Syndication: Florida Times-Union
Bob Self/Florida Times-Union

For as long as he's an NFL player, Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson must have team-approved massage sessions with approved therapists. That's according to the settlement he reached with the NFL over the summer, per three sources familiar with the matter.

Browns GM Andrew Berry said in August the team had a "plan in place" for Watson's massage appointments. I'm told that plan has been in place since the Browns traded for Watson, though exact details of the plan are unclear. The settlement, which was announced Aug. 18, states Watson can only have "club-directed sessions and club-approved massage therapists" for the duration of his NFL career — not just with the Browns.

Retired judge Sue L. Robinson, who heard the case as an independent arbitrator, had previously advised Watson should limit his massages to those that are team approved as a condition of his reinstatement.

Watson is now serving an 11-game suspension for allegations of sexual misconduct during massage therapy appointments dating back to 2020. He has settled 23 of 24 civil lawsuits against him. As part of his settlement with the NFL, he had to pay a $5 million fine and agreed to follow a treatment plan put together by professional behavioral experts.

Within about 10 days after the settlement was reached, Watson had to undergo a professional evaluation by behavioral experts that would then determine and map out a treatment plan. Though we don't know the details of that plan due to privacy laws, but it was stressed to me by one league source that this is treatment and not counseling, if that distinction makes a difference.

His press conference the day the settlement was announced seemed contradictory to his previous statements in more controlled environments. He said he will "continue to stand on my innocence."

"I have to do what's best for Deshaun Watson at the end of the day and I know what happened,'' Watson told reporters in August. "I was in those situations, but I have to continue to push forward and keep moving forward.''

A Browns source noted to me that he hadn't yet started treatment at that point, and that Watson isn't viewing the treatment as punishment. Instead, he sees it as a helpful tool in becoming a better version of himself. He did agree to this as part of the settlement and previously had taken up counseling.

He must participate in treatment and have clinicians say "he's on the right path" in order for the suspension to be lifted, according to one source. One important point, I'm told he could very well be cleared to play after the 11-game suspension but still be required to go to treatment. Three sources told me this could indeed go beyond Dec. 4 when Watson presumably takes over as the starting QB against his former team, the Texans.

Watson cannot have contact with any Browns personnel until Oct. 10. He's then able to return to the team facility to attend meetings and work individually with the strength and conditioning staff.

On Nov. 14 following the Browns' Week 10 game against the Dolphins, he's eligible to begin practicing with the team and ramp up toward his eventual presumed start on Dec. 4 in Houston.