NFL, NFLPA Far Apart On Deshaun Watson Suspension Length

Sue Robinson, the jointly appointed disciplinary officer in the Deshaun Watson case, began hearing from the NFL, NFLPA and Watson’s camp Tuesday. The league and the union entered the hearing at extreme ends of the punishment spectrum.

The NFL’s stance of a year-long suspension — or an indefinite ban that could extend beyond 2022 — has been circulated for several days now. The NFLPA is attempting to argue Watson should not be suspended, per USA Today’s Josina Anderson and the Washington Post’s Mark Maske (Twitter links). If Robinson rules Watson’s actions did not violate the NFL’s personal conduct policy, leading to no missed games, the NFL cannot appeal, Maske adds. That scenario has long been seen as extremely unlikely.

This gap led to settlement talks breaking off. Those discussions producing an agreement would have removed the appeal component from these proceedings. Absent a negotiated punishment, the sides are making their arguments to Robinson. The hearing has wrapped for the day, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. It is expected to continue Wednesday, Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports notes (on Twitter), and Robinson’s decision is expected this week. With a prime news-dump window Friday, ahead of a holiday weekend, it would not surprise if the initial Watson ruling came down then.

Although 24 women filed civil lawsuits against Watson over the past 15 months, alleging sexual misconduct and/or sexual assault, a Monday report indicated the NFL was planning to center its case on five of those accusers’ accounts. Two of the accusers were among the 10 women to make criminal complaints against Watson, Anderson adds (via Twitter). Neither the Harris Country nor Brazoria County (Texas) grand juries brought charges against the recently traded quarterback. Watson has denied all wrongdoing, but that has not stopped an avalanche of turmoil from engulfing him, the Browns and the Texans over the past three months. This probably being the NFL’s top offseason storyline has certainly not been a good look for the league.

Once Robinson issues a ruling, an appeal — from the NFL or NFLPA — can commence. The 2020 CBA changed league disciplinary measures, but the NFL handling the Watson appeal still allows for one side to wield a fair amount of power here. Roger Goodell can oversee the appeal or pass it along to someone else within the league’s power structure, USA Today’s Mike Jones notes (video link). While the NFL could opt to ensure Watson is shelved for the entire 2022 season via appeal, the league may not want to undercut Robinson’s decision — a historic case and the first to be heard by a neutral arbitrator.

Robinson meeting the parties halfway, via an eight- or 10-game ban or an indefinite suspension that leaves the door open for Watson to return this season, may have been more likely before the additional lawsuits and the expansive New York Times report detailing this saga surfaced in recent weeks. May’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel segment and the ensuing NYT story also led to the Texans being included in existing civil lawsuits and hit with a separate suit. That latest lawsuit also said “at least 30” women have alleged sexual misconduct against Watson during massage therapy sessions. Twenty of the initial 24 civil accusers settled with Watson, but the suit against the Texans leaves open the possibility more will come forward.

But with this being a restructured setup compared to the league’s major scandals during the 2010s, it cannot be assumed Robinson will lean toward a harsh ban. That said, Watson’s side, which has seen the quarterback’s off-field troubles escalate rather than die down since his trade to the Browns, has been expecting a significant punishment for a bit now. The initial decision should be known within days.

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