This matter now goes to appellate appointee Peter Harvey, whom Roger Goodell designated to hear the league’s appeal. Harvey helped the NFL craft its personal conduct policy, and the fact Goodell has selected him to hear its appeal of Watson’s six-game suspension suggests the league is confident more games will be tacked onto the Browns quarterback’s ban.
That taking place puts the NFLPA in a spot in which a court battle seems likely. Since the union did not appeal Sue Robinson’s six-game ban, Watson will miss this season’s first six games. However, a court fight could have him on the field immediately after. A preliminary injunction, as courts deal with this matter, would put Watson in position to play and — assuming the league’s CBA holds up in court — serve two separate suspensions. Or, the union’s legal effort fails ahead of that Week 7 window and Watson serves a longer suspension that covers most or all of the 2022 season. Tom Brady and Ezekiel Elliott played under injunctions, but each served the Goodell-determined suspensions at later dates.
The NFL is again seeking a full-season suspension, its goal for the past several weeks. Robinson ruling Watson violated the league’s personal conduct policy by committing sexual assault during massage therapy sessions gives Harvey the power to increase his suspension. Absent a full-season suspension, the league wants to substantially increase Watson’s fine. The Browns structuring of Watson’s contract, giving the former Texans Pro Bowler a league-minimum salary to minimize his financial punishment in the event of a suspension, has not sat well with the NFL.
Settlement talks between the NFL and NFLPA have occurred periodically, and more clarity has emerged on what each side was willing to accept. The NFLPA spent weeks arguing Watson should not be suspended at all, but Dan Graziano of ESPN.com reports the union was willing to accept an eight-game ban. The shortest absence the NFL was willing to allow was 12 games. If the 12-game suspension was to be put in place via a settlement, Graziano adds the NFL also wanted Watson fined in the $8MM range.
Watson’s camp was not willing to go along with the NFL’s push for an indefinite suspension, per Mike Garafolo of NFL.com, who describes that component as a lead driver in breaking off the settlement talks (video link). As it stands now, Watson is set to lose less than $500K from his six-game ban. A full-season absence would only cost him his $1MM base salary.
This process, which involved 25 civil lawsuits filed against the recently traded quarterback, will be designed to conclude expeditiously, ESPN.com’s Jeff Darlington relays (on Twitter). No additional hearings are forthcoming, only Harvey’s decision. After that, it could spill over into court. The Browns are set to give their starting job to Jacoby Brissett during Watson’s absence, with Josh Dobbs and Josh Rosen serving as reserve options.