After what's felt like an interminable 15 months of legal tussles, social media fireworks, and various strategic steps and missteps from attorneys and Deshaun Watson himself, we are getting indicators that this Watson's legal saga, from an NFL punishment perspective, may be reaching a conclusion.
According to Mark Maske of the Washington Post
, the NFL, upon conclusion of its investigation, is going to argue that Watson receive a "significant" suspension for the lewd acts that he is accused of by 24 civil lawsuit plaintiffs in what was supposed to be a professional massage setting. In fact, one source from Watson's side said they are expecting the NFL to recommend a full season suspension.
Make no mistake, this determination by the league, if it does turn into a full season suspension for 2022, puts this trade firmly into "disaster" territory for the Browns, and makes Nick Caserio's entire process in moving Watson one of the most shining examples of patience and shrewdness in NFL GM history. More on this a minute.
For those who don't know how punishment is doled out in the NFL, there is a fairly new process that was agreed to between players and owners in the latest collective bargaining agreement in March 2020. Whereas prior to the latest CBA, commissioner Roger Goodell was judge, jury, and executioner, now it's a more neutral process.
The NFL, led by investigator Lisa Friel, does its investigative work. In this case, it literally took months and months because of the sheer volume of accusers. From there, once the investigation has concluded, Friel and her team turn over their findings and recommendation for punishment to a third party mediator by the name of Sue L. Robinson, a former U.S. district judge who is jointly appointed by the league and the NFL Players Association under the conduct policy.
Once Robinson issues her decision, that's where Goodell could come into play. If there is no punishment for Watson, then there can be no appeal from either side. The case is closed. However, if there is a punishment — and in Watson's case, it would be the shock of the century if there weren't — then either side can appeal, and Goodell can add to or subtract from the punishment as he sees fit. So Goodell still matters, but it is a more neutral process.
So let's peek ahead here, and play this thing out. If it IS a one year suspension for Watson, why is that and what does it all mean?
Why does a one year suspension make sense?
Well, I am going to preface this by saying that, regardless of the punishment, the one thing we will all never know is exactly how compelling the NFL's interviews were with the accusers and with Watson himself. If the suspension is for a full season, though, I think it's a pretty good indicator that alleged victims like Ashley Solis were just as convincing in private NFL interviews as Solis was on HBO's Real Sports
. Beyond that, if Watson does get hit with a full season, it will be interesting to see if there is any reaction that a one year suspension is too LIGHT, given the fact that MLB hit Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer, accused of some pretty nasty stuff by multiple women, with a TWO season suspension, which for all intents and purposes, is a career ender for him. That's actually a good segue into this next question...
What does a one year suspension mean for Watson and the Browns?
In a purely 2022 window, it means the obvious — the Browns are going to be a much worse football team in 2022 than they thought they would be when they consummated this deal for Watson. They go from being a likely double digit win team to maybe a 5 or 6 win team with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. Beyond this season, though, a one season suspension would be disastrous in the big picture for the Browns in two ways. First, they've already paid most of Watson's 2022 income, $45 million to be exact, in the form of a signing bonus. That money is now mostly spread out over the next four seasons on their salary cap, and Watson's cap hit is an astronomical $55 million from 2023 through 2026. Furthermore, the last time Watson played in a real NFL game was January 3, 2021. If he comes back to start in Week 1 of the 2023 season, that will be 980 days in between starts. 980 DAYS! That is not optimal, especially when I think there are major questions as to how he recovers psychologically from being so despised around the league. More on that in a moment.
What does a one year suspension mean for the Houston Texans?
OK, now for the good news, and that news is for YOU, Texan fans! If Watson is suspended for a full season as those close to him believe could happen, then the 2023 first round pick that the team received in the deal has a really good chance of being a top 10 pick. If we believe that the Browns, with Brissett as their starter, are a six win team, then know this — the Bears were 6-11 in 2021 and received the seventh pick in the draft. (Actually, they traded that pick to the Giants, but you get my point.) So that pick, along with the Texans' pick of their own, which should be a top five pick, has them sitting pretty to do whatever they want in the 2023 draft. Again, Nick Caserio crushed this whole transaction. Kudos, Nick!
Does Deshaun Watson ever recover, from an image standpoint, from this?
After watching Michael Vick emerge from two years in prison for some of the horrific stuff he did, I won't rule out any NFL comeback anymore. NFL fans (including me) are fickle people, who are heavily swayed by good play on the field. I guess the difference between Vick and Watson is that Vick never said he didn't do the things he was convicted for. Watson is essentially calling 24 accusers (and likely more coming) liars. If the NFL rules that he's done for a full season, then that's pretty damning. The NFL's investigative process is not a court of law, but it does sway public opinion. Watson seems to be trying like crazy to mitigate damage, mentioning "community" every chance he gets on the rare occasions he's spoken publicly, but it's not working. Not outside Cleveland, at least.
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