Embroiled in what has become a career-defining scandal for more than 14 months now, Deshaun Watson will learn his NFL punishment soon. Roger Goodell said the league is “nearing the end” of its investigatory process, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
The league met with Watson last week and is expected to meet with the Browns quarterback again in an investigation that defense attorney Rusty Hardin expects to end by June or July. The 22 civil suits Watson is facing, however, will not be complete until 2023, per Charles Robinson of Yahoo.com. The NFL’s initial punishment will commence far before the civil trials conclude.
Both Watson’s legal team and Tony Buzbee, who is representing the massage therapists who have accused the Pro Bowl passer of sexual misconduct and/or sexual assault, have agreed not to go through depositions between August 1 and March 1. When the civil trials wrap, the NFL could impose additional punishment. While it is uncertain if the league will end up punishing Watson, a suspension has long been expected. The Browns structured Watson’s five-year, $230MM contract in a way that would anticipate punishment, dropping his 2022 base salary to a league-minimum $1.1MM.
The NFL has met with more than half of Watson’s accusers, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. Independent arbitrator Sue Robinson, a former U.S. District Court Judge, will render the initial verdict. The NFL and NFLPA can appeal her decision, which would send the matter to Goodell, who has drawn scrutiny for his disciplinary decisions for much of his tenure as commissioner.
HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel recently aired a piece featuring two of Watson’s accusers, Kyla Hayes and Ashley Solis, detailing their allegations. While Watson and his camp have continued to deny all accusations of wrongdoing, Hardin has acknowledged his team was “not going to win the battle of public opinion,” via Cabot. Though two grand juries did not charge Watson, players do not need to be charged with crimes to be suspended. Considering the ongoing civil trials hanging over Watson until 2023, the sixth-year veteran will undoubtedly play this season amid controversy.