BEREA, Ohio — Deshaun Watson didn’t speak Wednesday, as scheduled.
Speaking for him instead, Watson’s teammates praised his talent and admitted there’s a buzz in the Cleveland Browns’ locker room this week heading into Watson’s return to the field after his lengthy suspension.
“We’re all excited,” said Browns running back Nick Chubb. “We’ve waited a long time for him to come back.”
Watson just finished serving an 11-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy by committing sexual assault, as defined by the NFL, on massage therapists. He also had to pay a $5 million fine and undergo a mandatory treatment program.
Watson’s return Sunday against this former team, the Houston Texans, will mark exactly 700 days since he last played in a regular-season game (with the Texans on Jan. 3, 2021).
Watson has been accused by more than two dozen women of sexual assault and other sexual misconduct during massage sessions. Over the summer, he agreed to settle 23 of the 24 civil lawsuits against him. A 25th lawsuit was dropped by the plaintiff when the judge ruled that her petition had to be amended with her name. Two other women filed criminal complaints against Watson but didn’t sue him. On Oct. 13, another woman filed a lawsuit against Watson, claiming he pressured her into oral sex during a massage session in 2020.
Two grand juries in Texas declined to pursue criminal charges against Watson earlier this year. In the past, Watson has denied any wrongdoing and said people haven’t been interested in hearing his side of the story.
He still hasn’t spoken publicly since his suspension was announced in August.
Watson has been sitting in on team meetings and working out at the team training facility since Oct. 10 and has been allowed to practice with the Browns since Nov. 16.
“He’s special — he’s a playmaker,” Chubb said, when asked how Watson has looked recently in practice. “He puts the ball exactly where he needs it go. Guys like that. Guys are excited.”
The Browns traded for Watson in March, sending the Texans three first-round draft picks. Cleveland then signed Watson to a five-year deal worth $230 million guaranteed, the richest contract in NFL history.
Backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett filled in during the 11 games Watson was suspended. The Browns officially added Watson to their 53-man roster on Monday and waived quarterback Josh Dobbs in a corresponding move.
“He’s a great player,” Browns cornerback Denzel Ward said of Watson. “You can’t go wrong with great players.”
Cleveland’s record is 4-7 and the team is coming off Sunday’s overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which kept its slim playoff hopes alive.
“There’s an excitement, for sure,” Browns linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah said of Watson’s return. “We know what he can do with what we’ve seen so far. So looking forward to seeing him [play].”