BEREA, Ohio – Deshaun Watson spoke for the first time since returning from his 11-game suspension on Thursday. However, the Browns quarterback kept all of his responses focused on the field and not on the last three months.
“First off, I just want to say I am excited to be back,’ Watson said in his first public comments since Aug. 18. ‘I am excited to be back around my teammates. I also want to thank the Browns organization, the ownership, my teammates in that locker room and all of the coaching staff for all of the support that they had for me, especially my time away. … I also want to thank all of the Cleveland fans and the City of Cleveland for embracing me but also helping me adapt to the community. It has been awesome and it has been great being out, going to dinners and to social places being able to hang out with some of the fans and interact with them.
‘I also just want to thank everyone that has been sending out some positive energy towards my way. I understand you guys have a lot of questions, but with my legal team and my clinical team, there is only football questions that I can really address at this time.’
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The personal conduct policy suspension stemmed from allegations through the legal system by more than two dozen women of sexual assault and sexual misconduct during massage appointments. A total of 26 lawsuits — 23 of which have been settled — were filed against Watson, all of them involving incidents that occurred in 2020 and early 2021 while he was still the quarterback of the Houston Texans. One lawsuit was dropped shortly after being filed in March 2021.
Watson last talked to the media on the same day he and the NFL reached a settlement on his suspension length. Part of that agreement included going through a clinical evaluation, and then to follow any advised treatment.
Watson would not answer the question when he was asked what he learned about himself through the treatment process. He also dodged a question about his message to those who don’t believe he should be the face of a franchise in light of the allegations against him.
So, when exactly does Watson expect to tell his side of the story?
“Like I said, at this time I can’t address any of that stuff,’ he said. ‘Who knows what the future holds, but right now I am so locked in on just being the starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns.”
Watson will finally get a chance to be the Browns’ starting quarterback Sunday. It’ll come against the Texans, who dealt him to the Browns on March 18.
Not only that, it’ll come in Watson’s former town. Only, it’s not necessarily going to be the warm and fuzzy homecoming he may have expected.
Watson’s past will be watching him as he returns to Houston. Attorney Tony Buzbee, who represented 24 of the women who filed lawsuits against him, said earlier this week that at least 10 of the accusers planned to attend Sunday’s game and sit in a luxury suite.
It’s not just the allegations that clouds Houston fans’ opinion of Watson. It’s also the trade demand he made before the 2021 season, which then led him to sit out that season before he was ultimately dealt to the Browns.
“Like I said, I am focusing on just being the starting quarterback and executing the game plan,’ Watson said. ‘That is my main focus. I am not worried about the atmosphere. I have to go in and make sure I execute the game plan.”
Watson was originally handed a six-game suspension on Aug. 1 by disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson. That suspension would’ve made his return to the field the Browns’ Oct. 23 trip to Baltimore.
The NFL appealed that suspension to commissioner Roger Goodell, who appointed former New Jersey attorney general Peter C. Harvey to hear the appeal. Before Harvey issued a ruling, though, the two sides came to a settlement of 11 games.
The fact the settlement made Watson’s return to Houston also his return to the field has been something that many have found odd. He reiterated what he had said at the time of the settlement, which is that he left the process in the hands of his advisers and didn’t have a specific date or opponent in mind for his comeback.
“No, I was just trying whatever I could do to play football in 2022,’ Watson said. ‘Most of the settlement stuff with the NFL was mostly my agency and legal team. I had no control. My main focus was doing everything I needed to do to so I could play this year.”
The Browns went 4-7 during the course of Watson’s suspension while Jacoby Brissett handled the quarterback duties. While the record was well below .500, the offense was among the best in the NFL statistically, ranking in the top 10 in total yards and rushing yards, as well as 11th in points scored.
Brissett was originally signed by the Browns on March 19, one day after they made the Watson trade. The plan was, from that moment, that he would handle the starter duties in an interim basis while Watson was under suspension.
‘The big brother he has been to me and everyone in that locker room, the passion, the grit and the leadership he has shown these past weeks — everyone has been seeing seen it — he is the ultimate guy that everyone wants to follow,’ Watson said of Brissett. ‘He has been awesome for me. Our relationship has been great. The bond has been great. We are going to continue to grow from there and help win some more football games for the Cleveland Browns.’
Now, the offense that Brissett led to those heights is handed over to a player who, when he last played nearly two years ago, was considered among the game’s best quarterbacks. However, it’ll be exactly 700 days since the last time Watson played a regular-season game, meaning there’s been plenty of time for rust to accumulate.
The only game action of any kind Watson has had since Jan. 3, 2021, was in the Browns’ preseason opener at Jacksonville on Aug. 12. He played three series that night, completing 1 of 5 passes for 7 yards.
Watson has been practicing with the Browns since Nov. 16. That’s not the same, though, as playing in games, which is why he knows questions about rust are inevitable.
“We will have to see Sunday honestly,’ Watson said. ‘Like I said, it might take time or it might not take time. I just want to go out there, do what I want to do and make plays as much as I possibly can. Two years is definitely a long time, but at the same time, I have been doing this since I was 6 years old. Just like riding a bike, I am going to go out there, just find the pedals, get my transition going and then let everything come to me, don’t press it and don’t make anything bigger than what it really is.”
Contact Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @ceasterlingABJ