By TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer
BEREA, Ohio (AP) — At the same time his teammates began practicing, Deshaun Watson headed off in another direction.
Cleveland’s starting quarterback began serving his lengthy NFL suspension for alleged sexual misconduct on Tuesday, a punishment that will keep Watson away from the Browns until Oct. 10.
Watson was placed on the reserve/suspended by commissioner list shortly before practice started as the Browns finalized their initial 53-man roster on cut-down day. Wearing a baseball cap, Watson emerged from the team’s facility a little after 3 p.m. EDT, got in his car and drove away.
He had been required to leave by 4 p.m. in accordance with the suspension he agreed to in an Aug. 18 settlement with the league.
A three-time Pro Bowler, Watson agreed to sit out 11 games, pay a $5 million fine and undergo mandatory treatment and counseling before he can rejoin the Browns. As long as he meets the requirements of the NFL settlement, he’ll be eligible to play in Week 13 — on the road against the Houston Texans.
The 26-year-old was accused of sexual assault and harassment by two dozen women during massage therapy sessions when he played for the Texans. He has settled 23 of 24 civil lawsuits filed by the women.
During the suspension, Watson can’t have contact with Browns personnel.
Coach Kevin Stefanski met with Watson before the QB’s departure. While not providing specifics of their conversation, Stefanski said he is confident Watson will make the time away productive.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for him right now while he is away from this building to go work on football, work on himself and work on a bunch of different things,” Stefanski said.
Stefanski would not comment on whether Watson will stay in the Cleveland area during the ban.
“I know he’s going to be away here for a couple of days at least to start,” Stefanski said. “I think he has a really good plan. Obviously, we can’t direct it and we can’t follow up with him. It’s really no contact with him until Oct. 10. I’m confident that he has a good plan to do some good work while he’s away from the building.”
Watson has always denied any wrongdoing, and he maintained his innocence shortly after agreeing to the settlement worked out between the NFL and NFL Players Association following the league’s appeal of his original six-game suspension.
In reviewing his case, Sue L. Robinson, a former federal judge appointed to handle league discipline, found Watson’s behavior “egregious” and “predatory.”
As long as Watson abides by the league’s provisions, he can return to the Browns’ training facility roughly halfway through his suspension. He can resume practice Nov. 14 and be officially reinstated two weeks later.
Per league rules, when Watson comes back he’ll be permitted to receive treatment from the team’s medical and athletic staffs. As part of his agreement, any massages must be scheduled by the Browns and only with club-mandated massage therapists.
Stefanski said Watson plans to work with Quincy Avery, a well-known quarterback trainer.
Watson played in Cleveland’s first preseason game at Jacksonville, his first live action since Jan. 3, 2021, after he sat out last season with Houston. By the time he plays for the Browns, who signed him to a fully guaranteed $230 million contract in March, Watson will have not played in a regular-season game in 700 days.
Jacoby Brissett has moved into Watson’s starting spot and will try to keep the Browns competitive during the suspension. Brissett, who has made 37 career starts, will be backed up by Joshua Dobbs.
Brissett sensed some relief in Watson that the suspension was starting.
“I’m actually happy he’s able to get away a little bit,” Brissett said. “He’s been a great teammate in being able to show up to work every day in the midst of everything.”
NOTES: QB Josh Rosen was the most notable player not to make Cleveland’s roster. A former first-round pick, Rosen had been signed early in camp. Stefanski said the team will sign a QB to its practice squad. … Rookie S D’Anthony Bell became the first undrafted rookie to make Cleveland’s roster in three years.
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