CLEVELAND (AP) — Deshaun Watson was back among his teammates, doing things he may once have taken for granted.
Cleveland's franchise quarterback is still almost two months away from playing for the Browns, but took a major step Monday.
Watson returned to the team's training facility for the first time since August, when he began serving his 11-game NFL suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy following sexual misconduct allegations.
He'd been banned since Aug. 30 after agreeing to a settlement with the league over accusations of lewd actions during massage therapy sessions made by two dozen women in Texas when he played for Houston.
The three-time Pro Bowler can now attend team meetings, interact with coaches and participate in Cleveland’s game planning. He’s also free to work out in the weight room, but he’s not eligible to practice until Nov. 14.
“We’ll work through what we’re allowed to do with him for the foreseeable future,” said Browns coach Kevin Stefanski, who spent a few minutes with Watson upon his return. “He’s in the meeting rooms with our guys, which is great for him and for us to have him back with his teammates.”
Following months of legal maneuvering, Watson agreed to the suspension, a $5 million fine and to undergo counseling and treatment as part of his settlement with the league on Aug. 18.
As long as he fulfills the outlined provisions, Watson will be eligible for full reinstatement on Nov. 28 and can play in his first game on Dec. 4 against the Texans, who drafted him in 2017 and then traded him in March to the Browns amid his legal troubles.
Watson stayed in touch with teammates while he was away, but until Monday he wasn't allowed to have any contact with Browns coaches or any other members of the organization.
Stefanski described Watson as being “in a good spot” when asked about the progress he made during his absence.
“I think he worked real hard, was working locally, making sure he was staying on top of it physically,” Stefanski said. “So now he’s just got to catch up a little bit in the meeting room.”
During the first half of his suspension, Watson worked out in Cleveland with personal quarterback coach Quincy Avery.
Watson didn't play last season with the Texans, so by the time he's eligible to return to the field, it will have been 700 days since his last appearance in a regular-season game.
The Browns were aware of Watson's legal issues when they traded three first-round draft picks to the Texans in March and signed him to a fully guaranteed $240 million contract over five years.
Watson settled all but one of 24 civil lawsuits filed against him. Two separate grand juries declined to pursue criminal charges against Watson, who has maintained he didn't force himself on any of the women or harass them.
An independent arbiter appointed by the league and player's union called Watson's behavior “egregious” and “predatory” while giving him a six-game suspension that was appealed by the NFL before the sides settled.
The 27-year-old Watson was in training camp with the Browns, working exclusively as their No. 1 quarterback while the team awaited his fate. He played briefly in Cleveland's exhibition opener in Jacksonville on Aug. 12, completing 1 of 5 passes for 7 yards.
Before that game, he offered his first apology to any women he impacted with his behavior.
During Watson's suspension, Jacoby Brissett has started for the Browns (2-3), who lost 30-28 on Sunday to the Los Angeles Chargers. Brissett has played well, but threw a costly interception late in the fourth quarter for the second week in a row.
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