Quarterback Deshaun Watson is going through his second Cleveland Browns training camp, but this is the first time when he will be able to suit up for Week 1.
Watson served an 11-game suspension to start the 2022 season after violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, following accusations by more than two dozen women of sexual assault and misconduct during massage sessions. The NFL and NFLPA had a settlement that included the suspension and a $5 million fine while Watson had to enter a treatment program.
Watson eventually slotted in as the Browns’ starting quarterback once his suspension was over, but this year he is expected to help Cleveland turn the page toward the playoffs once again.
But as you’d expect after what Watson has gone through, this year feels much different for him.
“The whole situation changed me,” Watson said Sunday via ESPN. “In a situation where I just had to lock in on myself, channel and really know who I’m surrounding myself with and just really who’s going to be there and support me even when I’m at my lowest point, and the last few years were definitely my lowest point in my life.
“But that’s part of life. I just grow from it, I learn from it. I continue to move forward and push forward and continue to show my real character, my real personality and who I am.”
Watson didn’t elaborate on how the situation changed for him, but general manager Andrew Berry gave praise to his starting quarterback.
“I think this is going to be a big year for him, professionally and personally,” Berry said. “We think he’s in great shape physically. He’s been really good on the field. And I love what he’s done off the field, so very excited about him.”
Watson also noted feeling “really well” while continuing to build rapport with his receivers. Last season, Watson, a three-time Pro Bowler during his time with the Houston Texans, had noticeable rust, going 3-3 with 1,102 yards passing, seven touchdowns and five interceptions.
He had just six games on the year, but it was his first time on an NFL field since his final game of the 2020 season – he sat out all of 2021 following the accusations as well.
Watson understands the spotlight will continue to shine bright on him because of what happened off the field, not just because the Browns signed him to a five-year, $230 million contract to put their savior at the most important position in the game.
But he addressed his teammates privately, talking to them about his personal life and such following a Saturday walk-through.
“Things that people don’t really get to hear about. Especially last year it’s been the media directing and narrating something else … [my story] has been kind of overshadowed,” Watson said via ESPN.
Watson will continue to work with his teammates and coaches to get on the same page in a season in which he’s hoping to get back to his elite form. When healthy and at the top of his game, Watson is one of the best quarterbacks in football, using his strong arm and quick legs to lead his offense.
“Having an opportunity to go into the season with a full offseason, locked in, focused, it definitely feels good, and I want to continue to keep channeling and cherishing all that energy and positive energy that’s been spread around this organization.”
The Browns are slated to face the Cincinnati Bengals, who reached back-to-back AFC Championship games, in Week 1 to kick off their 2023 regular-season schedule.