Deshaun Watson will play and start against the Texans for the Cleveland Browns in his return to NRG Stadium.
Browns general manager Andrew Berry made the announcement during a press conference Wednesday.
The Dec. 4 game will mark the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback's first game since the final game of the 2020 season for the Texans, the team that drafted him in the first round out of Clemson, and traded him this offseason to the Browns in a blockbuster transaction that sent them three first-round draft picks.
Watson is eligible for reinstatement Nov. 28. Under a settlement of his disciplinary matter with the NFL negotiated in August by the NFL Players Association and his agency, Watson was allowed to return to work out at the Browns' training facility Oct. 10 and attend meetings. He is allowed to resume practicing Nov. 14 in advance of the Texans game. He has been training with Quincy Avery, his longtime private quarterback coach, during the suspension with throwing sessions and drills along with working out with his trainer.
Watson is serving an 11-game suspension for violations of the NFL personal conduct policy after being accused of sexual misconduct by multiple female masseuses and settling 23 civil lawsuits. Two Texas grand juries declined to indict Watson on criminal charges after 10 complaints were filed against him. He is represented by Houston-based attorney Rusty Hardin. Watson has maintained his innocence in interviews and statements.
“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.”
Watson signed an unprecedented $230 million fully guaranteed contract after the trade brokered by Berry, Texans general manager Nick Caserio. The deal was negotiated by Austin-based agent David Mulugheta of Athletes First.
The Browns are off to a 3-5 start at their bye week with Jacoby Brissett quarterbacking them. Watson's return may not be in time to make a playoff push this year.
“Honestly, that’s not something we can necessarily control internally,” Berry said. “That’s not really our mindset. Our mindset with him is when he’s available and back, we’ll welcome him back and get him ramped up appropriately.
“Until that point, it’s really a focus on the guys who are playing and obviously at the quarterback position, getting Jacoby prepared to play and putting our best foot forth against the upcoming opponent.”
Watson led the NFL in passing yards in 2020 for the Texans. After spending the past year dealing with legal and NFL disciplinary matters, he's set to resume his NFL career. The Browns have high expectations for Watson, but understand he hasn't played football in a long time. He practiced with the Browns this offseason and during training camp, appearing rusty in a preseason game.
“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, like I don't think that our approach isn't to, really any quarterback, but you know, 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, you know, 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.”
Hardin is seeking sanctions for a recent civil lawsuit, alleging the filing was in bad faith and intended to embarrass Watson, a Georgia native who was a consensus All-American at Clemson drafted by former Texans general manager Rick Smith.
Berry declined to elaborate on the civil lawsuit.
“Like we've said from the beginning, all the legal situation with Deshaun, we understand that that's got to run its course,” Berry said. “We'll obviously let Deshaun's legal team speak for that.”
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.