The Browns are still awaiting news on Deshaun Watson’s availability next season.
Both Watson and the NFL remain far apart on the length of any punishment for Watson.
The NFL has advocated an indefinite suspension to last no shorter than one year, while Watson’s team maintains no suspension is appropriate.
Several weeks ago, the NFL and Watson argued their cases to NFL Disciplinary Officer Sue Robinson.
The sides followed up that hearing by sending Robinson a set of briefs further articulating their positions.
But while the Browns are still waiting for an official word from Robinson, it seems that Cleveland already has an idea of how long they’ll be without Watson.
That’s how long NFL Insider Dov Kleiman (h/t PFT) reported that the Browns are expecting to be without Watson:
The #Browns are preparing for the league to suspend QB Deshaun Watson 8 games, a source told PFT.
A source who has reviewed the materials submitted last week by the parties to Judge Sue L. Robinson that the final punishment most likely won’t be one year. pic.twitter.com/EkhaMYyyXQ
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) July 20, 2022
The eight-game suspension likely isn’t surprising, given the function and often outcome of hearings like this.
Essentially, both parties come to the hearing far apart on an outcome.
Robinson’s role is less to side with either the NFL or Watson, but rather to find something amenable to both parties.
Under that theory, it’s highly unlikely Watson misses the entire season, though his alleged behavior warrants that and much more.
Watson faces potential discipline from the league as a result of over two dozen claims of sexual misconduct against him.
The Browns traded for Watson knowing full well that he faced these serious claims and after they conducted their own “in-depth” investigation.
Another investigation by New York Times reporter Jenny Vrentas uncovered significantly more details, revealing a strikingly similar pattern of behavior enabled by the Houston Texans.
Nonetheless, the Browns happily handed Watson a fully guaranteed five-year contract worth $230 million.
Here’s the caveat.
Watson might indeed see an eight-game suspension handed down by Robinson.
But that’s not the end-all-be-all.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 18, 2022
Under the 2020 NFL CBA, Commissioner Roger Goodell doesn’t have the power to unilaterally hand down suspensions.
Hence why the NFL has designated “disciplinary officers” like Robinson.
But Goodell does have the power to augment the length of a suspension on appeal:
“The Disciplinary Officer’s disciplinary determination will be final and binding subject only to the right of either party to appeal to the Commissioner. … The Commissioner or his designee will issue a written decision that will constitute full, final and complete disposition of the dispute and will be binding upon the player(s), Club(s) and the parties to this Agreement.”
Should the NFL (or even Watson) appeal to Commissioner Goodell, he could very well extend or shorten the suspension.
Perhaps on appeal, Goodell extends Watson’s suspension to a full season, thus placating the league office, while also falling short of an indefinite suspension.
On the other hand, Watson’s team is apparently prepared to sue the NFL in federal court should a lengthy suspension be handed down.
It’s unclear what would constitute a “lengthy suspension” and thus trigger the lawsuit.
It’s also unclear what grounds Watson would base his lawsuit on.
Tom Brady sued the NFL and Goodell in 2016 over Goodell’s handling of the “deflategate” scandal, alleging that the Commissioner abused his power in unilaterally handing down a suspension against the legendary quarterback.
But the federal court disagreed, holding that Goodell had not exceeded his authority.
Under the newest CBA, Goodell no longer has that unilateral power.
Regardless of what Robinson decides, this situation is likely far from over.