By TOM WITHERS (AP Sports Writer)
BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson will return from his 11-game NFL suspension for sexual misconduct allegations and start in Houston against his former team on Dec. 4, general manager Andrew Berry reiterated Wednesday.
During his bye week news conference, Berry said Watson has “done everything and more” since returning to the team’s facility last month and will play immediately when he’s eligible next month.
Watson played four seasons with the Texans, who traded him to the Browns in March. The 25-year-old was suspended by the league on Aug. 18 after being accused of sexual misconduct by more than two dozen women in massage therapy sessions.
Two grand juries in Texas declined to indict Watson on criminal complaints.
The three-time Pro Bowler agreed to a settlement with the league for violating its personal conduct policy. He accepted the suspension, a $5 million fine and to undergo professional counseling and treatment.
Watson can begin practicing on Nov. 14, and as long as he meets provisions in his deal with the league, he’ll return to face the Texans, who drafted him in 2017 before trading him to the Browns for three first-round draft picks.
Watson initially turned down Cleveland’s offer — Carolina and Atlanta also courted him — before owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam enticed him with a five-year, $230 million contract that’s fully guaranteed.
Berry said the Browns anticipate Watson being ready to play in what will be his first regular-season appearance in 700 days. Watson, who returned to the Browns’ facility last month, sat out the 2021 season while his legal issues festered.
Jacoby Brissett has filled in for Cleveland and played well during Watson’s absence.
The Browns (3-5) prevented falling way back in the AFC playoff chase with an impressive 32-13 win over Cincinnati on Monday night. Brissett will make three more starts — at Miami, at Buffalo and home against Tampa Bay — before turning things over to Watson.
Berry said the Browns are being careful not to put any extra expectations on Watson when he comes back.
“Our mindset with him is when he’s available and back, we’ll welcome him back and get him ramped up appropriately,” Berry said. “Until that point, it’s really a focus on the guys who are playing and obviously at the quarterback position, getting Jacoby (Brissett) prepared to play and putting our best foot forth against the upcoming opponent.”
Watson has been able to work out and attend meetings with the Browns since Oct. 10. He had been banned since his suspension began on Aug. 30. He played briefly in one exhibition game before the suspension.
“It’s been great to have him back in the building,” Berry said. “He’s been focused on working on himself. He’s stayed in great shape. He’s been a part of the meetings. He’s done everything and more that’s been asked of him.
“We’ll be excited to have him when he can continue to ramp up football activities and get back on the practice field.”
Berry didn’t disclose any details about Watson’s workouts, saying only he’s been permitted to be with members of the team’s strength and conditioning staff.
Before the suspension, the Browns integrated Watson into their offense and got him ready for the season by giving him the bulk of snaps in training camp practices, so Berry isn’t worried about the long layoff affecting him.
“We spent a lot of time with Deshaun in the spring in camp and banked a lot of good reps during the time,” Berry said. “And that being said, I don’t think that our approach, really with any quarterback, but certainly with the time that Deshaun has had off, to expect him to shoulder everything.
“That’s not necessarily how the team is designed or put together. I don’t know that that would be a fair ask for any quarterback. In a couple weeks, we’ll be in that world where we’re getting him ready to play and we’ll handle it appropriately.”
Watson reached undisclosed financial settlements in 23 of 24 civil lawsuits filed against him by women in Texas. Another lawsuit was recently filed in Houston, but Berry said it had no bearing on Watson’s status.
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