Sean Pendergast

NFL Announces They Will Appeal Length of Deshaun Watson's Suspension

Screen grab from YouTube
Deshaun Watson's six game suspension is about to get augmented.
On Monday, former federal judge Sue L. Robinson announced that former Houston Texan and current Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson would be receiving a six game suspension for violating the NFL's conduct policy in multiple massage settings. Of course, Watson has been the subject of 24 civil lawsuits from various massage therapists over the last year or so, 23 of which have been settled out of court.

As it pertains to the six game suspension, Robinson's decision has been widely criticized as far too light a punishment for such "egregious" (Robinson's EXACT words herself) behavior by an NFL player, and given the NFL's hypersensitivity to the temperature of public relations, it's not incredibly surprising that the NFL is exercising its right to appeal Robinson's decision and seek a stiffer punishment for Watson.

It was reported by Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, on Thursday morning, that the appeal will not be heard by commissioner Roger Goodell, even though he is permitted to be the judge on any appeals. Instead, Goodell will defer to a third party of his choosing:
Commissioner Roger Goodell has the power to personally handle the Deshaun Watson appeal hearing. He will not be exercising it.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Goodell will not be handling the Watson appeal. He will designate the matter to someone outside the league office.

We don’t know who that is. A decent guess would be Mary Jo White, given that she has recently handled various “independent investigations” for the NFL, and in light of the fact that she does a very good job of giving her client that which it wants.
Throughout the hearings in front of Robinson, back in June and July, the NFL's investigative team working on the Watson case had been pushing for an indefinite suspension with a minimum of one year, after which Watson would have to apply for reinstatement. So to say that the NFL did not get what it wanted out of Robinson's ruling would be a massive understatement.

The belief in NFL circles is that the league is going to continue to push for a significant increase to Watson's six game suspension, and there could be a hefty monetary fine added to the punishment, as well. From a fiscal standpoint, it is worth pointing out that not only did Watson get paid his full $10.5 million salary in 2021 to do nothing for the Texans, but the Browns structured Watson's $46 million income in 2022 in such a way that any suspension will result in a maximum of just a million dollars lost. In other words, even if he is suspended for the entire 2022 season, he will still have made $45 million!

Any decision made by the person hearing the appeal is binding and final under the NFL's Collective Bargaining Agreement between the players and the owners, so Watson's only recourse if the NFL comes back with an increased suspension, especially a significant one, is for Watson to sue the league in federal court, which might get him on the field in 2022 as the courts slowly sort things out, but is likely just going to be a case of the can getting kicked down the road, as players have yet to win when suing the league for violations of the NFL Conduct Policy.

Most famously, Tom Brady sued the league in federal court over his four game Deflate-gate suspension prior to the 2015 season, which allowed Brady to play in 2015, but after losing the court case, he was eventually still suspended for four games and served the sentence in the opening month of the 2016 season instead.

That's the template here for Watson. In fact, he is probably even less likely to successfully challenge the appeal results because the owners and players created Robinson's role as part of the new CBA in 2020. Additionally, both sides agreed to allow for an appeals process. Thus, the court system is likely to look at Watson's case and say something along the lines of "Hey, you guys agreed to this system for your private workplace. Too bad, so sad."

As far as the local angle here in Houston, from purely a football perspective, a longer suspension could mean that Watson doesn't see the field when the Browns come to NRG Stadium in Week 13 in early December. Additionally, a longer suspension, in theory, is good for the Texans because it damages the Browns, and of course, the Texans have the Browns' first round pick in 2023 and 2024 from the Watson trade. The more the Browns lose, the higher those picks are.

Additionally, Tony Buzbee, the attorney for the 24 civil lawsuit plaintiffs is holding a press conference on Thursday at 1 p.m. local time. In light of the NFL's appeal, there could be some more fireworks coming from Buzbee. He has not been bashful in expressing his disgust with Robinson's decision of a six game suspension:
We will continue to track the progress of the NFL's appeal, and any further litigation against Watson, which would seem to still remain a possibility, given the sheer volume of women with whom he scheduled massage appointments from late 2019 through the end of 2020.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.