Deshaun Watson starts the Browns’ season opener

While his regular season debut as a Cleveland Brown won’t come until at least October, Deshaun Watson’s first game with his new team is now just days away.

The Browns announced Wednesday that Watson will start Friday’s preseason opener against the Jaguars in Jacksonville, although it’s unclear how much the struggling quarterback will play in his first appearance since being acquired from the Houston Texans in March.

Watson is facing a suspension of at least six games for violating the NFL’s personal conduct guidelines, but is eligible to play in the preseason. The three-time Pro Bowler had faced 24 civil lawsuits filed by female messaging therapists alleging sexual misconduct between 2020 and 2021 during his time at Texas.

He was not indicted by two grand juries and has vehemently denied any wrongdoing. Watson settled 20 of the lawsuits in June, with three more settlements reported in early August before the verdict in his NFL hearing.

The NFL announced last week that it will appeal Judge Sue L. Robinson’s ruling in hopes of extending the ban. The league sought a minimum one-year suspension as well as a fine of at least $5 million.

“We decided it was the right thing to do,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday at the league’s owners meetings in Bloomington, Minnesota.

“We have seen the evidence. [Judge Robinson] was very clear on the evidence. She reinforced the evidence, that there were several violations here, and they were egregious, and there was predatory behavior. There are things that we always felt were important for us to address in a way that is responsible.”

The Browns signed Watson to a five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed extension after the trade and structured the deal so he would face minor financial penalties in the event of a suspension. He will have a base salary of just $690,000 in 2022.

Watson has not appeared in an NFL game of any kind since the 2020 season finale. The Texans held him out of all of their 2021 games while a criminal investigation into the allegations was conducted.

A grand jury ultimately dropped all criminal charges in March, and Watson’s lawyers have since settled all but one of the civil cases.

Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski did not reveal his quarterback plans for the preseason when he spoke to reporters Tuesday. The Browns held a closed practice Wednesday and were scheduled to fly to Jacksonville later that evening.

“We have a framework for how we’re going to handle this preseason,” Stefanski said Tuesday. “As you know, you always reserve the right to change your mind based on how practice goes and that kind of thing, but we’re pretty confident in the plan we have.”

Veteran Jacoby Brissett, who is 14-23 in 37 career starts, will serve as the Browns’ quarterback during Watson’s suspension. The journeyman started five games for the Miami Dolphins last season and finished the campaign with 1,283 passing yards, five touchdown passes, four interceptions and a 78.1 passer rating.

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