The disciplinary hearing for Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson is set to begin on Tuesday, June 28, as Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reports. The matter will be heard by Sue L. Robinson, who served as a judge in the Unites States District Court for the District of Delaware for over 25 years. Robinson was jointly appointed by the league and the NFLPA, although commissioner Roger Goodell would handle any appeal of the discipline that Robinson imposes.
As we have learned, the league will be pushing for a lengthy suspension, and Aaron Wilson of Pro Football Network hears that an indefinite ban may be the NFL’s goal. One potential problem there is that the league was unable to speak with a significant number of the 26 women who have levied accusations against Watson, so its case will be based upon the testimony of only a fraction of those women. It’s important to note, however, that Goodell would also hear the league’s appeal if it feels Robinson’s punishment is too light.
The NFL and NFLPA, along with Watson’s advisors, attempted to negotiate a suspension before the hearing, although the parties were unable to agree to suspension length. Per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, it is unlikely that those negotiations will be revived (Florio adds in a separate piece that the NFL was insisting upon a one-year ban in its talks with the union).
Another key piece of the Watson saga, of course, is his contract. When additional lawsuits were filed against the quarterback after he became a member of the Browns, it seemed possible that Cleveland could attempt to void Watson’s fully-guaranteed deal, though a report at the time suggested that the club had no such intentions. Andrew Brandt of SI.com, citing a league source, says that the money to be paid over first two years of the pact — 2022 and 2023 — are not subject to forfeiture anyway.
Per Brandt, the Browns could attempt to void the final three years of the contract for “new misbehavior” that triggers league discipline. And while it might seem that the lawsuits filed after Cleveland authorized the Watson deal in March would qualify as “new misbehavior,” Brandt is not so sure. The former Packers exec points out that the allegations contained in the most recent suits are consistent with those in the suits that the Browns already knew about, so if they were to try and back out of the deal, they would be facing a grievance that might prove difficult to win.
As for the more immediate disciplinary matter, Robinson’s decision is expected to be made no later than the beginning of training camp, although Schefter says it could be handed down within a week of the end of the hearing. As Mark Maske of the Washington Post tweets, if Robinson feels there was no violation of the league’s Personal Conduct Policy, then there will not only be no suspension, but the NFL could not take an appeal; Watson would simply be free to play. In light of everything we have heard to this point, such a finding seems unlikely.