BEREA, Ohio — The Cleveland Browns were debating quarterback plans Tuesday for their preseason opener. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, meanwhile, was doubling down on the league’s desire that one of those quarterbacks not play again for a long time.
The only thing known for certain right now specifically about Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson is that he was on the field for Tuesday’s training camp practice. He’s also expected to be on the plane with the rest of his teammates when they depart Wednesday afternoon for Jacksonville, where they will open up the preseason schedule on Friday night.
After that, it’s anyone’s guess. Goodell, speaking with reporters at the NFL Owners’ Meetings in Minneapolis on Tuesday, reiterated his desire that Watson’s original six-game suspension for personal conduct policy violations be extended upon appeal to at least a full season.
“Because we’ve seen the evidence,” Goodell said. “[Disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson] was very clear about the evidence. She reinforced the evidence, that there was multiple violations here and they were egregious, and that it was predatory behavior. Those were always things we felt was really important for us to address and in a way that’s responsible.”
Robinson spent just over a month pondering a decision in Watson’s original disciplinary hearing, which was conducted June 28-30. She released her ruling in an 16-page document on Aug. 1, handing the Browns quarterback a six-game suspension, as well as stating he must utilize the team to arrange all future massages with team-approved masseuses, while also staying out of any other legal trouble.
The NFL, following the collective bargaining agreement ratified in 2020, filed a written appeal last Wednesday. The NFL Players Association then filed its written response to the appeal last Friday.
While the original decision was handled by an independent arbiter jointly chosen by the league and players’ union, the appeal is the purview of Goodell, or an individual designated by him. Goodell chose former New Jersey attorney general and NFL Diversity Council member Peter C. Harvey as his designee last Thursday.
“It’s part of the CBA,” Goodell said of the appeal. “The two parties had that right. Either party could certainly challenge and appeal that and that was something that we felt was our right to do as well as NFLPA so we decided it was the right thing to do.”
Goodell told reporters he had no sense of the timing for a decision from Harvey, who’s decision is limited by the personal conduct policy to consideration of the terms of discipline imposed by Robinson and based upon a review of the existing record without reference to evidence or testimony not previously considered. The NFLPA has, reportedly, sought a hearing in the appeal, although it is something that is typically handled strictly through the filings.
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Watson’s discipline comes from more than two-dozen allegations of sexual misconduct or sexual assault during massage appointments by women hired by him while he was still the quarterback of the Houston Texans. The Browns acquired Watson by trade on March 18.
Nearly five months later, Watson’s new team is scheduled to play its first preseason game. What isn’t known is how much, or even if, he’ll play a snap against the Jaguars.
Coach Kevin Stefanski said prior to Tuesday’s training camp practice he had established a plan for how he was going to use the team’s quarterbacks, specifically Watson and Jacoby Brissett, in Jacksonville. However, he stopped short of announcing publicly what that plan would be.
“I haven’t shared it with the team yet,” Stefanski said. “So I’ll wait on announcing that. We have a framework on how we’re going to handle this preseason. As you know, you always reserve the right to change your mind based on how practice goes and those types of things. We’re pretty confident in the plan we have.”
There was a potential the decision could be announced as early as Wednesday. The Browns will conduct a closed practice early in the afternoon before their departure for the Sunshine State.
Watson and Brissett have each received first-team offensive snaps since July 30, a span of eight training-camp practices. Watson still gets a substantially larger number of those reps, but the fact Brissett is receiving any is a significant change from any previous offseason, minicamp or even training camp workouts.
Stefanski’s cloak-and-dagger approach to his plan for handling the quarterbacks in Jacksonville has mirrored the way he’s handled it since the team opened its offseason program in April.
“I am confident in our plan,” Stefanski said. “Obviously, like I have told you guys, we will adjust based on information. I am comfortable in what Jacoby has done to date with his reps. He has gotten a lot of them. He has gotten some with the ones and some with the twos, and we will stick to our plan absent any new information.”
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