Contrary to what many assumed would occur after disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson delivers her decision, it appears the NFL Players Association will not appeal Robinson’s ruling and it is calling “on the NFL to do the same.” The NFLPA released its joint statement with Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson on Twitter today, leaving no question as to their message.
In the statement, they emphasize their cooperation and participation in the personal conduct policy investigation. They also underline the credentials of the ruling officer, Robinson, and announce their support for the validity and comprehensiveness of the hearing. They end the statement by asserting that they will choose not to question the legitimacy of their process by appealing Robinson’s ruling, and they ask the League to do the same.
This is an interesting decision by the NFLPA that seems to point out a glaring hole in the league’s appeal process. Many initially saw this as a reason to believe that the Players Association had some early indication of a favorable ruling and wanted to make sure the League won’t fight it by pressuring a statement of its own. But, upon further review of the appeal process, it makes perfect sense that the NFLPA wouldn’t want to appeal the ruling.
In the case of an appeal by either side, the decision leaves the hands of Robinson and falls into the lap of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Goodell is the assigned party to make the determination over any appeals. This makes the words of the NFLPA’s statement a lot more meaningful when they said:
“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.”
Essentially, the Players Association has every reason in the world to avoid a precedent being set wherein the ruling of the independent hearing officer is easily overruled by the League and its commissioner. It would be most beneficial for the NFLPA to ensure that Goodell has no involvement in the final decision. The only way to do that is to honor the ruling made by Robinson.
Watson and the NFL continued their engagement in settlement talks in the days leading up to this ruling, but apparently the two sides were never able to get close, according to Dan Graziano of ESPN. Watson’s side was willing to accept a ban of six to eight games. The League’s initial punishment was “an indefinite suspension with (the) right to apply for reinstatement after a certain number of games.” At the end of settlement negotiations, the League’s final offer was a 12-game ban with heavy fines, nearing the range of $8MM, with the fines taking the place of the indefinite ban.
Since no settlement was reached, the ruling will hold precedence, unless either side appeals. The only way neither side can appeal is if Robinson rules that Watson did not violate the league’s personal conduct policy. It appears the NFLPA is, at least, under the impression that Robinson won’t reach that conclusion, and they’d rather an appeal doesn’t allow Goodell to side with the League.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if this wrinkle in the league’s disciplinary process becomes a focal point in the next CBA negotiations when the current active agreement expires at the end of the 2030 season. Until then, it appears the Players Association will have to hope they can set a precedent wherein the two parties choose to respect the decision of the independent arbiter, keeping the final say out of the hands of the League’s commissioner.