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NFL was warned about Deshaun Watson’s suspension length in June, giving league month to consider taking control of outcome

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BEREA, Ohio. If you were going to follow the NFL’s appeal against Deshawn Watson back to the point where the league was probably going to overrule independent referee Sue L. Robinson, it would be right at the start. a disciplinary hearing attended by Watson and his legal camp, as well as representatives from the NFL and the NFL Players Association.

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It was then that Robinson first told league lawyers that the NFL was likely No intends to seek a one-year indefinite suspension sought for the Cleveland Browns quarterback, several sources familiar with the proceedings told Sportzshala Sports.

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According to sources, this was a revelation given by Robinson in front of everyone present. This dealt an instant devastating blow to the NFL’s efforts to historicly suspend Watson, who was accused of sexually harassing or sexually harassing multiple women, in violation of the league’s personal conduct policy. It was a moment that surprised some of those present, who mistakenly believed that Robinson would not reveal a potential solution in the middle of the process.

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It also served as a warning to the NFL, giving the league its first chance to consider what ultimately happened more than a month later: the league’s appeal of Robinson’s six-game suspension that was much less punitive than the NFL wanted; and capturing — or undermining — the revamped disciplinary process that was set out in the 2020 collective bargaining agreement.

July 28, 2022;  Berea, Ohio, USA;  Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshawn Watson (4) walks off the field during training camp at the CrossCountry Mortgage Campus.  Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
It’s unclear when Deshawn Watson will take the field in 2022 for the Browns. (Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports)

Arbiter’s early signal affected settlement talks between Watson and NFL

Robinson notifying the NFL during the hearing brings some clarity to what happened in July in the Watson case. This explains why almost immediately the media began to leak information that Watson would receive a lesser punishment than the league demanded. It also explains why Watson’s camp and the union dared to take a hard line in settlement negotiations that ultimately ended with the NFL offering a 12-game suspension and a fine that would have been a significant portion of the $10.5 million Watson had earned. Houston Texans in 2021. To some involved in the negotiations, it appeared that the NFL was trying to turn Watson’s final season with the Texans (in which he never made the field) into a backdated suspension. The NFL could later point this out and say, “Look, he lost most of what he made in 2021 and never got on the field. So he was basically removed. Now he has suspended 12 more games on top of that.”

Ultimately, these settlement talks could be the key to what happens next. Largely because it will be Commissioner Roger Goodell who will appoint a league-friendly representative as the final arbitrator in this case, and it goes without saying that the next arbitrator will be well aware of what the NFL was seeking in the settlement negotiations.

What does all of this mean?

Well, let’s take a look in the rearview mirror first. When it all started, Robinson was touted as an independent referee who offered to balance the NFL’s justice system. After the league’s appeal, the curtain was pulled back to reveal what many have suspected from day one: that even with an independent arbiter, the most significant element of power still lies in the hands of the NFL. And this is ultimately the only window that matters in the years to come. The NFL had the option to leave much of the suspension power in the hands of the referee. Instead, he chose to redefine this arbitrator and reclaim that control.

Some argue that this was the right move in the Watson case. Others will scold. But the facts are what they are. The NFL had leverage to take control of what mattered most, and it pulled it Wednesday.

The NFL is looking for 1 of these 2 outcomes for Deshawn Watson

All of which brings us back to what the league requires as part of its appeal. According to sources familiar with the appeal, the NFL is seeking one of two outcomes:

  • Watson will be suspended indefinitely for one year. During this year, he will undergo an element of treatment related to the behavior found in his case. At the end of the year, Watson will apply for reinstatement and if he meets the league’s criteria, he will return to the Browns. In this scenario, Watson would not face a fine as part of his punishment, however, his contract in Cleveland would be tough, essentially his five-year extension starting in 2023, not 2022.

    The latter circumstance is of great importance, since it effectively pushes back Watson’s next contract by one year, erasing the earning season from his career.

  • Watson will face a significant fine if his suspension ends up lasting less than one year. As with the first result, he will also have to undergo treatment during the suspension. Think of this scenario as a juxtaposition to the league’s last calculated volley in July, which would have suspended 12 games for Watson and fined him roughly his 2021 salary of $10.5 million. This would be a significant financial cost to Watson, but also one that would see him return to the NFL without having to apply for reinstatement or cancel his current one-year contract.

The inherent problem with both of these outcomes is that Watson and the union have already rejected both – in the hearings with Robinson and in the various settlement negotiations before and after those proceedings. The difference now is that Watson’s ability to find options is shrinking. As the NFL assumes control of the final part of the disciplinary process, Goodell’s appointee’s findings will be binding under the rules of the collective bargaining agreement.

This means that if the appointee achieves an outcome that Watson and the union reject, the next step is to follow in the footsteps of Tom Brady and Ezekiel Elliott and sue the NFL disciplinary process. Even so, Watson may be at a greater disadvantage than any of those other players because neither Brady nor Elliott went to an independent arbitrator to determine if they violated the league’s personal conduct policy. Watson did so, and this arbitrator made it clear in his decision that he had violated the policy when he was deemed to have committed “non-violent sexual conduct.” And the league’s suspension appeal is something the union willingly passed on during CBA negotiations.

It sounds like an uphill battle that started with the last CBA, and the structure of the disciplinary process has remained the same as before: a rest in the hands of a league that doesn’t seem to have any qualms about controlling it, especially when it gets advance notice of that things don’t go the way he expects.


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