Watson gets 11-game suspension, $5M fine in NFL-union settlement
He will also be required to undergo evaluation and treatment. The fine will be combined with donations from the NFL and Browns to support the prevention of sexual misconduct and assault.
Watson was originally handed a six-game ban under the NFL's personal conduct policy following numerous allegations of sexual assault and sexual misconduct.
However, the league challenged the ruling imposed by disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson, arguing it wanted a year-long suspension. Commissioner Roger Goodell appointed former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey to rule on the appeal.
Instead, the NFL and players' union finalized the settlement prior to Harvey's decision.
The NFL spent over a year probing 24 lawsuits and 10 criminal complaints that accused Watson of lewd and coercive behavior toward women during massages while with the Texans.
Watson settled 23 of the 24 lawsuits filed by the women. Grand juries in Texas declined to indict Watson on criminal charges in March.
The 26-year-old expressed remorse for his actions for the first time prior to Friday's preseason opener, apologizing "to all the women I have impacted." He struggled in his first game since January 2021, completing just one of five pass attempts.
Watson again apologized in a statement posted online Thursday, saying he takes "accountability for the decisions" he's made.
However, when talking to reporters shortly after, the quarterback insisted he's innocent.
"I've always been able to stand on my innocence and always said I never assaulted or disrespected anyone, but at the same point, I have to continue to push forward with my life and career," Watson said, according to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo.
When asked why he's apologizing if he's innocent, Watson responded: "For everybody that was affected by this situation. There were a lot of people that were triggered."
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam reiterated his support for Watson in a press conference, saying he'd "absolutely" make the trade for the quarterback again today.
"Is he never supposed to play again? Is he never supposed to be part of society?" said Haslam, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.
Head coach Kevin Stefanski said Watson, who can continue to practice until Aug. 30, will sit out the remaining two preseason games.
Cleveland acquired Watson from the Texans in March and signed him to a fully guaranteed $230-million contract.