Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson is expected to start in the team's first preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Friday, the Browns announced just prior to boarding their flight to Jacksonville on Wednesday via ESPN.
The announcement came one day after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell publicly said that the league has "seen the evidence" necessary to pursue a one-year ban for the quarterback, referring to Watson's alleged actions as "egregious" and "predatory behavior."
Goodell spoke publicly on Tuesday following a special league meeting in Minneapolis to officially approve the sale of the Denver Broncos and addressed the NFL's decision to appeal Watson's six-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy previously handed down by appointed disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson.
"We've seen the evidence," Goodell said via NFL.com. "[Disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson] was very clear about the evidence, should we enforce the evidence. That there was multiple violations here, and they were egregious, and it was predatory behavior. Those are things that we always felt were important for us to address in a way that's responsible."
Last week, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport shared a statement from NFL Vice President of Communications Brian McCarthy, which said, "the NFL notified the NFLPA that it will appeal Judge Robinson's disciplinary decision and filed its brief this afternoon. Commissioner Roger Goodell will determine who will hear the appeal."
A source familiar with the appeal told NFL.com's Judy Battista that the league was seeking a full-year suspension for Watson at the time of the initial report.
The NFL Players Union confirmed it planned to "stand by" Robinson's ruling on July 31 -- hours ahead of the public announcement -- and urged the NFL to do the same, rather than either side submitting an appeal in writing, which would have been permitted within three days of the ruling.
On August 1, Rapoport reported that the NFL only presented five of the 20 civil lawsuits to Robinson before a decision was made.
Watson has been accused of sexual assault and inappropriate conduct in civil lawsuits filed by 25 women, all of which is reported to have taken place during massage sessions in the Houston area between March 2020 and March 2021 during his tenure with the Houston Texans.
A judge ruled to drop one of the 25 lawsuits in April after ruling that plaintiffs needed to amend their petitions to disclose their names, ESPN reports.
The Texans reached confidential settlements with the 30 women made claims or prepared to against the team's former quarterback, the plaintiffs' attorney, Tony Buzbee, announced in a statement obtained by NFL.com on July 15.
In June, Buzbee announced that 20 of the then-24 civil lawsuits against Watson were settled in a statement shared on June 21.
"The cases against Deshaun Watson started with one phone call, from one brave and strong woman. That woman was Ashley Solis," Buzbee said. "At the time of that call she was just one of the hundreds of calls seeking legal assistance that our firm gets weekly. Even though she was originally turned away by our screening process, my staff insisted that I personally speak with her. I'm glad she persisted. Once we took a second look, and after having contact with Watson's original lawyer who disrespected Ashley and her profession and who arrogantly minimized the conduct of someone he referred to as an 'asset,' I was convinced that our law firm should try to help her. As a result of Ashley's lone but brave voice, soon many women who had allegedly experienced the same conduct were emboldened to step forward. I am incredibly proud to represent them all"
Watson also reportedly agreed to settle three of the remaining four lawsuits on Monday, according to Buzbee via ESPN.
Watson faced 24 civil lawsuits from women accusing him of inappropriate sexual conduct during massage sessions, however, two Texas grand juries declined to indict him on criminal charges and the quarterback has maintained his innocence throughout the legal process.
In March, Schefter reported Watson chose to play for the Browns and waived his no-trade clause ahead of an agreed deal between the Browns and the Houston Texans.