The NFL has three days to appeal the decision by disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson, but the NFL Players Association already said it would abide by her ruling.
According to the league's collective bargaining agreement, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or someone he designates will make the decision for the league.
The league initially pushed for an indefinite suspension of at least one year and at least a $5 million fine for the 26-year-old Watson during a three-day hearing before Robinson in June.
In a statement, the NFL says it will now determine its next steps.
"We thank Judge Sue L. Robinson, the independent disciplinary officer, for her review of the voluminous record and attention during a three-day hearing that resulted in her finding multiple violations of the NFL Personal Conduct Police by Deshaun Watson," the statement said.
"Pursuant to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NFL or the NFLPA on behalf of Watson may appeal the decision within three days. In light of her findings, the league is reviewing Judge Robinson's imposition of a six-game suspension and will make a determination on next steps."
Watson can continue to practice and play in exhibition games before his suspension begins the first week of the regular season.
Watson is expected to miss games against the Carolina Panthers, New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Chargers and the New England Patriots.
He's set to return Oct. 23 on the road against the Baltimore Ravens. Watson is also expected to be available for his return to Houston during a Week 13 matchup against the Texans.
Watson played four seasons with the Texans before being traded to Cleveland in March.
After learning the ruling was imminent, the NFLPA issued a joint statement with Watson on Sunday night, saying they will not appeal Robinson’s ruling and urged the league to follow suit.
“Every player, owner, business partner and stakeholder deserves to know that our process is legitimate and will not be tarnished based on the whims of the League office” the union said in a statement.
As he awaited the ruling, Watson has been in training camp with the Browns. He has continued to take most of the reps with the first-team offense, which will be turned over to backup Jacoby Brissett while he’s sidelined.
While the NFL pushed for a severe penalty, the union had argued Watson shouldn’t be punished at all because he was not convicted of any crime.
Two grand juries in the Houston area declined to indict Watson on criminal complaints brought by 10 of the women.
This was the first case for Robinson, a former U.S. district judge who was jointly appointed by the NFL and the union to handle player misconduct — a role previously held by Goodell.
Watson's attorney, who announced Monday that all but one of the 24 civil lawsuits against him have now been settled, issued a statement regarding the NFL's decision.
"I have been asked repeatedly about my thoughts in regard to the NFL’s proceeding with Deshaun Watson. Although some of my clients do have strong feelings in that regard, I have nothing meaningful to say about that process," Tony Buzbee said. "I’ve said in the beginning that the civil process and the NFL’s disciplinary process are very different. My role was to advance the cause of my clients, in civil court—nothing more. I’ve done that. I am extremely proud of these women and our legal team’s efforts. The settlements are confidential. I won’t comment further on them."
A three-time Pro Bowl pick with the Texans, Watson has seen his playing career stalled by the allegations that he acted inappropriately with the women during massage therapy sessions he scheduled via social media. He sat out the 2021 season.
In their lawsuits, the women accused Watson of exposing himself, touching them with his penis or kissing them against their will. One woman alleged Watson forced her to perform oral sex.
Watson has denied all wrongdoing, insisting any sexual activity with three of the women was consensual. He publicly insisted his goal was to clear his name before agreeing to confidential financial settlements with 20 of the women on June 21.