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CLEVELAND — Deshaun Watson will start Cleveland's exhibition opener at Jacksonville on Friday while waiting to see if the NFL succeeds in keeping him off the field this season.
Watson is potentially facing a year-long suspension from the league for alleged sexual misconduct against two dozen women while he played for the Houston Texans. The Browns' new quarterback hasn't played since the finale of the 2020 season.
Last week, an independent arbitrator suspended Watson for six games, but the league wasn't satisfied with the decision, appealed and is hoping for a much lengthier punishment and fine. That decision is expected soon.
In the meantime, the Browns are planning to see Watson in a game. They're not sure when they might get to again.
For now, Watson's scheduled appearance against the Jaguars will be his first in a game since Jan. 3, 2021, his final one with the Texans.
The three-time Pro Bowler sat out last season after demanding a trade and before he was accused of assault and harassment by the women during massage therapy sessions he scheduled on Instagram.
The Browns traded three first-round picks to the Texans and signed Watson to a five-year, $230 million contract in March despite his legal entanglement.
It's still possible Watson won't play against the Jaguars.
The 26-year-old thought he would only miss six games after league disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson, a retired federal judge ruled the quarterback violated the league's personal conduct policy. She also mandated that he schedule future massages to only team-approved therapists for the rest of his career.
However, the league, which has been pushing for an indefinite suspension and fine, felt Robinson's penalty was too light and appealed.
Watson's short-term future is now being decided by Peter C. Harvey, appointed by Commissioner Roger Goodell to handle the appeal. Harvey's a former New Jersey Attorney General who has arbitrated other league cases.
At the owner's meetings on Tuesday, Goodell said the appeal was warranted based on the league's investigation and Robinson's ruling that Watson's actions were "egregious" and "predatory behavior."
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski revealed his playing plans for the preseason opener to Watson and Cleveland's other players before they flew to Florida on Wednesday.
The Browns are traveling two days early because Stefanski has team bonding activities planned for the trip.