BEREA, Ohio — The Cleveland Browns have a lot on their plate this offseason, from ramping up players into football shape to developing the rookies and younger players as the season approaches. But while they work on the football field, off-field distractions with quarterback Deshaun Watson loom overhead—something that the Browns are deflecting for now.
On Monday, a 24th civil lawsuit was filed against Watson, alleging more sexual misconduct from the quarterback while he was with the Texans. On Tuesday, a New York Times investigation revealed the number of massage therapists Watson employed in less than a two-year span was as at least 66.
Despite the new developments, the Browns are staying the course in regards to their stance on Watson and the alleged conduct—letting the legal process play out before commenting in depth.
"We’re here making sure we’re getting good practice in. The guys did a nice job out there today. I’m not going to comment past that, but we’ll be respectful of the process, be respectful of the legal proceedings," Head Coach Kevin Stefanski said when asked about the new Watson developments.
On Wednesday, Watson was out on the practice fields for this last week of voluntary OTAs, but whether it was just a bad day or his looming legal issues were weighing on him, the quarterback looked a little off, sailing the ball over targets' heads far more often than he has on other days of open practice and getting picked for the second straight week by safety John Johnson III.
Still, the quarterback had other moments where he was threading passes perfectly, and Johnson says that he doesn't think the outside goings-on are impacting Watson.
“I don’t think it’s really getting in the way. I think he's a professional, once he comes to work it’s about work," Johnson said. “I think he’s done a great job of being a true professional and hopefully, it all clears up soon but as for now we’re just going to keep working.”
Johnson, who shares a locker with Watson, provided some insight into how the allegations have affected the team.
"In a perfect world, we wish that it wasn't here. I think it's a speed bump, so once we get over it and we get full steam ahead, we'll be fine," said Johnson. "It's tough any time you have something going on away from the building, off the field. You never want that to leak into the building. Once we cross these lines on this field, once we step into the building, this is Browns football and it's work."
Meanwhile, Stefanski also noted that Watson has been focused on football while at the facilities, putting work first each day he's with his team.
"I think for everybody you come to work and you’ve got to work and you have to make sure that you focus on your job and focus on the job that you have to do out there with the players, and I think that’s what he’s doing," Stefanski said.
The Browns are still facing what could be a lengthy suspension for Watson, which is not at their top of mind now, Stefanski said, but still something that would change their gameplan entering the season, with a larger focus on Jacoby Brissett and even Josh Dobbs.
"I’m not going to speculate on those type of things. But we’re just going to deal with it day to day," Stefanski said. “As more information becomes available you may modify and adapt what you do but for now we’re just making sure those guys are getting the work that they need."
The Browns have plenty to work out but until more information comes out from the league in regards to a disciplinary decision, the Browns will continue playing the waiting game.
“I think with anything, we’re trying to just focus on the day. I can’t see past today, truly, so that’s kind of where my focus is," Stefanski said. "What you try to do here as coaches, players, you focus on the work that you have when you walk in the door and, really, the stuff that's on the outside, we let take care of itself."
If Watson faces a suspension, Jacoby Brissett is the Browns assumed starting quarterback.
"Jacoby Brissett, he's been a starter on teams. Even as a backup, when a starter went down, he stepped right in and did a pretty good job, so I think we're prepared on paper," said Johnson.
The Browns feel they're distributing QB reps appropriately during practice but will make adjustments as needed throughout the summer.
"As more information becomes available, you may modify and adapt what you do, but, for now, we're just making sure those guys are getting the work they need," said Stefanski.
Former starting quarterback Baker Mayfield did not attend OTAs. He will not be at mandatory minicamp either after the Browns granted him an excused absence. Players are subject to more than $90,000 in team fines if they don't attend all three days of camp, but Mayfield will not be penalized.
Mandatory minicamp begins on Tuesday next week. The Browns will practice at CrossCountry Mortgage campus on Tuesday, in Canton at the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Wednesday and at FirstEnergy Stadium on Thursday.
Camryn Justice is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.
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