Tagged in: team

‘Stronger’ Kawhi Leonard ready to start training camp with rest of LA Clippers this week

Kawhi Leonard stated he “definitely got a lot stronger” after a season off and is ready to start training camp when the LA Clippers open practice on Tuesday.

In his first comments since media day prior to last season, Leonard said he is good to go for camp — which opens in Las Vegas — after missing all of last season due to a torn right ACL.

“Plan is tomorrow to start training camp,” Leonard said at Clippers media day before the team flew to Las Vegas. “For me individually, I’ll be participating in training camp. Then from there, just seeing how my progression is, how I feel, what I’m not feeling, is it moving correctly, and just keep going from there, just gradually building up.

“But right now, I feel good, and the plan is to start camp and play.”

Leonard is cleared to fully participate, but the Clippers will be cautious with their franchise star, who hasn’t played since tearing his right ACL in Game 4 of the second round versus the Utah Jazz on June 14, 2021.

“I feel stronger, for sure,” Leonard said. “It’s been, what, 14, 15 months of no basketball — well, playing in an NBA season for me, no basketball. That whole 13-, 14-month process is just lifting weights and getting stronger. I definitely got a lot stronger.”

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The two-time NBA Finals MVP said he isn’t sure how different of a player he will be once he returns to the court.

“Right now I feel good in my workouts, weightlifting,” Leonard said. “I don’t feel like I have a subconscious mind of not jumping off my leg per se. I feel good. We’ll just see how the season goes.

“And can’t really tell you how that’s going to work out.”

The Clippers have assembled perhaps the deepest team in the NBA.

Head coach Ty Lue could go 11 to 12 players deep on his roster, which is loaded with interchangeable veteran wings who can play both ways. And there are championship expectations on the Clippers and owner Steve Ballmer, who was walking around the team facility at media day on Monday.

In addition to Leonard and star guard Paul George, the Clippers have Norman Powell, John Wall, Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris Sr., Ivica Zubac, Nic Batum, Terance Mann, Robert Covington and Luke Kennard.

“I think really that mindset of Team USA,” George said of how the Clippers might approach using their depth. “You take the best guys, and of course everybody is good and they’re all on teams, everybody is the star of their own teams. But when you put us all together, it’s how do I make you better now and how do I shine with this environment.”

“It should be a lot of fun with this team,” George added. “And should be a lot of good nights being a Clipper fan.”

Lue stated he did not know yet exactly how much Leonard will practice or play in the preseason but that it was good to know that he is feeling good again and the team will listen to how Leonard is feeling daily.

Leonard says he is ready to get back on the court, something he thinks possibly could have happened late last season if the Clippers had gone deep into the postseason. Leonard laughed after entertaining that notion. The Clippers, though, failed to make it out of the play-in tournament.

“I mean, it’s all woulda, coulda, shoulda right?” Leonard said when asked if he could have returned had the Clippers made the postseason. “But yeah, if they would have made it to the Finals last year, you would have seen me playing.”

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Frances Tiafoe drops out of Davis Cup matches after semifinal run at US Open

US Open semifinalist Frances Tiafoe pulled out of the United States team that will play group stage matches in the Davis Cup next week in Glasgow, Scotland.

The U.S. Tennis Association announced Tiafoe’s withdrawal Saturday.

Tiafoe, a 24-year-old from Maryland who was seeded 22nd at Flushing Meadows, became the first American man to get to the US Open semifinals since Andy Roddick was the tournament runner-up in 2006.

Roddick was the last man from the country to attain any Grand Slam tournament when he earned the trophy in New York three years before that.

Tiafoe’s run ended with a five-set loss to No. 3 seed Carlos Alcaraz, a 19-year-old from Spain. Alcaraz will meet No. 7 seed Casper Ruud of Norway in Sunday’s final, with the winner collecting his first Grand Slam title and rising to No. 1 in the ATP rankings for the first time.

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Captivating crowds in Arthur Ashe Stadium with his superb play and unbridled enthusiasm, Tiafoe reached the second major quarterfinal of his career by eliminating Rafael Nadal in the fourth round in New York and ending the 22-time Slam champion’s 22-match undefeated run at major tournaments.

Tiafoe followed that up by defeating No. 9 seed Andrey Rublev to get to the semifinals.

“Obviously, through my career, I’ve been pretty sporadic [at] playing well [then] veering off for a while,” Tiafoe said. “I’ve always backed myself against the best players in the world. I’m doing it on a consistent basis, starting to beat guys more readily. Ready to take the next step.”

The USTA stated Tiafoe would not be replaced on the Davis Cup roster for the Americans, who will start by facing Britain on Wednesday.

The other U.S. players are Taylor Fritz, Tommy Paul, Jack Sock and Rajeev Ram.

U.S. Davis Cup captain Mardy Fish will miss the trip to Scotland because he got COVID-19, and Bob Bryan will fill in as acting captain. Bryan was a member of the U.S. squad that won the Davis Cup in 2007.

Britain’s team is expected to include three-time major champion Andy Murray and Dan Evans, who is ranked 23rd this week.

Davis Cup group stage matches also will be held in Bologna, Italy; Valencia, Spain; and Hamburg, Germany, from Tuesday through Sept. 18.

The top two teams from each group advance to the Davis Cup Finals in Malaga, Spain, on Nov. 22-27.

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Buffalo Bills, Jordan Poyer agree to reworked contract

After requesting an extension this offseason, All-Pro safety Jordan Poyer and the Buffalo Bills have agreed to a reworked contract for the 2022 season that involves up to $2 million in incentives, agents Drew Rosenhaus and Kyle Lincoln told ESPN’s Field Yates on Saturday.

“Jordan appreciates this goodwill gesture by the Bills as we continue to work for a contract extension,” Rosenhaus said to ESPN.

Poyer, 31, signed with Rosenhaus during the offseason as he entered the final year of a two-year, $19.5 million deal that he signed with the Bills in March 2020 that included $500,000 in incentives.

The new incentives cover a variety of categories tied to playing time, on-field production (such as interceptions) and team categories (win or statistical improvements), which are well within reach based on Poyer’s role and the expectations for the team this year.

Poyer, who was coming off an elbow injury, had an interception, two tackles and a pass defended in the Bills’ season-opening 31-10 over the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday.

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He had expressed his desire for a new deal this offseason as well as his affection for playing in Buffalo.

Rosenhaus was on site at the start of the team’s training camp and met with general manager Brandon Beane.

“I want to continue to play football and play my best football in Buffalo for as long as I can, however long that may be,” Poyer said Aug. 29. “But like I said, I’m here with the guys right now, and I’m ready to attack this season.”

The 2013 seventh-round pick out of Oregon State by the Philadelphia Eagles has been with the Bills for the past five seasons, and he has played alongside safety Micah Hyde, who is signed through 2024, throughout that period.

Poyer, along with Hyde, did not attend the team’s voluntary offseason programs, but he did participate in the team’s mandatory minicamp before breaking for the summer and was full go after that. The safety suffered a left elbow injury Aug. 2 and did not comeback to practice until Aug. 27.

“He’s very special, very special,” Hyde said. “I think that I wouldn’t be the player I am today without him. And I think it’s safe to say that he wouldn’t be the player he is without me. I’ve told you guys this before, every single day we push each other.”

Poyer has 19 interceptions over his time in Buffalo, including five in 2021. He had a career-high three sacks last year along with 93 tackles.

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New York Giants lose promising WR Collin Johnson to torn Achilles

The New York Giants lost wide receiver Collin Johnson for the season Wednesday on the same day that veteran Sterling Shepard returned to the practice field.

Johnson tore his Achilles tendon during Wednesday’s practice, per the team. The big receiver (6-foot-6, 220 pounds) out of the University of Texas had been receiving first-team reps in recent weeks at practice with Kadarius Toney and Shepard among those on the sideline.

Coach Brian Daboll had noted earlier in the week that Johnson and fellow wide receiver David Sills were making a strong impression. Johnson started Sunday’s preseason victory over the Cincinnati Bengals and had three receptions for 41 yards; Sills had five catches for 56 yards, with most of the damage coming with the first-string offense.

“Collin Johnson, David Sills, they’ve stepped their game up,” Daboll said. “And they’re right in the mix, not just to make a team but to play.”

The Giants’ opener is in 18 days in Tennessee. Toney (right leg), C.J. Board (ribs) and Darius Slayton are also dealing with minor injuries.

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Shepard, meanwhile, was making his way back from a torn Achilles suffered last December. He returned to practice for the first time Wednesday since the injury.

“It felt great, man,” said Shepard, who snuck in some reps during live drills and even caught a 20-yard pass from backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor. “Just being back on the field, it’s a blessing. Especially when you go through an injury like that and you’ve been on the sidelines for so long watching those guys get after it. You have to take every day and cherish them because you never know when you’re going to have to sit out that long.”

It had been eight months and five days since Shepard tore his Achilles.

He is the longest-tenured Giant and has 349 catches for 3,884 yards and 21 touchdowns in his career, all in New York.

Shepard’s return made it appear as if the Giants were actually getting healthier at the position. Toney, Board and Slayton participated in the early portions of Wednesday’s practice.

But Toney was seen grabbing at the back of his leg during the workout, and Johnson and Marcus Kemp (hamstring) suffered significant injuries. Both Johnson and Kemp landed on injured reserve later in the day.

The Giants claimed wide receivers Bailey Gaither and Jaylon Moore on Wednesday to fill the voids. They cut tight end Jordan Akins to make room on the roster.

Johnson, 24, has 29 catches for 377 yards in 26 career matches with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Giants. He made his mark with the Giants last year as a blocker.

But this summer it appeared he had taken his game to the next level. He was making plays consistently throughout training camp, earning him the trust of starting quarterback Daniel Jones and some first-team reps. Johnson even had 10 catches for 123 receiving yards in the first two preseason matches this season.

With Toney still banged up and Shepard coming back from a serious injury, it looked possible that Johnson could have started — or at least played a substantial role — Week 1 versus the Tennessee Titans. Instead his season came to a premature end.

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Carolina Panthers name Baker Mayfield as starting QB for Week 1 vs. Cleveland Browns

Baker Mayfield insists this is not a “redemption year,” but he will make his first start at quarterback for the Carolina Panthers versus the team that gave up on him.

The Panthers on Monday named Mayfield the starter for the Sept. 11 opener against the Cleveland Browns, who moved on from the first pick of the 2018 draft after trading with the Houston Texans for Deshaun Watson.

Watson will not play in the opener after being suspended by the NFL for the first 11 games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, so it will be Mayfield against Jacoby Brissett.

Mayfield won what the Panthers described as an open competition against 2021 starter Sam Darnold, although league sources said the job was his to lose all along.

“When we started the process, we said we were looking at three things,” coach Matt Rhule said. “No. 1, mastery of the offense; No. 2, situational football excellence; and No. 3, moving the ball and getting guys involved.

“Baker has made a lot of improvement, a lot of growth in all three areas in a short amount of time.”

Mayfield stated last week during joint practices versus the New England Patriots that he wasn’t worried about when the decision would be made.

“I’ve said it before, the locker room and the organization is going to go as the QB room goes, and as long as we’re leading correctly and we’re supporting each other, good things are going to happen,” Mayfield said. “So we’re not worried about when that’s going to happen, just trying to get better each day.”

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Mayfield never lost confidence after Cleveland gave up on him.

“It’s not a redemption year,” he said. “I know what I’m capable of. I’m not trying to prove anything to anybody else. I’m just trying to lead this locker room the best I can and win a bunch of ballgames.”

Carolina hopes to get the 2020 version of Mayfield, who went 11-5 and won a playoff game for the Browns with 26 touchdowns to only eight interceptions. The 2017 Heisman Trophy winner struggled to a 6-8 record last season with 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions while dealing with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder.

The Panthers started looking to upgrade at quarterback almost immediately after the 2021 season, when Darnold went 4-7 as the starter. They were among four teams aggressively going after Watson, who at the time had 24 lawsuits of sexual misconduct filed against him.

When Watson signed with the Browns, the Panthers explored the possibility of trading for Mayfield around the draft before adding Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral in the third round. The holdup was Cleveland’s unwillingness to the majority of Mayfield’s 2022 salary of $18.9 million.

That changed in early July when Cleveland agreed to pay $10.5 million of the contract, leaving the Panthers $4.58 million after Mayfield agreed to take a $3.5 million cut with the potential to earn that back in incentives.

Being named the starter is the first step in reaching those incentives, 70% of the snaps, according to a league source.

Mayfield wasn’t handed the job immediately. He and Darnold split repetitions evenly through the first three weeks of training camp.

But as Mayfield quickly learned offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s system, it became apparent he was going to earn the job. Even McAdoo, who rated Mayfield the sixth-best quarterback in the 2018 draft and had questions about Mayfield’s ability to run a pro-style offense, was won over early.

Mayfield kept his flamboyant personality under control throughout camp, selecting his words carefully and talking with great respect for Darnold and the competition between them.

Wide receiver Rashard Higgins, who played the past four seasons in Cleveland with Mayfield, laughed early in camp at the thought that that would continue for long.

“He’s just holding it in right now,” Higgins said. “But when it comes out, it’s going to come out. May God be with you when it comes out.”

Perhaps that will happen now that Mayfield has been named the starter and begins preparing for the Browns. “Baker, I’ve seen big trash talk, and he’s usually got a lot of F-bombs in there,” Higgins said. “I don’t know when it’s going to come out, but it’s going to come out.”

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Joe Burrow makes training camp debut for Cincinnati Bengals, participates in several drills

For the first time in training camp, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow practiced. Nearly three weeks after he had his appendix removed, Burrow donned his orange No. 9 jersey and participated in several drills throughout Sunday’s practice.

All of his work in team drills came in a 7-on-7 period that was more strenuous than coach Zac Taylor expected.

“We talked about doing two reps in 7-on-7,” Taylor said after practice. “And then he took 10. That’s how it goes sometimes.”

Previously, Burrow’s most notable work during practice occurred last Monday when he did some light tosses during an impromptu walkthrough.

On Sunday, Burrow decided to extend his limits.

Burrow took the entirety of the reps during that 7-on-7 drill. That also eased the workload on the rest of the team’s quarterbacks following Brandon Allen’s concussion in last Friday’s preseason game versus the Arizona Cardinals.

Burrow’s most notable passes were two long completions — one to veteran receiver Trenton Irwin and the other to rookie Kwamie Lassiter II. Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who watched the bulk of Burrow’s throws during that 7-on-7 period, said having the team’s star quarterback took what the defense was willing to allow as the quarterback brought positive energy to practice.

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“It’s funny because every pass he threw today, I was calling it out before he threw it,” Chase, who also played with Burrow at LSU, said. “I think I still know him perfectly fine.”

The third-year quarterback wasn’t the only key player to make significant progress Sunday.

Wide receiver Tee Higgins participated in team drills for the first time. Rookie Cordell Volson also took over as the team’s starting left guard with Jackson Carman out.

Cincinnati is looking to replicate last season’s success that featured a Super Bowl run that Burrow spearheaded. The top overall pick in the 2020 draft completed 70.4% of his passes for 4,611 yards, 34 touchdowns and 14 interceptions as the Bengals played for the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in 33 years.

The Bengals have been hesitant to release any firm timetables for Burrow’s practice acclimation following the appendectomy July 26. Taylor said he was uncertain on when Burrow will return to full participation.

But he was with his teammates Sunday. It was the first time that Burrow, new tight end Hayden Hurst and all the returning players from last year’s Super Bowl run practiced together since organized team activities.

Said Higgins: “As soon as we got in the huddle I said, ‘Uh oh. We’re back.'”

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Tyrann Mathieu reports to New Orleans Saints after missing start of training camp

New Orleans Saints safety Tyrann Mathieu reported for training camp and was practicing Wednesday after initially being excused to attend to what the team described as a personal matter.

Mathieu made his first appearance of training camp Wednesday morning after missing the first six practices of camp and getting to the team hotel Tuesday night. Saints coach Dennis Allen stated they were able to talk at the hotel and that Mathieu appeared to be in “good spirits.”

The 30-year-old Mathieu did not participate in 11-on-11 or 7-on-7 drills but went through the team walk-through and did individual drills with the defensive backs.

“He’s anxious to kind of get back here and get started,” Allen said. “We’ll go through a little bit of a ramp-up period with him, kind of let him get his feet up under him, but man, to have a player of his decorated ability back in the building is a positive.”

On Thursday, Mathieu spoke to the media for the first time since his return to the team on Wednesday, praising the support he has received from his coaches and teammates and saying he’ll go through a ramp-up conditioning period as he gets back into football shape.

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“Everyone was really supportive, teammates, former teammates,” Mathieu said. “Lot of different people just being supportive. Obviously that was a great feeling, to have that support. … I’m sure at some point I’ll be more transparent about the first six days of practice, but more important I’m just happy to be back and around the guys. I’m feeling good, I’m in great spirits, really healthy. Everything that’s important, it’s going good. I’m just in a good place and just all about ramping it up and getting back into it.”

The offseason addition of Mathieu to the Saints’ secondary was met with much fanfare in New Orleans, where Mathieu grew up and played in high school before starring in college at LSU.

The nine-year NFL veteran agreed to a three-year, $33 million free agent contract with the Saints in early May.

Mathieu was raised by his grandparents in New Orleans then became a star football player and track athlete for St. Augustine High School. He maintained deep ties to the city, enhanced through his charitable endeavors and football camps in the area.

He also has deep ties to LSU, where his tenacious play over two seasons earned him the nickname “Honey Badger.” As a sophomore in 2011, he was a Heisman Trophy finalist and obtained the Bednarik Award as the nation’s top defensive player. But his college career was cut short when then-Tigers coach Les Miles dismissed Mathieu in the summer of 2012 for repeated drug test failures.

Mathieu spent time in a Houston rehabilitation program, but it wasn’t until he was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the third round in 2013 that he put his life together.

Mathieu became a dependable defensive standout for coach Bruce Arians and has since added two All-Pro nods with Kansas City to go with one earned in Arizona. He also has been named to the Pro Bowl each of the past three seasons. He wound up playing five seasons for the Cardinals before a year with the Houston Texans.

He signed with Kansas City as a free agent for $42 million over three years and immediately became the quarterback of the Chiefs’ defense, often relaying signals and directing the pre-snap alignment of defensive teammates.

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Boston Celtics’ Jayson Tatum, responding to Kevin Durant trade speculation, says ‘I love our team,’ doesn’t wear GM hat

As speculation surrounding Kevin Durant’s future continues to hover over the NBA, Boston Celtics star swingman Jayson Tatum made it clear that as much as he respects Durant’s game, he is happy with how his team stands now.

“I played with [Durant] during the Olympics,” Tatum stated Tuesday night prior to the premiere of the Showtime documentary “Point Gods.” “Obviously, he’s a great player, but that’s not my decision. I love our team. I love the guys that we got.”

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported early Monday that the Celtics were among the teams to engage in talks with the Nets regarding Durant’s availability, after the two-time Finals MVP requested a trade from Brooklyn last month.

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Regarding the discussions surrounding Durant and the Celtics, Tatum stated he doesn’t “make anything of it” and emphasized several times during a brief question-and-answer session with a small group of reporters that he is happy with Boston’s roster as currently constructed.

“We got two new pieces [in Malcolm Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari],” Tatum said. “I love our team. I just go out there and play with my teammates. I don’t put that [general manager] hat on to make decisions.”

Durant, who is an executive producer on the documentary, did not stop to speak to reporters.

He took a few photos on the carpet prior to the premiere, but quickly walked into the theater.

Durant’s manager and business partner, Rich Kleiman, also an executive producer on the documentary, declined to discuss the star’s request to be traded.

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DT Davon Godchaux signs 2-year, $20.8 million extension with New England Patriots

The New England Patriots have signed sixth-year defensive tackle Davon Godchaux to a two-year, $20.8 million contract extension with $17.85 million guaranteed, his agents, Drew Rosenhaus and Ryan Matha, told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Wednesday.

Godchaux started 16 matches last season for New England, his first with the team after playing the first four years of his career with the Miami Dolphins.

He played 59% of the defensive snaps, usually coming off the field in obvious passing situations, as his primary role was to play with power inside and hold up at the point of attack.

His 65 tackles ranked fifth on the team, and he added one sack.

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The Patriots struggled on run defense — ranking 25th in rushing average allowed (4.5) and 22nd in rushing yards per game (123.7) — but the extension for Godchaux reflects that coach Bill Belichick likely doesn’t consider that was a result of his play.

During a June appearance on the Jacques Talk podcast on WAFB in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Godchaux said: “I had one of my best seasons last season. I look forward to another dominant season this year.”

In the team’s first training camp practice Wednesday, he was lining up alongside veteran Lawrence Guy with the top defense.

The 6-foot-3, 311-pound Godchaux, who entered the NFL as a fifth-round draft pick out of LSU in 2017, was entering the final season of a two-year, $15 million deal he had signed as a free agent last offseason.

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Houston Texans settle claims vs. team in relation to sexual misconduct allegations involving Deshaun Watson

The Houston Texans have reached settlements with 30 women who made claims or were prepared to make them against the NFL organization for its alleged role regarding sexual misconduct allegations against Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson in massage sessions, the attorney for the women, Tony Buzbee, said in a statement Friday.

One of the 30 women already had filed a civil suit against the Texans in June, blaming the team of “enabling Watson’s behavior.” Buzbee said that case is among those being settled.

Buzbee said terms of each of the 30 settlements are confidential.

“We were shocked and deeply saddened when we first learned of the allegations against our then franchise quarterback in March 2021,” Texans owners Janice McNair, Hannah and Cal McNair said in a statement Friday.

“Although our organization did not have any knowledge of Deshaun Watson’s alleged misconduct, we have intentionally chosen to resolve this matter amicably. This is not an admission of any wrongdoing, but instead a clear stand against any form of sexual assault and misconduct.

“We hope that today’s resolution will provide some form of closure to the parties involved, our fans and the Houston community at large. As an organization, we will now turn our focus to the future and doing what we can to ensure respect for all.” In June, Watson settled 20 of 24 lawsuits accusing him of sexual misconduct when he played for the Texans. He has been accused by 25 women in civil lawsuits of actions ranging from sexual assault to inappropriate behavior during massage sessions. One of those lawsuits was dropped after the judge ruled the petition had to be amended with the plaintiff’s name.

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Buzbee did not reveal the identities of the six other women who were prepared to file claims against the Texans.

“I will have no further comment on the allegations or the Texans’ alleged role, other than to say that there is a marked contrast in the way in which the Texans addressed these allegations, and the way in which Watson’s team has done so,” Buzbee said in his statement Friday.

Two grand juries in Texas declined to pursue criminal charges against Watson earlier this year. Watson has maintained his innocence. The Texans traded Watson to the Browns in March after the first grand jury announced it would not indict him.

NFL disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson, who was jointly appointed by the NFL and NFL Players Association, is currently weighing whether Watson violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

Watson had a three-day hearing before Robinson in late June, and sources told ESPN’s Dan Graziano that the league has been arguing for a suspension of at least a year.

If Robinson does issue a suspension, Watson will have the option to appeal the penalty to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, according to the league’s 2020 collective bargaining agreement.

The New York Times reported in June that Watson booked appointments with at least 66 different women over 17 months, from fall 2019 through spring 2021.

The list of 66 includes the 24 women who have filed lawsuits against Watson; a woman who sued Watson but then withdrew the complaint; two women who filed criminal complaints against Watson but did not sue him; at least 15 therapists who issued statements of support for Watson at the request of his lawyers; at least four therapists contracted with the Texans; five women identified by the plaintiffs’ lawyers during the investigation for their lawsuits; and at least 15 other women whose appointments with Watson were confirmed through interviews and records reviewed by the Times.

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