Although two more women have filed civil lawsuits against Deshaun Watson since the Browns traded for him, the NFL was on the homestretch of its lengthy investigation prior to those suits emerging. Watson’s camp is expecting a “significant” suspension, according to Mark Maske of the Washington Post.
While careful not to predict a precise punishment, a source informed Maske the NFL will likely seek a year-long suspension. A league presentation on the case to the NFLPA and Watson’s representatives has led the union to expect a lengthy ban. The NFL’s punishment may indeed be near, with Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk noting the NFLPA is bracing for an “unprecedented” ban in this case. The steady stream of Watson news to emerge since the trade has become a concern for NFL higher-ups, per Florio, who adds some in the league office do not believe Watson should be cleared to play until these issues are resolved.
The prospect of Watson being sidelined throughout the course of the civil suits does not seem realistic, based on Roger Goodell‘s comments this spring and his handling of the situation since the lawsuits began to emerge in March 2021. The NFL did not place Watson on the commissioner’s exempt list last year, relying on the Texans to deactivate their former starter for all 17 games. Watson’s 2021 trade request and the Texans’ rebuilding approach last season also contributed to the team’s decision to deactivate the Pro Bowler.
The Browns almost certainly would not follow suit, considering the historic compensation package they sent to the Texans for Watson and the record-shattering contract they authorized upon doing so. Citing conversations with the NFLPA, Goodell said after a second Texas grand jury did not recommend charges against Watson he would not be placed on the exempt list. That opens the door to Watson receiving punishment this year and when the civil suits eventually conclude. Cleveland’s front office structured Watson’s contract — perhaps the most divisive deal in modern NFL history — in a way to protect him from a 2022 suspension, giving him a mere $1MM salary this season.
The timeline for Watson’s civil suits also would make the prospect of Watson being banned until they are resolved unlikely. After August 1, the civil suits will pause until March 1, 2023. Both Watson’s legal team and the Tony Buzbee-led attorney for the plaintiffs agreed on that timeline. Parking Watson on paid leave until these suits are all resolved runs the risk of the embattled QB being sidelined into the 2023 season, due to the high number of women who have accused him of sexual misconduct and/or sexual assault.
Since the 24th accuser’s suit surfaced, a New York Times report added more detail and startling number to this saga. The report indicated Watson received massages from at least 66 women between fall 2019 and spring 2021. In the days since, Watson news has continued to circulate. Houston police detective Kamesha Baker said during a recent civil deposition she believed Watson committed sexual assault, USA Today’s Brent Schrotenboer notes. Ten women filed criminal complaints against Watson, but they did not lead to charges. Two of those 10 accusers are not part of the ongoing civil cases. Prior to these news items coming out, the NFL had concluded its meetings with Watson. It is possible the league had all of this information beforehand. If not, more meetings could ensue, further muddying this saga.
Independent arbitrator Sue Robinson will render the punishment, and the NFL would handle an appeal. The NFLPA would move to defend Watson during an appeal process — one Maske notes the NFL wants completed by the time the Browns report to training camp July 27. Watson has continued to deny all wrongdoing and said as much again this week from Browns minicamp, but the sixth-year veteran faces the prospect of missing back-to-back seasons.