Deshaun Watson vowed to focus on football after deflecting questions on his suspension as he prepares for his first game with the Cleveland Browns.

Watson was handed an 11-game suspension and a $5million fine following sexual assault and misconduct allegations. The 27-year-old has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and is facing no criminal charges.

He has now completed that ban, meaning he is set to play for the first time in 700 days on Sunday.

The quarterback will be taking on the Houston Texans, the team he represented at the time of his last NFL game.

Speaking on Thursday, Watson made clear he was focusing on the game, rather than facing questions relating to his suspension.

"I understand that you guys have a lot of questions. But with my legal team and my clinical team, there's only football questions I can really address at this time," he told reporters.

Asked why he agreed to the suspension, he replied: "I was just trying whatever I could do to play football in 2022.

"Most of the settlement stuff with the NFL was mostly my agency and legal team. I had no control. My main focus was doing everything I needed to do to play this year."

A return to action in Houston could provide a fierce atmosphere for Watson to cope with, but that is not something he is thinking about.

"Like I said, I'm focusing on just being the starting quarterback and executing the game plan," he said. "That's my main focus."

The Browns traded for Watson in March before signing him to a fully guaranteed $230m five-year deal.

DeShaun Watson has shown a lack of remorse and should have been suspended by the NFL for at least a year, according to the president of anti-sexual assault organisation RAINN.

Scott Berkowitz spoke to Stats Perform as Watson prepares to make his Cleveland Browns debut.

Watson was handed an 11-game suspension and a $5million fine following sexual assault and misconduct allegations. The 27-year-old has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and is facing no criminal charges.

The ban has meant the star quarterback has yet to debut for the Browns after his March trade from the Houston Texans, which was followed by a lucrative new contract in Cleveland.

The NFL had initially hit Watson with a six-game ban before the punishment was extended. Berkowitz was happy to see that decision taken but says there is still work to be done.

"There's no length of suspension that would make up for the damage that he did to all those women. We initially advocated for a year suspension, which I think would have been appropriate," Berkowitz told Stats Perform.

"But 11's a whole lot better than six. So, it is what it is, and he'll be back on the field. And hopefully, with some different behaviour going forward.

"It [Watson's return] was bound to come eventually. But I certainly wished this suspension had been a little longer.

"But I just appreciate that the NFL added to the initial recommendation, at least, and made it longer than it initially looked like it was going to be."

Berkowitz said he can appreciate the need for second chances, but he claims Watson has not truly accepted any wrongdoing.

Watson has settled 23 of the 24 lawsuits against him.

"I understand second chances, I think that is something as a society we need to offer folks. But usually, there's a requirement that there's remorse and that they make things better," Berkowitz said.

"I think in this case, the day the suspension was announced, I recall he first put out a quote that had been written by the team that said the right things and then he immediately followed that up with what he really thought, which is that he doesn't think he did anything wrong.

"I don't know how you talk about forgiveness to someone who doesn't feel any remorse."

Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam said on August 1 that "Deshaun is remorseful that this situation has caused much heartache to many and he will continue the work needed to show who he is on and off the field".

In a remarkable coincidence, Watson – who has a fully guaranteed $230million five-year deal with Cleveland – is set to make his Browns bow against the Texans on Sunday.

During five years in Houston (the last of which in the 2021 season Watson did not make a single appearance), he twice helped the Texans to the playoffs and was a three-time Pro-Bowler.

Berkowitz does not expect Watson to receive an overly enthusiastic reaction from the home crowd.

"I suspect it won't be a hero's greeting, or I hope it won't. You never know when a star comes back to their hometown," Berkowitz said.

"But, you know, I hope that the reaction takes into account the terrible things he's done. It's hard to be enthusiastic for rooting for a guy who's done the things that he was accused of doing."

However, Berkowitz did acknowledge the reception from Browns fans moving forward will likely depend on Watson's performances on the field.

"I'd like it to be taken into account, his actions, but I'm realistic, that's once he gets going if he plays well, that the memory of that, unfortunately, is going to fade pretty quickly," he said.

"Most fans of most teams have learned to put personalities aside and put that behaviour aside, unfortunately, and, once they're playing well, they start cheering for the guy.

"And we're all guilty of that. So, there's always that tension, when your team is putting up people who you need to win but you don't feel comfortable rooting for personally."

Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb is excited by the prospect of Deshaun Watson making his debut for the team in Week 13 after serving his 11-game ban.

Watson was suspended for 11 games in August after the NFL ruled he had violated the league's personal conduct policy amid accusations of sexual assault and misconduct.

The quarterback, who was traded to the Browns in the offseason, practiced with the team for the first time two weeks ago, and is primed to make his bow against his former franchise the Houston Texans on Sunday.

With the 4-7 Browns keeping their slim playoff hopes alive with Sunday's win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chubb hopes the quarterback can help them to a positive end to the season.

"We're all excited," Chubb said. "We've waited a long time for him to come back.

"He's special – he's a playmaker. He puts the ball exactly where he needs it go. Guys like that. The guys are excited."

Cornerback Denzel Ward echoed Chubb's thoughts regarding Watson, adding: "He's a great player. You can't go wrong with great players."

Having sat out the entirety of his final campaign with the Texans, Watson has not played a regular-season game since January 3, 2021, but linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah hopes he can hit the ground running.

"There's an excitement, for sure," he said. "We know what he can do with what we've seen so far. So we're looking forward to seeing him [play]."

Deshaun Watson returned to practice with the Cleveland Browns for the first time since copping an 11-game ban, but head coach Kevin Stefanski insists preparing quarterback Jacoby Brissett remains the priority.

Watson was suspended for 11 games in August for violating the league's personal conduct policy by committing sexual assault, per the NFL, on massage therapists.

The quarterback, who was traded to the Browns in the offseason, was last week permitted to return to sit in on team meetings and work out at their training facility, but Wednesday marked the first time since August 30 he practiced with the team.

Brissett has started all nine games this season for the Browns, who are 3-6, although it has been slated that Watson will slot straight back in when available in Week 13 against his former franchise, the Houston Texans.

In the meantime, Stefanski insisted that striking the balance in reps between preparing Brissett for the upcoming games, including Sunday's clash with the Buffalo Bills, was a consideration as they re-integrate Watson.

"Deshaun can come back to practice. That's the next step," Stefanski told reporters. "We'll get him out there in practice but Jacoby is starting.

"He's going to put everything in this game, like he does each week, his preparation is not changing. My preparation with him is not changing. It's just a matter of finding the right amount. That's something we need to work through."

Brissett was confident he would be prepared and ready to face the Bills, even if he splits practice reps with Watson.

"That's not my job to balance it. That's the coach's job to balance how he splits things up," Brissett said. "I just have to go out there and prepare how I always prepare, do my job and then control what I can control.

"We've talked about a lot of things going into practice about how things will be split up. I feel confident that I'll be more than fine going into the game."

Brissett has a 63.8 per cent completion rate for 2,074 yards with eight touchdowns and five interceptions this season.

Lake-effect snowfall is forecast for the western New York region over coming days ahead of the Bills-Browns game at Bills Stadium on Sunday.

Deshaun Watson is set to take over as the Cleveland Browns' starter from Week 13, but the team do not expect the suspended quarterback to "shoulder everything" as they make a late playoff run.

Watson was handed an 11-game suspension and a $5million fine following sexual assault and misconduct allegations.

That means the QB is yet to debut for the Browns after his March trade from the Houston Texans, which was followed by a lucrative new contract in Cleveland.

But the Browns are already putting together plans to integrate Watson into their lineup, with the 27-year-old "back in the building" and "in great shape", according to general manager Andrew Berry.

"He's done everything and more that's been asked of him," Berry added.

While Watson has been sidelined, Jacoby Brissett has deputised as the starting QB for the 3-5 Browns.

"Jacoby has been everything that we hoped when we signed him," Berry said on Wednesday, but he confirmed when asked Watson would be in line to start as soon as he was available.

That would mean a Browns debut against his former team the Texans on December 4, by which point the team will hope they are not cut adrift in the AFC North.

The Browns are third now, already two games behind leaders the Baltimore Ravens, but Berry says they are not looking for Watson to perform a one-man rescue act.

"We spent a lot of time with Deshaun in the spring in camp and banked a lot of good reps during the time," he said.

"Our approach isn't 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 would be a fair ask for any quarterback.

"In a couple of weeks, we'll be in that world where we're getting him ready to play, and we'll handle it appropriately."

Watson last played in 2020, but Berry added: "I don't think that transition will be quite as challenging as maybe some are anticipating."

Suspended Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson had another civil lawsuit filed against him, alleging he pressured a woman into oral sex in a massage session in 2020.

The lawsuit is the 26th known filed against Watson, who is currently serving an 11-game NFL-imposed suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy by committing sexual assault on massage therapists.

Former Houston Texans QB Watson has settled 23 of the lawsuits over the past few months, with one outstanding and one dropped.

The latest lawsuit filed on Thursday evening stated Watson "continually pressured [the plaintiff] into massaging his private area" before he "removed his towel" and "offered to let her 'get on top'." The lawsuit added that the plaintiff refused to have sex with Watson but was pressured into performing oral sex.

The plaintiff has suffered from severe depression and anxiety since the alleged incident, according to the lawsuit.

"My client's experience with Deshaun Watson follows a series of disturbingly similar encounters reported by more than 20 women who have filed suit against the NFL superstar," the woman's lawyer, Anissah Nguyen told ESPN.

"Like so many others, my client spent nearly two years struggling to cope with the shame and trauma from all that he has stolen from her and the daily pain that has become her reality.

"Knowing her story will bring on the hard conversations, criticism and even victim-blaming, the strength and bravery of these other women gave my client the courage to stand up and speak out.

"She seeks justice not only for herself and her own healing, but for the more than 20 women who refused to be shamed into silence, and the victims who have yet to come forward."

The lawsuit comes in the same week that Watson was permitted to re-enter the Browns training facility, having been banned since August 30.

Deshaun Watson apologised for "any pain this situation has caused" before the Cleveland Browns quarterback insisted that was not an admission of guilt on any level over the accusations of sexual misconduct made against him.

Watson has received an 11-game suspension and a $5million fine after the NFL and NFL Players Association (NFLPA) reached an agreement over his punishment.

The 26-year-old faced 24 civil lawsuits over sexual assault and misconduct allegations. He was not charged by two grand juries and settled 20 of 24 lawsuits in June, with a further three settlements reported ahead of a hearing verdict early this month.

Watson was given an initial six-game suspension and no further fine after a disciplinary hearing conducted by former US district judge Sue L. Robinson. However, the NFL formally appealed against that ruling in order to seek further punishment, agreeing to the new sanctions with the NFLPA.

Watson's first game back is scheduled to be on December 4, against his former team the Houston Texans.

Having denied any wrongdoing after the accusations were made, Watson last week apologised to "all of the women that I have impacted".

A similar message came on Thursday in a statement from the Browns, in which Watson said he wished to "apologise once again for any pain this situation has caused".

"I take accountability for the decisions I made," Watson's statement added. "My focus going forward is on working to become the best version of myself on and off the field and supporting my team-mates however possible while I’m away from the team."

Just minutes later, Watson faced the press and said he would continue to "stand by my innocence".

Watson said it was important to swallow the punishment, stating: "My whole life has to be able to move forward."

He spoke of needing "to grow as a person", but refused to offer a view on the level of punishment dished out.

"I can't speak on the fairness," Watson said. "The NFL did what they had to do, and the NFLPA communicated with the legal side. I'm going to keep my opinion to myself."

Watson was not mincing his words when he added: "I'm moving on with my career and my life, and I'm continuing to stand on my innocence. Just because a settlement's been paid, it doesn't mean a person is guilty for anything."

When asked about whether he would tell all at some point, Watson said: "That's definitely the plan, that's definitely the goal. I've felt like through this whole process I've been trying to tell my side of the story, but a lot of people didn't really pay much attention to it."

He said he needed "to do what's best for Deshaun Watson" and said he could not control public opinion.

On top of the ban and fine, Watson will be required to commit to an evaluation with behavioural experts while also following a mandatory treatment programme. He says he wants to prove himself to the Cleveland community.

"Counselling is definitely a big part of that," Watson said. "I'll continue to show my face and show people who I really am."

Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam issued a joint statement in which they spoke of "a real opportunity to create meaningful change", saying they were "committed to investing in programmes in Northeast Ohio that will educate our youth regarding awareness, understanding, and most importantly, prevention of sexual misconduct and the many underlying causes of such behaviour".

Deshaun Watson has received an 11-game suspension and a $5million fine after the NFL and NFLPA reached an agreement over the Cleveland Browns quarterback's punishment.

The 26-year-old faced 24 civil lawsuits over sexual assault and misconduct allegations. He was not charged by two grand juries and settled 20 of 24 lawsuits in June, with a further three settlements reported ahead of a hearing verdict early this month.

Watson was initially given a six-game suspension and no further fine after a disciplinary hearing conducted by former US district judge Sue L. Robinson.

The NFL formally appealed against that ruling in order to seek further punishment, and they have now agreed an extended suspension and fine with the NFLPA.

Watson will additionally be required to commit to an evaluation with behavioural experts while also following a mandatory treatment program.

The ban means that Watson's first game back is scheduled to be on December 4, against his former team the Houston Texans.

Watson denied any wrongdoing after the accusations were made. He then last week apologised to "all of the women that I have impacted."

The Texans traded the three-time Pro Bowler to Cleveland in March, and the Browns promptly signed Watson to a five-year, $230m extension that is entirely guaranteed.

Deshaun Watson "understands there's work to do" following his Cleveland Browns preseason debut, according to head coach Kevin Stefanski.

Watson has not played a competitive game since January 2021 and is set to see that wait extended at least into October.

The Browns quarterback is facing a six-game suspension following a disciplinary hearing, although the NFL has appealed for a longer ban after sexual assault and misconduct allegations.

Watson, who faced 24 civil lawsuits, was not charged by two grand juries and has strenuously denied any wrongdoing, but he apologised "to all of the women that I have impacted" ahead of Friday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

When the game got underway, Watson was clearly rusty, with his first pass in a Browns uniform an awful overthrow.

Although the Browns won 24-13 – having trailed 13-0 – Stefanski acknowledged Watson's debut might not have gone exactly as he planned, but the coach was asked if the uncertainty around his suspension had contributed to the shaky performance and replied: "I don't think so, I don't."

Stefanski said: "I think he probably wants some throws back.

"Obviously playing football for the first time in a while, it was important for him to get out there, with his team-mates, in this scheme, hearing a different voice in the helmet, those kind of things.

"I'm sure he had the butterflies and the jitters early, but I think he understands there's work to do."

While Watson's status has been unclear for some time, Stefanski explained the team had been working towards giving him his bow in preseason.

"It's been something we've been talking about throughout the last months and weeks, trying to figure out what the best path forward was not just for our quarterbacks but for our entire team," he said.

"We just thought getting him some time out there in a game setting made sense in this preseason."

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson has apologized for the first time to the women who accused him of sexual misconduct during massage sessions.

Watson's immediate playing future in the NFL is in limbo after the NFL appealed a six-game ban handed by independent arbiter Sue L. Robinson last week for violating the league's personal conduct policy.

The league was seeking a minimum one-year suspension as well as a fine of at least $5million. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has appointed Peter C. Harvey to hear the appeal.

In the meantime, the Browns announced on Wednesday that Watson would play in Friday's preseason opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Ahead of Friday's game, Watson appeared in an in-house video where he spoke about the situation and apologized for his actions for the first time, having previously said he had "no regrets".

"I want to say that I'm truly sorry to all of the women that I have impacted in this situation," Watson said.

"The decisions that I made in my life that put me in this position, I would definitely like to have back.

"But I want to continue to move forward and grow and learn and show that I am a true person of character and I am going to keep pushing forward."

Watson had been facing 24 civil lawsuits filed by female message therapists alleging sexual misconduct between 2020 and 2021 during his time with the Texans.

The three-time Pro Bowler was not charged by two grand juries and has strenuously denied any wrongdoing. He settled 20 of the lawsuits in June, with a further three settlements reported at the start of August ahead of the verdict of his NFL hearing.

Friday's appearance marked Watson's in an NFL game of any kind since the 2020 season finale, dating back to January 3 2021.

The Houston Texans had held him out of all of their 2021 games while a criminal investigation into the allegations was conducted. He was traded to the Browns in March this year.

"Each and every snap, I want to make sure I cherish that because I'm not sure when the next time I'll be able to get out there with those guys," he said.

Watson added that he would work on personal growth during his probable time out of the game.

"I know I have a lot of work to put in, especially on the field to be able to make sure I'm ready to play whenever that time comes whenever I can step back on the field," he said.

"But also, the biggest thing is I want to continue counseling and I want to make sure that I'm growing as a person, as an individual for my decision-making on and off the field.

"I want to make sure that I'm just evolving in the community as much as possible, and that is for the Cleveland community, that is the NFL community and beyond."

While his regular-season debut as a Cleveland Brown will not come until at least October, Deshaun Watson's first game with his new team is now just days away.

The Browns announced Wednesday that Watson will start Friday's preseason opener against the Jaguars in Jacksonville, though it is unclear how much the embattled quarterback will play in his first appearance since being acquired from the Houston Texans in March.

Watson is facing a suspension of at least six games for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy but is eligible to play in the preseason. The three-time Pro Bowler had been facing 24 civil lawsuits filed by female message therapists alleging sexual misconduct between 2020 and 2021 during his time with the Texans.

He was not charged by two grand juries and has strenuously denied any wrongdoing. Watson settled 20 of the lawsuits in June, with a further three settlements reported at the start of August ahead of the verdict of his NFL hearing.

The NFL announced last week it will appeal arbiter Judge Sue L. Robinson's ruling in hopes of extending the ban. The league was seeking a minimum one-year suspension as well as a fine of at least $5million.

"We decided it was the right thing to do," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday at the league's owners meetings in Bloomington, Minnesota.

"We've seen the evidence. [Judge Robinson] was very clear about the evidence. She reinforced the evidence, that there was multiple violations here and they were egregious, and it was predatory behavior. Those are things that we always felt were important for us to address in a way that's responsible."

The Browns signed Watson to a five-year, $230m fully guaranteed extension following the trade and structured the deal so he would face lesser financial penalties in the event of a suspension. He is due a base salary of only $690,000 in 2022.

Watson has not appeared in an NFL game of any kind since the 2020 season finale. The Texans held him out of all of their 2021 games while a criminal investigation into the allegations was conducted.

A grand jury ultimately dropped all criminal charges in March, and Watson's attorneys have since settled all but one of the civil cases.

Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski did not reveal his quarterback plans for the preseason when speaking to reporters Tuesday. The Browns held a closed practice Wednesday and were set to fly to Jacksonville later in the evening.

"We have a framework for how we are going to handle this preseason," Stefanski said Tuesday. "As you know, you always reserve the right to change your mind based on how practice goes and those types of things, but we are pretty confident in the plan we have."

Veteran Jacoby Brissett, who is 14-23 in 37 career starts, will serve as the Browns' quarterback during Watson's suspension. The journeyman started five games for the Miami Dolphins last season and finished the campaign with 1,283 passing yards, five touchdown passes, four interceptions and a 78.1 passer rating. 

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has explained the league appealed the advised six-game ban for Deshaun Watson because a disciplinary hearing found "egregious" violations and "predatory behaviour".

Watson faced 24 civil lawsuits following sexual assault and misconduct allegations. He was not charged by two grand juries and has strenuously denied any wrongdoing.

The Cleveland Browns quarterback settled 20 of the lawsuits in June, with a further three settlements reported at the start of August ahead of the verdict of his NFL hearing.

Former US district judge Sue L. Robinson oversaw those proceedings and concluded Watson should miss six games with no additional fine.

But the NFL felt, having reviewed that decision, the evidence uncovered by Robinson required a harsher punishment, and it has used its right to appeal.

It is widely reported the league believes Watson should be suspended for the entire 2022 season, and Goodell outlined why this is the case.

"We've seen the evidence," he said. "[Robinson] was very clear about the evidence, should we enforce the evidence – that there were multiple violations here, and they were egregious, and it was predatory behaviour.

"Those are things that we always felt were important for us to address in a way that's responsible."

A quarterback facing a suspension amid an NFL disciplinary case over sexual misconduct allegations and a running back demanding a trade after the team nixed his request for a long-term contract extension is all part of a normal training camp, as far as Cleveland Browns coach Kevin Stefanski is concerned.

After the Browns opened camp with QB Deshaun Watson being suspended for six games – which the NFL is appealing to seek a harsher penalty – running back Kareem Hunt sat out practices over the weekend while wanting a new deal. That request was denied, prompting Hunt to ask to be traded.

There is no shortage of drama at the Browns' camp, but Stefanski believes it is par for the course.

''We are working, there is no distraction,'' Stefanski said on Sunday. ''I understand there are things that happen that certainly get attention, and that's OK... This is normal. This is NFL football, as far as I know.''

Hunt, who is in the final year of a two-year, $13.25million extension, did return to practice on Sunday, while Watson continues to train and is currently available to play in Cleveland's pre-season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Friday.

"I would tell you, respectfully, we really do focus on what we can control,” Stefanski added. “I understand that there are things that happen that certainly get attention, and that is OK.

"This is a great game. I know our fans love this game and follow every step along the way.

"For us, we really are focused on trying to get better. We are not where we need to be, and we have a lot of work to do. That is what we are focusing on."

Limited to just eight games in 2021 due to calf and ankle injuries, Hunt had 1,145 scrimmage yards and 11 total touchdowns for the Browns in 2020, while appearing in all 16 games.

Cleveland made the playoffs that season with Hunt and Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb forming a solid one-two punch.

The NFL's rushing leader in 2017 with Kansas City, Hunt joined the Browns in 2019 but sat out the first eight games that season after being suspended for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy while playing for the Chiefs.

Watson, who was acquired by Cleveland in March, was suspended for the first six games of the upcoming season for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy.

The league, however, is seeking a longer penalty after two dozen women accused him of sexual misconduct during massage treatments while he played for the Houston Texans.

Cleveland Browns guard Wyatt Teller has discussed the uncertainty around quarterback Deshaun Watson, saying he and his team-mates "want to know what is going on and be done with it".

Watson was set to be issued a six-game suspension on Monday following a disciplinary hearing conducted by former US district judge Sue L. Robinson.

The NFL has since formally appealed that suspension in order to seek a harsher penalty for Watson, who had been facing 24 separate civil lawsuits filed by female massage therapists alleging sexual misconduct between 2020 and 2021 during his time with the Houston Texans.

Watson settled 20 of 24 lawsuits in June, with a further three settlements reported on Monday ahead of the hearing verdict.

He has not played since the 2020 season and was traded to the Browns in March, signing a fully guaranteed five-year $230million contract.

While the league appeals the decision, the Browns do not know if Watson will be their starting QB in Week 1, as any ban could be delayed.

Asked about how the developments were distracting from the team's preparations, Pro Bowler Teller told reporters: "It is only a distraction if you turn on the TV and you are listening to it and everything like that.

"It has been pretty quiet in my household at least, but I know that it is the talk of the town and there has to be something to talk about. Obviously, it is big, but we are focused so much on what we are doing.

"Obviously, we want to know what is going on and be done with it. I think that if any team was in that situation, that is what they would want."

As and when Watson does miss games, Jacoby Brissett will be the man to start under center for the Browns.

And Teller is confident the team can still have a productive offense led by the former Miami Dolphins QB, adding: "He is a talented quarterback, and I am excited to see what he has.

"He has been here the whole time. He is studying the playbook. He has been learning." 

The NFL has formally appealed the six-game suspension that was handed down to Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson by an independent arbiter earlier this week.

The league is seeking a harsher penalty for Watson, who had been facing 24 separate civil lawsuits filed by female massage therapists alleging sexual misconduct between 2020 and 2021 during his time with the Houston Texans.

"The NFL notified the NFLPA (NFL Players' Association) that it will appeal Judge [Sue L] Robinson's disciplinary decision and filed its brief this afternoon," the league announced in a statement on Wednesday. "Commissioner Roger Goodell will determine who will hear the appeal."

Judge Robinson, the appointed disciplinary officer for the case, confirmed in Monday's ruling that the NFL sought to have Watson suspended for the entire 2022 season, but stated that a longer ban would be inconsistent with previous punishments levied for players found in violation of the league's personal conduct policy.

"Although I have found Mr Watson to have violated the Policy, I have done so using the NFL's post-hoc definitions of the prohibited conduct at issue," Robinson wrote. "It is inherently unfair to identify conduct as prohibited only after the conduct has been committed, just as it is inherently unjust to change the penalties for such conduct after the fact.

"The NFL is a private organisation and can operate as it deems fit, but the post-hoc determination of what constitutes the prohibited conduct here cannot genuinely satisfy the 'fairness' prong of the standard of review or justify the imposition of the unprecedented sanction requested by the NFL."

Robinson did note in the ruling that she found Watson's behaviour to be egregious and unremorseful, and said that a sterner punishment would be justifiable had it been outlined in the personal conduct policy.

"While it may be entirely appropriate to more severely discipline players for non-violent sexual conduct, I do not believe it is appropriate to do so without notice of the extraordinary change this position portends for the NFL and its players," she wrote.

The Texans held Watson out of all of their 2021 games during a criminal investigation into the allegations, though he was paid his entire $10.54million salary. A grand jury ultimately dropped all criminal charges in March, and Watson's attorneys have since settled all but one of the 24 civil cases.

Houston traded the three-time Pro Bowler to Cleveland in March, and the Browns promptly signed Watson to a five-year, $230m extension that is entirely guaranteed.

According to the Associated Press, the NFL also requested Watson receive a minimum fine of $5m. Robinson did not issue any additional financial penalties beyond the $345,000 in salary Watson will forfeit over the course of the suspension.

The NFLPA announced prior to Robinson's ruling that it would abide by the decision regardless of the result.

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