BEREA, Ohio — Cleveland Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said Friday that the team is waiting to see what happens with the NFL’s appeal of Deshaun Watson‘s six-game suspension before altering its plans at quarterback in practice.
To this point in training camp, Watson has gotten the overwhelming majority of the snaps with the first-team offense; backup Jacoby Brissett has mostly worked with the second team.
“We’ll just kind of await clarity on the situation,” Stefanski said before Friday’s practice. “Just continue to move ahead with what we’re doing.”
Stefanski was speaking for the first time since the NFL announced on Wednesday that it was appealing the ruling of disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson, a former federal judge, as it seeks a tougher penalty under the league’s personal conduct policy.
“The NFL’s appeal addresses whether, based on the findings made by Judge Robinson, the discipline should be modified to include a professional evaluation and treatment as determined by medical experts, an appropriate fine, and a longer suspension,” the league said in a statement.
On Thursday, the NFL announced that commissioner Roger Goodell had appointed former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey to hear the appeal. Harvey works now as 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 evaluates diversity in the league. Harvey has also served as Goodell’s designee in other arbitrations. In 2017, Harvey was one of four members of an expert panel who reviewed the league’s domestic violence investigation into Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who was suspended six games for violating the conduct policy.
There is no timeline for when Harvey will hear the appeal. According to the league’s personal conduct policy, it must be done on an expedited basis. Under the CBA, Harvey’s written decision “will constitute full, final and complete disposition of the dispute and will be binding upon the player(s), Club(s) and the parties to this Agreement.”
Earlier Friday, Cleveland All-Pro right guard Wyatt Teller admitted that the Browns players are ready for a resolution regarding Watson’s availability for the season.
“Yeah, of course. Obviously, we want to know what’s going on and be done with it,” he said. “I think that if any team was in that situation, that’s what they would want.”
Watson has been accused of sexual assault and other inappropriate conduct 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 last season with the Texans, after requesting a trade from Houston earlier in the offseason.
In issuing the six-game suspension, Robinson wrote that “the NFL carried its burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Mr. Watson engaged in sexual assault (as defined by the NFL) against the four therapists identified in the Report.”
However, in imposing the suspension, Robinson pointed out flaws in the league’s guidelines for player misconduct, which limited her authority to penalize him.
While relying on precedent, Robinson sought to differentiate between violent and nonviolent sexual conduct. Robinson concluded that Watson’s conduct “does not fall into the category of violent conduct that would require the minimum six-game suspension” the league had established as “by far the most commonly-imposed discipline for domestic or gendered violence and sexual acts.”
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 that was the richest deal in NFL history for any player.
Stefanski has yet to indicate whether Watson will start or even play in Cleveland’s preseason opener next Friday in Jacksonville.
“We’ve got to get Deshaun ready to play, he hasn’t played football in a year,” Stefanski said. “We’ve got to get Jacoby ready to play, he’s potentially going to be playing early for us and starting and we’re going to be counting on him. … we’re going to be using every opportunity we have out here, individual drill, post-practice, during practice, we gotta get all these guys ready to play.”
Source: ESPN NFL