Report: Browns' Watson to meet with NFL officials as probe continues
CLEVELAND (AP) — NFL officials will meet this week with Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson as the league continues to investigate whether he violated its personal conduct policy, a person familiar with the plans told The Associated Press on Monday.
Watson, who is facing 22 civil lawsuits from massage therapists accusing him of sexual misconduct, is scheduled to speak with the league's representatives in Texas, said the person who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Watson is facing potential discipline by the league, which is independently investigating his actions while he was with the Houston Texans. Commissioner Roger Goodell said as recently as April 28 at the NFL draft that there was no timeframe on any possible ruling on Watson.
Reporter Josina Anderson was first to report the planned meeting on Twitter.
“We have no update and will decline comment on that tweet,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email to the AP. “There’s no timetable as the review is active and ongoing.”
Watson's attorney, Rusty Hardin, told the AP he will leave it to the NFL to discuss its schedule of interviews, but he assumes that “Watson will be interviewed at great length soon.”
The meeting with league officials is a significant development for Watson, who signed a fully guaranteed $230 million contract in March with the Browns after initially turning down a trade to Cleveland.
The Browns, who sent three first-round draft picks and six total selections to the Texans for Watson, are eager to find out if they'll be without him for any portion of this season after making such a major investment in the three-time Pro Bowler.
In March, two Texas grand juries declined to indict Watson on criminal complaints from 10 women. He has denied all wrongdoing and said during a news conference with the Browns in April that he “never assaulted or disrespected or harassed any woman in my life.”
Watson has given depositions in several of the civil cases. To this point, he has not missed any of Cleveland's offseason programs.
It's not clear with whom Watson will be meeting this week.
Lisa Friel, a former prosecutor in New York, has been heading the investigation. Once it is completed, former U.S. District Court Judge Sue Robinson, a disciplinary officer jointly appointed by the league and NFL Players Association, will decide if Watson violated the conduct policy and will report to Goodell.
There is some precedent in this type of case. Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended six games by the league in 2010 after a 20-year-old college student accused him of sexually assaulting her. The punishment was later reduced to four games.
As his future with the Browns remains uncertain, Watson is treating some of his new teammates to a weekend in the Bahamas to do some bonding and field work. It's not known which players will be making the trip with Watson.
Last month, cornerback Denzel Ward said Watson and All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett were planning trips for the Browns' offense and defense.
Associated Press writer Juan Lozano in Houston contributed to this report.
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