Browns: Watson to start preseason opener

NFL

BEREA, Ohio — Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson is expected to start Friday’s preseason opener against the Jaguars.

The team made the announcement Wednesday just before boarding a flight to Jacksonville, Florida.

Watson and the Browns are waiting to see whether he will be suspended longer than the six-game suspension he was handed for violating the personal conduct policy by disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson last week.

On Aug. 3, the NFL appealed Robinson’s ruling, as it seeks a tougher punishment for Watson. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has appointed former New Jersey attorney general Peter C. Harvey to hear the appeal.

On Tuesday, Goodell told reporters that the league is seeking a season-long suspension because the quarterback’s actions were “egregious” and “predatory behavior,” as Robinson noted in her 16-page report. While issuing the six-game suspension, Robinson found that Watson had in sexual assault (as the NFL defines it), conduct posing a danger to the safety and well-being of another person, and conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity of the NFL.

Goodell said he didn’t know when Harvey would make a ruling, though the CBA calls for the appeals process to be “expedited.”

Watson has been accused of sexual assault and other inappropriate conduct during massage sessions in civil lawsuits filed by 25 women. The encounters alleged in the lawsuits took place from March 2020 to March 2021, while Watson was a member of the Houston Texans.

One of the 25 lawsuits was dropped after a judge’s ruling in April 2021 that the plaintiffs needed to amend their petitions to disclose their names. In June, Watson settled 20 of the 24 lawsuits he was facing. He agreed Monday to settle three of the remaining four, according to Houston attorney Tony Buzbee, who represents the women suing Watson.

To this point in training camp, Watson has continued to get the overwhelming majority of the first-team snaps in practice over backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Coach Kevin Stefanski has not been specific about when Brissett could get more first-team reps, saying only that the Browns have a plan.

“I am confident in our plan,” Stefanski said. “Obviously, we will adjust based on information. I am comfortable in what Jacoby has done to date with his reps. He has gotten a lot of them. He has gotten some with the ones and some with the twos, and we will stick to our plan absent any new information.”

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