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Report: NFL “more likely” to accept 6-8 game suspension of Deshaun Watson and not appeal

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Not much news came during or after the first day Deshawn Watson disciplinary hearing. One particular piece of information that has emerged requires further analysis and interpretation.

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From Rob Maaddy of the Associated Press: “I was also told that the NFL, despite pushing for an indefinite suspension, wants to avoid an appeal process – a source said it’s a ‘terrible situation for everyone involved’ – so the league more likely to comply by Sue Robinson’s decision IF she comes back with 6-8 games.”

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This is an amazing discovery. If this is true and accurate (and we will rely on Maaddi in this regard), the question arises, what does this mean?

First, why would the NFL leak this critical concession? Does she fear that if Judge Robinson thinks the NFL is destined to seize on an initially rigged appeal process, she likely won’t discipline Watson at all? After all, this is the only way under the Collective Agreement to prevent an appeal, which will then be decided by the Commissioner.

It’s hard not to wonder if this is all a ploy to get her to impose a little discipline so that the league could then turn to the commissioner, whose staff had already decided that Watson should be suspended for at least a year.

Remember, the commissioner cannot afford to be seen as being too lenient with Watson. It would be hard to convince anyone that the league simply accepted something much less than what the NFL wanted, just to avoid dragging on a “terrible situation.” Given the steps in the process that the NFL and the NFL Players Association have collectively agreed upon, the league has the absolute right to refer to the Commissioner any decision by Judge Robinson other than the decision not to penalize Watson at all. Why would the league just go along with Judge Robinson’s decision if it falls far short of what the league wants?

To be honest, it looks like a league maneuver. By making referee Robinson believe that the league will not appeal her decision if it is within 6-8 games, she may be less inclined to believe that Watson should not be punished at all, since otherwise it is the only one they want to keep the commissioner from imposing the punishment that the league currently wants. Leaking this to the AP after the first day of the hearing, the league may well be using the media to negotiate with Judge Robinson about moderate discipline, with a wink that her decision won’t be violated if it falls within the presumably preferred range.

If this causes it to impose 6-8 games, assuming the league won’t challenge it, the league can then initiate an appeal process and request what it wanted in the first place.

Indeed, how much “worse” would the situation be if the league appealed Judge Robinson’s decision to the Commissioner? It doesn’t look like there’s going to be another full-blown hearing. It’s happening now. Appeal to the Commissioner would be much more streamlined and efficient. It would take less time and effort. And, speaking the language of the Central Bank, this would allow the commissioner to carry out the very punishment that his department is now trying to provide.

Anyone who knows anything about how the league’s office under Roger Goodell has behaved for almost 16 years knows that the league will be as aggressive as it wants to be. Despite occasional gaffes (including, most notably, mismanagement of the Ray Rice case), the Commissioner lives up to his reputation as an Enforcer. Why would anyone believe he would agree to Watson’s 6-8 game suspension when the league office is currently pushing for a minimum ban of at least one year?

No, it looks and feels like an attempt to make Judge Robinson think her decision would be safe, in order to minimize any temptation to slam the door on the Commissioner’s appellate jurisdiction, finding that Watson shouldn’t be punished at all. And if we can see it, so can she.

bottom line? We don’t buy it. And neither should she. Nothing leaked to the Associated Press or anyone else is binding on the NFL. Once the league receives the 6-8 game suspension it is currently seeking, the league can appeal to the commissioner. Some will say, “But I thought they weren’t going to appeal against such a suspension?” At this point, the league can either ignore these questions or simply say, “We never officially said that.”

Given that this is the first application of the new process stemming from the 2020 labor agreement, there is no precedent, no history, no past practice. Everyone is exploring new lands, sailing on uncharted waters.

The league has long been doing its best to get whatever it wants. He currently wants to put Watson on hold for at least a year. It’s very hard to imagine the league just shrugging and agreeing to 6-8 games when they know they can appeal directly to the person who runs the league’s office to get more. Our guess is that the league wants to make sure referee Robinson imposes discipline so that the commissioner can impose the full discipline that the league wants.


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