Perhaps the only good thing to come of Thursday's announcement that Deshaun Watson would be suspended 11 games, fined $5 million and required to undergo an evaluation and counseling for violating the NFL's personal-conduct policy were a few words near the bottom of the NFL's statement: "Today's announcement concludes the process."
The 11 games don't feel like enough, considering there were 24 women who filed lawsuits accusing Watson of sexual misconduct, Judge Sue L. Robinson found that the NFL had proven according to its own definition that he committed sexual assault against the four women whose cases were presented to her, and Commissioner Roger Goodell called Watson's alleged behavior "predatory" last week. The fine is laughably small in the context of the fully guaranteed contract (worth $230 million) the Cleveland Browns lavished on Watson in the spring.
The counseling, hopefully, is enough, because Watson's insistence Thursday that he is innocent and never sexually assaulted or even disrespected anyone -- that he was apologizing because so many people were "triggered" -- indicate that this settlement is, for him, not accompanied by remorse or even self-awareness, but merely a desire to get on with his life.
Given the nature of Watson's alleged behavior, and Robinson's finding, it is not enough that Watson gets on with his life. He needs to change it, to understand that the Browns were seemingly so concerned about his ability to get a massage without incident that general manager Andrew Berry said Thursday the team put together a plan as soon as the trade was completed for how Watson would get massages if he ever had a soft tissue injury.
The NFL wanted to get on with its life, too, though, which is why there is a settlement. The league had initially pushed for (and sought while appealing Robinson's initial six-game suspension) a full-year suspension, while the NFL Players Association wanted substantially less. The 11 games is significantly more than what Robinson first levied, but it is clear this agreement was all about this being over, about getting Watson and this seamy case out of the headlines and far away from the kickoff to the new season at the beginning of September. Had the NFL simply imposed the discipline it wanted, it was expected that the union would have taken the league to court. A league source explained the NFL's rationale for accepting this agreement: "It's significant, definitive, immediate and final."
It is also unsatisfying, but that is what settlements generally are. Neither side gets everything it wants; both sides decide they can live with it anyway. Finality was important to everyone. Browns coach Kevin Stefanski used words like "clarity" and "certainty" in his comments Thursday. He gets to know what his quarterback situation is. The NFL avoids months of traipsing in and out of courtrooms -- during a previous court case against a player, one owner remarked that the league fighting a player in court benefited nobody except the lawyers and their billable hours -- and Watson knows what he has to do to get reinstated. The biggest winners, though, might be the public, who presumably won't have to listen to Watson or the Browns' owners talk about this again for awhile.
Owner Jimmy Haslam told reporters Thursday he would "absolutely" make the trade for Watson again, even knowing everything that has happened since Cleveland first acquired the quarterback from Houston in March, and he gave a passionate argument for people deserving second chances. He also said out loud what has been obvious since the Browns went after Watson. This was a play for the long-term, and he wants to win games, the allegations be damned.
"I think it's important to remember, Deshaun is 26 years old and is a high-level NFL quarterback, and we're planning on him being our quarterback for a long time," Haslam said Thursday.
The Browns knew there would be some degree of discipline for Watson, although they almost certainly did not think it would be 11 games. But the bet the Browns made was a cynical one: Once Watson gets on the field, his play will be so transcendent, the wins rolling up so steadily, that fans will ultimately look past his alleged behavior. There is ample evidence from other cases to indicate that is the correct calculation, but it doesn't make the comments from the owner -- who also noted that ticket sales have been great -- any less tone-deaf.
Dee Haslam, though, may have made the most important point of all Thursday. Without saying as much, she seemed to disagree with Watson's own assessment that he had done nothing wrong. She said that counseling takes a lot of time -- that's part of the reason why the NFL wanted this agreement now, to get Watson evaluated by experts who will then lay out a course of treatment -- and "I do think, in counseling, Deshaun will grow to learn a lot more about himself."
Let's hope so. If Watson fails to comply or participate, he would be subject to an increase in discipline or a delay to his reinstatement. Nobody wants that. Watson's case was one of the most troubling the NFL has ever had involving a player. His own lack of contrition Thursday shows the discipline may not have gone far enough. The best, then, that can be said about the settlement is that this episode is, mercifully, over.