The NFL and its players’ union, the NFLPA, announced that both parties have reached a settlement on the disciplinary matter toward Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson.

In a news release Thursday, the league announced that Watson will be suspended for the first eleven games of the 2022 regular season without pay and will be hit with a $5 million fine for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. 

Watson’s $5 million will go along with the NFL’s and the Browns' contribution of $1 million each establish a $7 million fund that will support the work of “non-profit organizations across the country that educate young people on healthy relationships, promote education and prevention of sexual misconduct and assault, support survivors, and related causes.” 

Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam issued a joint statement expressing their gratitude for the “opportunity to create meaningful change” as a result of the disciplinary decision.

“Now that a decision on discipline has been reached, we understand this is a real opportunity to create meaningful change and we are committed to investing in programs 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 behavior,” the Haslams said in their joint statement. 

The 26-year-old quarterback will also undergo a professional evaluation by behavioral experts and will follow their treatment program, the league said.

Watson, whose suspension will start on August 30, will be eligible for reinstatement on November 28, and his first game as Browns quarterback could be against his former team, the Houston Texans, on December 4th. 

“Deshaun has committed to doing the hard work on himself that is necessary for his return to the NFL,” league commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “This settlement requires compliance with a professional evaluation and treatment plan, a significant fine, and a more substantial suspension. We are grateful to Judge Robinson and Peter Harvey for their efforts in addressing these matters, which laid the foundation for reaching this conclusion.”

The settlement comes after the league appealed league-appointed disciplinary officer former judge Sue L. Robinson’s initial ruling of a six-game suspension for Watson. 

The league appointed former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey to rule on the appeal of Waston’s suspension, with Goodell saying at a league owners’ meeting earlier this month that they wanted a season-long suspension for the quarterback, noting it was warranted following its investigation and Robsinson’s findings into the matter. 

Watson, a former Clemson University standout, and his legal counsel recently reached settlements with 23 of the 24 women who have filed lawsuits against the quarterback. 

In those lawsuits, the female plaintiffs accused the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback of exposing himself, touching them with his penis, or kissing them without their consent during scheduled massage therapy appointments in 2020 and 2021. 

Watson sat out for all of last season due to the ongoing allegations and was traded to Cleveland in March for multiple draft picks, signing a fully guaranteed contract with the team.

Two separate grand juries in Texas declined to indict Watson earlier this year, resulting in him not facing any criminal charges in those cases.

After the suspension was issued, Watson personally denied any wrongdoing to reporters.

“I have always stood on my innocence and always said that I’ve never assaulted anyone or disrespected anyone, and I’m continuing to stand on that. But at the same time, I have to continue to move on with my life and my career, and for us to be able to move forward, I have to be able to take steps and put pride to the side. I’m going to continue to stand on my innocence and keep pushing forward.”

In a statement through his team, Watson expressed his sympathy for the “pain” the situation has caused for many, adding he plans to work on becoming the “best version” of himself on and off the field. 

“I’m grateful that the disciplinary process has ended and extremely appreciative of the tremendous support I have received throughout my short time with the Browns organization. I apologize once again for any pain this situation has caused. I take accountability for the decisions I made,” Watson said in a statement. “My focus going forward is on working to become the best version of myself on and off the field and supporting my teammates however possible while I’m away from the team.”

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