Deshaun Watson is set to make his debut as the Cleveland Browns starting quarterback on Sunday, and he said that is his sole focus — not the accusations or reasons behind his time away from football.
Dec. 4 marks exactly 100 days since Watson has played in an NFL regular-season game. The 27-year-old did everything he could to deflect reporters’ questions on Thursday about the sexual misconduct allegations against him.
Watson was fined $5 million, suspended for 11 games and had to undergo a mandatory treatment program after an independent arbitrator ruled that he violated the league’s personal conduct policy.
Watson has not addressed the media since mid-August after his settlement with the league was first announced. More than two dozen women have accused the quarterback of sexual harassment and assault during massage therapy sessions.
Watson’s first game of the season will happen on Sunday against his former team, the Houston Texans. The league reinstated the three-time Pro Bowler on Monday.
Watson chose to begin Thursday’s press conference with an opening statement expressing his excitement to be back on the football field, but he also said that “with my legal team and my clinical team, there’s only football questions that I can address at this time.”
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“I’m focusing on football,” he continued. “My main focus is locked in on the game plan and trying to execute and make sure that I’m keeping the standard up for the Cleveland Browns, so we can try to win.”
Watson has settled 23 civil lawsuits. Two additional suits, including one filed in October, are pending.
He signed a five-year, $230 million contract with the Browns in March, but he declined to mention what he learned during his punishment or if the league-mandated counseling helped.
“I respect your question,” Watson said inside Cleveland’s indoor field house. “I understand. But that’s more in that phase of clinical and legal stuff, and I’ve been advised to stay away from that and keep that personal.”
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In addition to facing former teammates and fans, some of the women who sued Watson over the allegations are expected to attend, according to their attorney.
But Watson claimed he isn’t worried the potentially negative reception inside NRG Stadium.
“I’m focusing on just being the starting quarterback and executing the game plan,” he said. “That’s my main focus. I’m not worried about the atmosphere. I have to go in and execute the game plan.”
Watson said he is also deciding to focus on the “great memories” he had with the Texans, who drafted the former Clemson Tigers star in 2017.
“I respect the whole organization of the Houston Texans,” he said. “I respect the McNair family. I respect everyone that was there that drafted me in 2017. I have so much love for the city of Houston and H Town.”
Watson’s suspension started Aug. 30, and he was not allowed to return to the team’s facilities until Oct. 10. He went to return to the practice field on Nov. 16.
Watson has always denied that he harassed any of the accusers. Two grand juries in Texas declined to indict him over the allegations.
He took all the first-team reps on Wednesday, moving ahead of Jacoby Brissett, who started the Browns’ first 11 games this season.
Wide receiver Amari Cooper said Watson’s excitement on the practice field was noticeable.
“It was cool just to see him out there and out practicing,” Cooper said. “You could see it in his face that he was kind of excited to be out there. It was pretty cool.”
The Browns are hoping Watson can provide the team a lift on the field. Cleveland is 4-7 on the season and sits in third place in the AFC North.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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