As part of the conditions that enabled Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson to be reinstated and be able to play Sunday against the Houston Texans, he has made what NFL and NFLPA experts have described as "signs of progress" during his mandatory treatment program, league sources told ESPN.
Though his 11-game suspension is now over, Watson is expected to remain in the treatment program with no end date in sight at this time, sources said.
"He's been progressing well and he wants to continue with it, and they feel it's helping him," one source connected to Watson's treatment program said. "It's just sort of ongoing as needed, and it'll be ongoing until it's not needed anymore. And I think it's given him a lot of help and support. But this could take a while."
The program is considered confidential, and Watson did not shed light on his treatment last week. He declined to address his treatment during his news conference last week leading up to his return to play, but as one source pointed out, his "clinician said he shouldn't comment on his treatment program and he's not allowed to get into his legal situation."
Watson was suspended for violating the league's personal conduct policy by committing sexual assault, as defined by the NFL, on massage therapists. He was also fined $5 million and has had to take part in the mandatory treatment program.
He has been accused by more than two dozen women of sexual assault and other inappropriate sexual misconduct during massage sessions. Over the summer, Watson agreed to settle 23 of the 24 lawsuits against him. A 25th lawsuit was dropped by the plaintiff when the judge ruled that her petition had to be amended with her name. A 26th civil suit was filed on Oct. 13. Two other women filed criminal complaints against Watson but did not sue him.
Watson, who wasn't charged criminally, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and said people haven't been interested in hearing his side of the story. He declined to go into any questions outside of football this past week, and his Browns debut will come exactly 700 days since he last played in a regular-season game with the Texans on Jan. 3, 2021.
Some believe the NFL intentionally suspended Watson 11 games so that his return could come in Houston, which could provide increased TV ratings. But this game will be broadcast to only 7% of the country, with play-by-play announcer Spiro Dedes and analyst Jay Feely calling the contest.
The Browns traded for Watson in March, sending the Texans three first-round draft picks. Cleveland also signed Watson to a five-year deal worth $230 million guaranteed, the richest contract in NFL history.
Watson returned to practice with the Browns on Nov. 16 and has been allowed to sit in on team meetings and work out at the team's training facility since Oct. 10.
He will become the sixth quarterback in the past 15 seasons to make his debut against the team he last played for, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, and the third to do it this season, joining Baker Mayfield and Russell Wilson.