Watson had 11 games taken away from him and was fined $5 million for sexual misconduct.
The NFL wanted to ban the quarterback for a year, but they came to a deal with him after an arbitrator said he should only miss six games.
Deshaun Watson, the quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, agreed to be suspended for 11 games and pay a record $5 million fine after the NFL appealed what many people thought was a light six-game suspension for being accused of sexual misconduct in massage appointments by more than two dozen women.
The league said on Thursday that Watson will have to be evaluated by experts on behavior and then go through a treatment program. The fine and an extra $1 million from the league and the Browns will be given to groups that work to stop sexual assault.
The agreed-upon penalties are some of the harshest in the league's history. They come at a time when the NFL is under more scrutiny for how it treats women and after the initial suspension handed down by an arbitrator earlier this month was criticized for not being harsh enough to be a deterrent and not covering the full range of accusations against Watson.
In a statement, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, "Deshaun has promised to do the hard work on himself that is needed for him to return to the NFL."
Watson said in a statement released by the team on Thursday that he was "grateful" that the punishment process was over. "I'm sorry again for any trouble this has caused," he said. "I'm responsible for the things I've done."
But when a reporter asked Watson why he took the suspension and fine after saying for a long time that he hadn't done anything wrong, Watson said that he wasn't guilty of what was being said about him.
"I've always stood by my innocence and said I've never hurt or insulted anyone, and I'm still standing by that," he told reporters after the settlement was reached. "But at the same time, I have to keep moving my life and career forward."
The settlement was less than what the NFL wanted, which was an indefinite suspension with the chance to apply for reinstatement after a year. However, it was almost twice as bad as what a third-party disciplinary officer gave him this month.
The league's personal conduct policy was put to the test in a high-profile case involving a star quarterback in his prime who was accused of repeatedly harassing and assaulting women but was never charged with a crime. The decision on Thursday ended that case. Watson came to agreements with 23 of the 24 women who had sued him.
Since the first allegations came out 18 months ago, Watson was traded by the Houston Texans to the Cleveland Browns for a bunch of draft picks, and the Browns gave him a $230 million fully guaranteed contract. This made people wonder if teams were taking the allegations seriously.
The settlement stopped the NFL Players Association from going to federal court to challenge the punishment. This is something the NFLPA has done in the past, with mixed results, when suspensions were thought to be too harsh. It also lets Watson start the required program of evaluation and treatment, the length of which will be decided by experts in behavior. If he doesn't fully take part in either the recommended program or the evaluation, he could get more punishment or have to wait longer to get back to work.
Watson's first suspension, which did not include a fine or a recommendation for counseling, was handed down on August 1 by Sue L. Robinson, a retired federal judge who was chosen by the league and the players' union to make a decision based on the results of the league's investigation and the arguments made by both sides during a three-day disciplinary hearing.
Robinson found that Watson broke the policy on personal conduct more than once by doing things she called "predatory" and "egregious." But she also said that the NFL's rules and past decisions made it hard for her to be stricter with punishments.
The NFL appealed the decision two days after she made it, as the league and the players' union had agreed to do in the 2020 collective bargaining agreement. As it had with Robinson, the NFL wanted to keep Watson off the field for at least a year. After that, he would have to make a case to get back on the field.
Last week, Goodell told reporters at a meeting of NFL team owners in Minneapolis, "We've seen the evidence." "She made it very clear what the proof was. She added to the evidence that there had been a lot of wrongdoing, that it was bad, and that it was predatory. We've always thought it was important to deal with these things in a responsible way."
Goodell chose Peter C. Harvey, a former New Jersey attorney general and an NFL adviser, to hear the league's appeal of the first ban. As Harvey thought about the appeal, the league and the players' union kept trying to reach a deal. Before starting the Browns' first preseason game last Friday in Jacksonville, Florida, Watson told a member of the Browns' preseason broadcast team that he was sorry "to all the women that I have affected in this situation."
"I wish I could take back the choices I made in my life that put me in this situation, but I want to keep moving forward, grow, learn, and show that I am a real person of character," Watson said.
The NFL had used Watson's lack of remorse to argue for stricter punishments. Watson's comments were seen as a first step toward accountability. But after the settlement was made public, Watson denied again that he had done anything wrong and said that he was sorry to the people who had been "triggered" by the accusations against him.
An investigation by the New York Times that came out in June showed that Watson did even more questionable things than was known before, going beyond what the 24 women who sued him said. From fall 2019 to spring 2021, he made massage appointments with at least 66 different women. Some of these women, speaking out in public for the first time, told stories that showed Watson wasn't just looking for professional massage therapy.
When Watson's agent, David Mulugheta, was asked for a comment on Thursday, he said, "We're not going to talk to The New York Times. Have a nice day."
Later, Mulugheta said bad things about Robinson, the third-party disciplinarian, in a tweet that he quickly deleted. Mulugheta said that Robinson "repeated the NFL's story" about Watson's "pattern of behavior" before she talked to Watson and his lawyers, but after she read the league's brief on its investigation.
Watson will still be able to take part in preseason practices and games. His suspension will start on August 30, which is a long time before the Browns' first game of the season on September 11 against the Carolina Panthers.
Watson can go back to the Browns' facility on October 10, which is when his suspension will be half over. He will be able to play again on December 4 against his old team, the Texans, in Houston. He will be able to play again on November 28, the day after the Browns' 11th game.
By then, it will have been 700 days since he last played in a regular season game. He skipped the 2021 season to try to get traded from the Texans.
After Watson's first accuser filed a lawsuit against him in March 2021, Goodell decided not to put him on the commissioner's exempt list, which would have given Watson paid leave while the allegations were looked into.
After a Texas grand jury decided not to charge Watson in March 2022, the Texans decided to trade him. At least four teams were interested in Watson, but the Browns won the bidding war because they were willing to guarantee his entire contract. Most of Watson's pay for this year came from a nearly $45 million signing bonus. This made it less likely that he would lose a lot of money because he missed games while serving a suspension.
Watson will lose $632,500 of his base salary of $1.035 million because he will miss 11 games.
People said that the Browns, Falcons, Panthers, Saints, and other teams that bid for Watson's services didn't care about the things that were said about him. Jimmy Haslam, who is a co-owner of the Browns, has said in public that he backs Watson, but he told reporters last week that he will follow the league's judicial process.
After the settlement was announced Thursday, Haslam said he didn't regret signing Watson and was "absolutely, 100 percent" happy with him being on the Browns.
"Is he supposed to never play again?" Should he never be a part of society?" Haslam said. "I think it's important to remember that Deshaun is 26 years old, OK, and that he's a good NFL quarterback. We want him to be our quarterback for a long time."