The NFL has decided to challenge Judge Sue L. Robinson’s ruling that Deshaun Watson face a six-game suspension.
Robinson issued a relatively short sentence for the Browns quarterback, who is accused of sexually assaulting or otherwise touching, without their consent, upward of 60 women who provided him with massage therapy while he was with the Texans.
Though he was not criminally indicted, Watson faced 24 civil suits, setting out of court in all but one. Though Robinson ruled the NFL provided significant evidence that Watson violated the league’s personal conduct policy, her ruling reflected what she believed was established precedent by the league itself.
The league’s challenge sets up commissioner Roger Goodell to appoint another arbitrator in the case, one who is more likely to provide a suspension more in line with the league’s preferred length. Should the arbitrator tack on a significant number of games to Watson’s suspension, it could set up a lengthy battle in federal court.
DeCOURCY: Magnitude of Browns’ brainless deal for Deshaun Watson coming into focus
The Sporting News is following the latest updates on the NFL’s suspension appeal, and whether Watson will be able to play at all in 2022:
Deshaun Watson news: Latest updates on NFL suspension appeal
Thursday, Aug. 4
After indicating he wouldn’t be the one to hear the NFL’s appeal, Roger Goodell selected a designee to hear the case.
NFL teams were just notified that former NJ Attorney General Peter C. Harvey is commissioner Roger Goodell’s designee to hear the appeal of the disciplinary decision involving Deshaun Watson, per sources.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 4, 2022
ProFootballTalk reports Goodell will not hear the appeal, instead appointing his own arbitrator.
Per source, Roger Goodell will not personally handle the Deshaun Watson appeal. He will designate someone not with the league office to handle it.
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) August 4, 2022
Ian Rapoport indicated on Thursday that Watson and the NFL could still negotiate a settlement, despite the appeal.
From Inside Training Camp: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s designee will hear the appeal of the Deshaun Watson suspension. pic.twitter.com/fuZiCJzSA5
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 4, 2022
Wednesday, Aug. 3
The NFL announces it will appeal Robinson’s ruling, saying Goodell would decide whether to hear the appeal himself or appoint another arbiter. As noted by Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, any response by the NFLPA to the appeal must come within two business days. Moreover, Goodell or the arbitrator’s ruling will not be subject to appeal, meaning it will be final in as much the CBA is concerned.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 3, 2022
Now, Watson’s suspension and any subsequent fine could be way worse had he taken the reported settlement offered by the NFL.
Watson gambled and he lost.
He had a chance to accept a settlement deal from the NFL of 12-games and around a $10 million fine (his salary for 2021) – He declined and now with this appeal, he’ll likely serve a lot more than those 6 games.
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) August 3, 2022
So, what’s next?
The league will announce a longer suspension for Watson. He will sue and get an injunction just like every player before him who has done the same. Then eventually the NFL will win in court because this process is in the CBA
— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) August 3, 2022
MORE: Deshaun Watson suspension: Sue L. Robinson explains decision of 6-game ban for Browns QB despite ‘egregious’ behavior
Monday, Aug. 1
Judge Sue L. Robinson ruled for a six-game suspension for Watson, well short of the NFL’s preferred indefinite suspension of at least a year.
In her ruling, Robinson determined Watson violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy, noting his “pattern of conduct is more egregious than any before ruled by the NFL.” She also noted that the league had provided ample evidence that the Watson’s accusers did not consent to being touched.
Despite that, she deemed his violations were related to “non-violent sexual conduct,” and that the league’s established precedent of similar suspensions (four games for Ben Roethlisberger in 2010, six for Ezekiel Elliott in 2017) limited the length of the suspension to six games.
She also claimed the NFL was trying to enact a new conduct policy as opposed to the one agreed to in the NFL and NFLPA’s collective bargaining agreement. By challenging her ruling, the NFL is saying there is no precedent for Watson’s case, considering the scope of his sexual assault violations (as defined by the CBA).
Below is the reasoning for her ruling, in which she also ruled that Watson could only receive massages from team-appointed or -approved therapists.
Here are the key conclusions that Judge Robinson offered today in her written decision to suspend Deshaun Watson for six games. pic.twitter.com/gPW5INw09t
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 1, 2022
The Browns released a statement in support of Watson, adding that their newly acquired quarterback is “remorseful” of the situation. Watson, for what it is worth, has always maintained his innocence of him.
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) August 1, 2022
MORE: NFL appeals Deshaun Watson suspension: What’s next for Roger Goodell, Browns & more after challenge of ruling
Sunday, July 31
7:45 p.m. ET: The NFLPA and Watson release a joint statement saying they will not appeal the initial ruling by Robinson, calling on the NFL to do the same.
Our joint statement with Deshaun Watson on the impending arbitration decision: pic.twitter.com/9ObLnHiX6J
— NFLPA (@NFLPA) July 31, 2022
8:40 p.m. ET: Dan Graziano of ESPN reports that the NFL and Watson’s legal team engaged in talks to suspend him 12 games and fine him upward of $8 million. The compromise would have kept Watson from an indefinite suspension of at least a year, but the suspension length and additional fine — a result of Watson’s backloaded contract in Cleveland — caused Watson and the NFLPA to reject the offer.
Per sources, Deshaun Watson and the NFL did engage in further settlement talks in recent days, but neither side felt they got close. The best Watson’s side indicated it would accept was 6-8 games. Best league indicated it was willing to do was 12 games + heavy fine $8 thousand range).
— Dan Graziano (@DanGrazianoESPN) August 1, 2022
MORE: Deshaun Watson suspension, explained: Everything to know about NFL’s punishment for Browns QB and what’s next
Will Deshaun Watson play in Week 1?
The possibility exists, however slim, that Watson could be on the field in Week 1 if the NFL rules in favor of a longer suspension than Robinson initially applied to his case.
The only way for that to happen is for the NFLPA to challenge the NFL’s ruling in federal court, in so doing requesting a temporary restraining order to the increased suspension. That would potentially allow for Watson to play in Week 1 while the case is handled in the courts. The NFLPA took a similar approach to both the Elliott and Tom Brady cases, though lost on both cases.
The question here isn’t whether Watson would win in court, but whether the timing of litigation would allow him to be on the field at any point in the season. As noted by Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk, such a scenario might be too difficult to achieve, on two counts:
- Robinson’s six-game suspension, at minimum, becomes set in stone if the NFLPA does not file an appeal of the suspension by Thursday, which it did not.
The NFL could file a first lawsuit in the same court district in which Brady and Elliott’s cases were tried, where a precedent is set in favor of the league. That would make it more likely that the judge in charge of the case would not provide a restraining order for Watson.
Another factor to consider is whether any injunction would take place immediately, or would follow Robinson’s six-game ruling.