NFL officials to meet with Deshaun Watson as next step in personal conduct policy investigation

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson will meet with league officials this week, according to a league source.

HOUSTON — Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, in the latest step in a personal conduct policy investigation surrounding him, will meet with league officials this week, according to a league source.

Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson to meet with NFL officials

Currently, no decision has been made regarding any potential punishment of the three-time Pro Bowl passer. This is the next step in the investigation regarding his 22 unresolved civil lawsuits filed against him alleging sexual assault and sexual misconduct. Watson was not charged with a crime by two Texas grand juries but can still face potential discipline as far as a suspension or fine from the NFL under its policies.

Under NFL rules governing personal conduct investigations, the league has to meet with any player before rendering a decision. Watson has no plans to settle the lawsuits at this time, and no court dates are expected to take place until next year, per sources.

“I understand the seriousness of the allegations,” Watson said at the Browns’ training complex a week after being acquired in a trade from the Houston Texans. “I never assaulted any woman, I never disrespected any woman, and I never harassed any woman in my life. My mom and my aunties didn’t raise me that way. Over the course of my life, that’s not in my DNA. As far as the details of actually the things they’re alleging, I can’t speak on that because there’s an ongoing investigation.

“In the future, once everything is resolved, I will sit down and love to talk about it. I understand that there’s going to be a stain that’s probably going to stick with me for a while. I’ve never done the things these people are alleging. I’m going to continue to fight for my name and clear my name.”

The NFL did not place Watson on the commissioner exempt list

The NFL previously decided not to place Watson on the commissioner exempt list due to the grand juries in Harris County and Brazoria County declining to indict the Georgia native on 10 criminal complaints alleging sexual misconduct.

During the NFL owners’ meetings, commissioner Roger Goodell said there is no specific timetable on when or if Watson’s status will be determined.

Lisa Friel, a former chief prosecutor in the Manhattan sex crimes unit, has been investigating Watson and hasn’t interviewed him yet. His 22 civil lawsuits remain unresolved, and no settlements are being discussed at this time.

“The civil cases were in play over the last year,” Goodell said at the NFL owners’ meetings. “The only thing that’s changed is the criminal element has been at least resolved, and that was an important element in the context of the commissioner exempt list as discussed with the Players Association. So, that was important.

“If the criminal had proceeded, that more than likely would have triggered the commissioner exempt. I think at this point, the civil case in and of itself would not do that. If there’s a violation of the personal conduct policy, that may trigger something, but that more than likely trigger some kind of discipline in some fashion.”

Under NFL collective bargaining agreement rules, a discipline officer jointly appointed by the league and the NFL Players Association decides on a potential suspension. Watson remains eligible to participate in all offseason activities, and coach Kevin Stefanski said that he does expect him to participate in the Browns’ offseason program.

“We’re going to let the facts lead us, find every fact we can,” Goodell said. “At least there is a resolution from the criminal side of it. Our investigation hopefully will have access to more information. We will speak to everyone who can give us a perspective.”

Watson didn’t play in any games last season and was paid his entire $10.54 million salary. Since he had requested a trade, the Texans decided not to have him play and risk potential injury or his value.

The Browns agreed to send three first-round picks, a 2023 third-rounder, a 2022 fourth-rounder, and a 2024 fourth-rounder to the Texans in exchange for Watson and a 2024 sixth-round selection.

Watson received a $1 million base salary and a $45 million signing bonus for salary-cap reasons, protecting the bulk of his compensation from losing large game checks to a suspension. The NFL can impose a fine as a disciplinary measure, too.

Goodell speaks on personal conduct policy

“The personal conduct policy is very serious to us and it does not need a criminal (charge),” Goodell noted. “A decision will be made on whether there should be any discipline and what it is.”

The NFL has precedent for punishing players who are facing civil litigation that weren’t charged with a crime. Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, accused of a sex crime, had a six-game suspension reduced to four games. Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, also investigated by Friel on a domestic violence allegation, was also suspended for six games.

“The personal conduct policy is something that is very important to us, so the personal conduct policy does not need a criminal violation to be a violation of the personal conduct policy,” Goodell said. “So, they recognize that that’s something we’re going to pursue. We’re going to make sure that we get to the bottom of the facts and make sure how it applies to the personal conduct policy. That’s where we are at this point. When we get to that, a decision will be made whether there should be discipline and if so what is it.

“Our people are working on it. Obviously, these are serious charges. We’re looking at this seriously. We now have obviously, at least on the criminal side of it, obviously there are still civil charges that are going on, so our investigators hopefully will have access to more information and that will be helpful obviously at getting to the conclusion of what are the facts and was there a violation of the personal conduct policy, but that determination will be made by a joint discipline officer established by the NFLPA and the NFL. She will make that decision when the facts are all in and we’ll see. There’s no time frame on that.”

Aaron Wilson is the NFL Insider for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL.

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