Cleveland Browns sticking with QB prep plan despite NFL’s appeal of Deshaun Watson’s 6-game suspension

BEREA, Ohio — Cleveland Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said Friday the team is waiting to see what happens with the NFL’s appeal of Deshaun Watson’s six-game suspension before changing its plans at quarterback in practice.

Up to this point in training camp, Watson has scored the overwhelming majority of snaps with first-team offense; Backup Jacoby Brissett has mostly worked with the second team.

“We’re just waiting for clarity about the situation,” said Stefanski before training on Friday. “Just keep doing what we’re doing.”

Stefanski was speaking for the first time since the NFL announced Wednesday it was appealing the ruling by disciplinary commissioner Sue L. Robinson, a former federal judge, as she seeks a harsher sentence under the league’s personal conduct policy.

“The NFL’s appeal addresses whether the discipline should be amended based on Judge Robinson’s findings to include professional evaluation and treatment determined by medical experts, an appropriate fine and a lengthy suspension,” he said the league in a statement.

On Thursday, the NFL announced that Commissioner Roger Goodell had hired former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey to hear the appeal. Harvey is now a partner at the Patterson Belknap firm in New York. He has also served as a federal prosecutor and is a member of the NFL’s Diversity Advisory Committee, which assesses diversity in the league. Harvey has also acted in other arbitrations as Goodell’s attorney-in-fact. In 2017, Harvey was one of four members of an expert panel reviewing the league’s domestic violence investigation into the Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who was suspended for six games for violating the code of conduct.

There is no timeline as to when Harvey will hear the appeal. Per the League’s Personal Conduct Policy, this must be expedited. According to the CBA, Harvey’s written decision “constitutes a complete, final and complete resolution of the dispute and is binding on the player(s), the club(s) and the parties to this Agreement.”

Earlier Friday, Cleveland All-Pro right guard Wyatt Teller admitted the Browns players are ready to agree a settlement regarding Watson’s availability for the season.

“Yes of course. Of course we want to know what’s going on and deal with it,” he said. “I think if a team was in that situation, that’s what they would want.”

Watson has been accused of sexual assault and other inappropriate behavior 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. Watson sat out with the Texans last season after requesting a trade from Houston earlier in the offseason.

In imposing the six-game suspension, Robinson wrote that “the NFL had its burden of proving, by preponderance of evidence, to prove that Mr. Watson engaged in sexual assault (as defined by the NFL) against the four therapists identified in the report was.”

However, in imposing the suspension, Robinson pointed to flaws in the league’s policy on player misconduct that limited their authority to punish him.

Relying on precedent, Robinson attempted to distinguish between violent and non-violent sexual behavior. Robinson concluded that Watson’s behavior “does not fall into the category of violent behavior that would require at least a six-game suspension”, which the league considers “by far the most commonly imposed discipline for domestic or gender-based violence and sexual conduct.” ” had determined.

The Browns traded for Watson in March, sending three first-round draft picks to the Texans. Cleveland then gave Watson a new five-year contract, which was the richest deal in NFL history for any player.

Stefanski has yet to specify whether Watson will start or even play in Cleveland’s preseason opener next Friday in Jacksonville.

“We have to get Deshaun ready to play, he hasn’t played football for a year,” said Stefanski. “We have to get Jacoby ready to play, he will possibly play and start for us early and we will count on him. …we’re going to take every opportunity we have out here, individual practice, after practice, during practice, we’ve got to get all these guys ready to play. Cleveland Browns sticking with QB prep plan despite NFL’s appeal of Deshaun Watson’s 6-game suspension

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