NEW YORK -- Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was issued a six-game ban Monday by NFL disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson after she investigated sexual misconduct allegations against the player.
The league has three days to appeal for a tougher punishment against Watson, the former Houston Texans star who was traded to Cleveland in March and signed an NFL record five-year guaranteed deal worth $230 million.
The NFL Players Association said on Sunday it would not appeal former US District Court Judge Robinson's verdict on Watson violating the league's personal conduct policy.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, or his designated appointee, would make a final decision of an appeal but the NFL could be looking at a long court fight with the NFL Players Association heading into next month's start of the 2022 campaign if it seeks a longer banishment.
"We appreciate Judge Robinson's diligence and professionalism throughout this process," the NFL said in a statement. "In light of her findings, the league is reviewing Judge Robinson's imposition of a six-game suspension and will make a determination on next steps."
Robinson's findings follow a three-day hearing in late June on five cases presented by the NFL, when she heard arguments from the league, the union and Watson's lawyers in .
She said that in selecting the length of the ban, she considered "the record when compared to the relevant precedent" in prior NFL suspensions and considered "how this disciplinary determination might be used in the future."
Watson has been accused of sexual assault and inappropriate conduct during massage sessions in civil lawsuits filed by 25 women.
The incidents took place between March 2020 and March 2021 while he was with the Texans.
A condition of the suspension by Robinson requires Watson have no massages other than those directed by club personnel and avoid future conduct policy violations.
No criminal charges were brought against Watson, who has maintained his innocence. One of the lawsuits was dropped, Watson settled 20 more and four remain are set to go to trial.
The Texans reached settlements with 30 women who were prepared to make claims against the club for its alleged role in enabling Watson's behavior.
Watson, who led the NFL in 2020 with 4,823 passing yards, missed the entire 2021 season under the "non-injury/personal matter" category of the league's collective bargaining agreement.
The Browns said they conducted an "extensive" investigation into the allegations against Watson before signing the quarterback to a long-term deal, knowing he faced the possibility of a long ban to begin the 2022 season.
Watson, 26, reported to Browns pre-season training camp last week. The three-time Pro Bowl all-star will be replaced at quarterback by Jacoby Brissett during the suspension, Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski said.
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