Haslam and Andrew Berry addressed the media following the announcement.
Notably, Watson's first game back will be against the Houston Texans--his former team--in Texas.
One can't help but wonder if this were part of the negotiation due to the television ratings hit the NFL would get. However, that's not confirmed to be a bargaining chip.
Following the suspension, Watson's agent, David Mulugheta, tweeted the following statement, "To be clear, Judge Robinson repeated the NFL's narrative. She received a brief from the NFL weeks before we had the opportunity to talk to her. In our 1st call with the Judge she referred to "Deshaun's pattern of behavior." Her mind was made up before we ever presented a counter."
Now, without Watson for the first 11 regular season games of his massive five-year deal, what does the team's outlook look like with, presumably, Jacoby Brissett under center?
The Browns Starting QB Until Week 13
With Watson now out until Week 13, Brissett's next man up on the depth chart.
However, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is on the trade market. According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the team would consider trading for him if Watson was suspended longer than six games.
On the other hand, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported four days before Cabot's report of there being "no clear trade partner" for the artist, also known as "Jimmy G."
A trade to the Browns would involve them needing to take on over $20 million in salary. Still, the Browns have more than enough cap space, with over $49 million per Over The Cap.
With training camp winding down, if Garoppolo were to join the team, it's safe to assume this would happen sooner rather than later.
At this time, though, Brissett is the guy set to go.
Browns Outlook with Brissett
Drafted in the third round (91st overall) by the New England Patriots in 2016 out of North Carolina State, Brissett has shown to be a competent NFL starting quarterback.
Over his career, Brissett has started 37 games and appeared in a total of 60.
He had two seasons where he was more or less the full-time starter--2017 and 2019 with the Indianapolis Colts.
In those two seasons, Brissett hovered around 3,000 passing yards (15 games played each) and had 13 and 18 passing touchdowns in 2017 and 2019, respectively.
With the Miami Dolphins last season, Brissett started five games for an injured Tua Tagovailoa, went 2-3, and completed 62.7 percent of his passes for five touchdowns.
Here are the Browns' opponents leading up to Week 13:
- Carolina Panthers
- New York Jets
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Atlanta Falcons
- Los Angeles Chargers
- New England Patriots
- Baltimore Ravens
- Cincinnati Bengals
- Miami Dolphins
- Buffalo Bills
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Looking at these opponents, the first four games are all more than winnable for a Brissett-led Browns team that has a plethora of talent around it.
That said, the remaining games are, for the lack of a better phrase, a murderer's row.
On paper, if Brissett were to win five of these 11 games, that would be considered a victory, meaning Watson would step back into a situation where the team would be 5-6.
This would leave Watson to start games against the Houston Texans, Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens, New Orleans Saints, Washington Commanders and Pittsburgh Steelers.
The closer Brissett can keep the team at .500, the better, of course, but we can't rule out a trade for Garoppolo just yet.
The Browns are a team ready to win now, and it'll be interesting to see how they respond to this news: Start Brissett or trade for Garoppolo.