Sean Pendergast

Is Deshaun Watson Trying to Cut a Deal With the NFL?

Deshaun Watson's camp seems nervous about how the NFL's punishment could go for him.
Deshaun Watson's camp seems nervous about how the NFL's punishment could go for him. Screen grab from YouTube
With NFL training camp a little over a month away, we still don't have a clear exit plan from the Deshaun Watson legal quagmire, for the league in punishing Watson nor for Watson himself in resolving the remaining four lawsuits against him (not to mention the dark cloud of other potential plaintiffs coming out of the woodwork in the coming weeks).

The whole thing remains complicated, but we are starting to see some smoke that resolution on at least PART of the drama could come soon, as Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reported over the weekend that Watson's disciplinary hearing is set to being on Tuesday this week.

So perhaps a conclusion is imminent. As to how Watson's camp is feeling about the outcome, I would point to Thursday of this past week, when along came this little nugget from NFL reporter Josina Anderson, formerly of ESPN and current of CBS:
Wow, that's interesting, right? Watson and his camp (and the players' union) trying to negotiate some sort of deal with the NFL, like a perp trying to cut a deal with the Feds to minimize a prison term. Seems a little odd, and very unlike the NFL. However, this Watson situation is unprecedented in so many way. Michael McCann, a sports law expert, lays out why these meetings between the three sides — NFL, NFLPA, and Watson's camp — may be happening:
So let's dissect this — what exactly do we think is happening here? Here are my thoughts on this, based on no inside information, purely my opinion:

It appears SOME suspension for Watson is a certainty now
The fact that the three sides are sitting down having a conversation about what exactly a punishment should look like for Watson would seem to indicate that there WILL BE a punishment. Watson has  maintained his innocence all along, although that task has become more and more difficult with the additional lawsuits added on this month, the HBO feature on the lawsuits, and the fact that Watson's 20 settlements with 20 of the plaintiffs aren't exactly the maneuvers of an innocent man. However, with punishment being handed down for the first time under this new conduct policy, by a third party former judge named Susan Robinson, nobody really knows what the threshold for proof is for punishment. In other words, Watson could have had a small percentage chance — VERY small, but not zero — of avoiding a suspension altogether. This news seems to eliminate any chance of Watson skating free.

Any talks are likely being initiated fully by Watson's side
Of the two opposing sides — Watson and the NFL — Watson's side is the one with far less leverage. The NFL still holds the hammer, because even after Robinson hands down her decision, commissioner Roger Goodell has the right to amend it, if the NFL's investigative team files an appeal. Watson's side is seeing the news of a full season suspension becoming the favorite, and they want to try to mitigate the damage, by using the only currency they have....

The currency they are using, mitigating drama, shouldn't matter to the NFL
...and that's the promise to agree to whatever the punishment is without the threat of an appeal or a lawsuit against the league. In other words, if they are initiating these talks, Watson's side (and to a lesser extent, the NFLPA) is probably saying "The drama will go away, if we all agree that Deshaun should be suspended for X-number of games." There are two problems with that proposal, if indeed that's what they are doing. First, Watson can't make any promises that the drama is over, because there are still four open lawsuits against him, lawsuits that will go to trial if they're not settled. Second, any promise of drama going away minimizes the NFL's stomach for drama. Right now, the league is dealing with some serious allegations against ownership or upper management of four of their franchises — Washington, Dallas, Las Vegas, and Miami. Watson's saga, which has kind of settled in as something we've all dealt with daily for over a year, really just blends into the NFL's tapestry of woe at this point.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast