Two people with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press that retired judge Sue L. Robinson has informed the NFL and the NFL Players' Association she's ready to issue a ruling on Watson’s disciplinary hearing that concluded a month ago. They spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the discussions are private.
Watson was accused of sexual harassment and assault by 24 massage therapists in Texas and has settled 20 of the civil lawsuits filed against him. Four lawsuits remain pending and the attorney representing the women has said he hopes to take them to trial sometime next spring.
Two separate Texas grand juries declined to indict Watson on criminal complaints stemming from the allegations.
Watson, who played for four seasons with Houston before being traded to Cleveland in March, has been practicing with the Browns while Robinson has spent weeks trying to determine whether the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy and whether to impose discipline.
The NFL argued for an indefinite suspension of at least one year during a three-day hearing in Delaware last month. The league also wants to fine Watson $5 million, according to a person familiar with the discussions. The union pushed for no punishment, though a person familiar with Watson’s defense told the AP in June that a suspension is expected and the goal is to have Watson play this season.
Settlement negotiations didn't progress.
Watson took the majority of first-team reps with Cleveland’s starting offense during the first four days of camp.
On Saturday, the 26-year-old QB practiced in front of Browns fans for the first time since signing a fully guaranteed, five-year $230 million contract with the team in March. He stayed after practice to sign autographs and pose for photos with fans. He even signed and gave away his cleats after losing a game of rock, paper, scissors to a young fan.
Cleveland traded three first-round draft picks to Houston for Watson, a player the team believes can make it a Super Bowl contender.
If Watson is suspended, coach Kevin Stefanski reiterated last week that backup Jacoby Brissett will be the team’s starter. The Browns also recently signed veteran Josh Rosen as more insurance and Josh Dobbs is also on the roster.
Watson has not yet spoken to reporters during camp, presumably waiting until there is a resolution in his case.
“I know there is that uncertainty, but we can only control what we can control,” Stefanski said. “I think that is what he has done a very nice job of. So much of that is football is there is a lot of volume to what we are doing right now when it comes to football So there are a lot of meetings, there is a lot of install and there is a lot of workout, walkthrough and practice. He has really thrown himself into that.”
If Robinson, who was jointly appointed by the league and the players’ union, imposes any punishment, either side can appeal. In that case, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or his designee “will issue a written decision that will constitute full, final and complete disposition of the dispute,” per terms of Article 46 in the collective bargaining agreement.