Disciplinary officer Sue Robinson suspended the Browns quarterback for six games, a number that came in well short of what the NFL hoped. Weeks ago, cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot reported the NFL would not sit by if a six- or eight-game ban came down. This long-rumored action will put the union to the test. The NFLPA said it would not appeal Robinson’s initial decision, but now that the NFL has launched its effort, the ball is in the union’s court.
No compromise is in play here. Long connected to seeking a full-season Watson suspension, the NFL will again push for that upon appeal, Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com tweets. The league will push to see Watson suspended indefinitely, per The Ringer’s Lindsay Jones (on Twitter). It has not been a secret the NFL wants Watson off the field in 2022. The league argued for such a ban during the June hearing.
The NFL wants Watson fined as well, per ESPN.com’s Jeff Darlington (on Twitter). No fine was included in Monday’s suspension. The Browns structured Watson’s contract so he would make the league minimum in 2022, thus reducing his fine when a suspension came. As for the Browns, they had no comment on the appeal, Cabot tweets.
The NFLPA has two days to respond to this move. With Roger Goodell or a Goodell appointee overseeing the appeal — the setup the league and the union agreed to when the parties hammered out the current CBA in March 2020 — the union would not seem to have much hope of keeping this suspension at six games. A move to shift this matter to the courts surfaced during Robinson’s deliberation. While Tom Brady and Ezekiel Elliott ended up serving their suspensions despite lengthy legal sagas, it would surprise if the union stood pat if this appeal leads to an increased Watson penalty. The NFLPA likely will take NFL to court, Cabot writes.
This offseason’s defining story doubled as the first usage of the independent arbitrator for a personal conduct policy violation. While the NFL risks further damaging its relationship with the NFLPA by moving to change Robinson’s decision, this is the policy the union approved — albeit by a narrow vote — when the CBA was ratified. Barring the union earning a surprise victory in court, Goodell’s decision will stand. An injunction could open the door to Watson playing to start the season, as Brady and Elliott did while courts addressed their suspensions, but the NFL’s CBA held up in those cases.
This news will certainly affect the Browns’ prospects for a successful 2022 season. The team has faced waves of criticism for authorizing the fully guaranteed $230MM contract — a measure that convinced Watson to choose Cleveland over NFC South suitors — after 22 women had sued the Pro Bowl quarterback alleging sexual assault and/or sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions. Two more women filed suit after Watson joined the Browns, who were not expecting a full-season suspension when they sent the Texans a trade package of three first-round picks and change. Monday, then, represented a positive development for the team. Wednesday’s news does not.
Although a statement from Browns owner Jimmy Haslam said Watson was remorseful, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com said during a TV appearance Watson remains adamant he did nothing wrong (Twitter link via Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith). Watson has maintained this stance throughout the offseason. Two grand juries did not indict the embattled QB, and the NFLPA argued no suspension was necessary. But Robinson’s report indicated Watson-perpetrated sexual assault and misconduct did take place.
In her report, Robinson concluded Watson committed sexual assault and described the 26-year-old’s pattern of nonviolent sexual conduct as “more egregious than any before reviewed by the NFL.” The sexual assault being deemed nonviolent helped induce Robinson to settle on six games, but the language she used when describing her conclusion undoubtedly opened the door for the league to act. Watson is no longer permitted to go through with non-team-approved massages for the rest of his career. The NFL is also seeking the sixth-year veteran to undergo treatment, Mark Maske of the Washington Post tweets.
The Browns have Jacoby Brissett in place to start while Watson is suspended. Jimmy Garoppolo rumors have effectively been shut down, but going from Watson to Brissett would obviously be a crushing blow for a Browns team that would seemingly be positioned to contend with the former running the show. The team, which traded four-year starter Baker Mayfield to the Panthers in early July, has Joshua Dobbs and the recently signed Josh Rosen in place behind Brissett.