The NFLPA was given two business days to file a brief in response to the NFL’s requests. Deshaun Watson call. The union has, as expected, followed up on the filing of a memorandum in response (Twitter link).
This matter now falls to the appeal appointee, Peter Harvey, who Roger Goodel appointed to hear the league’s appeal. Harvey helped the NFL craft its personal conduct policy, and the fact that Goodell chose him to hear his appeal for Watson’s six-game suspension suggests the league is confident more games will be added to the list. Browns quarterback banned.
This puts the NFLPA in a situation where a legal battle seems likely. Since the union did not appeal Sue Robinson’s six-game ban, Watson will miss the first six games of this season. However, a court fight could have him on the court immediately afterwards. A preliminary injunction, while the courts deal with this matter, would put Watson in a position to play and – assuming the league’s ABC resists in court – would serve two separate suspensions. Or, the union’s legal effort fails before that Week 7 window and Watson is serving a longer suspension that covers most or all of the 2022 season. Tom Brady and Ezekiel Elliott played under injunctions, but each served suspensions determined by Goodell at later dates.
The NFL is again seeking a season-long suspension, its goal for several weeks. Robinson ruling that Watson violated the league’s personal conduct policy by committing sexual assault during massage therapy sessions empowers Harvey to increase his suspension. In the absence of a full season suspension, the league wants to significantly 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 if suspended, was not well received by the NFL.
Settlement talks between the NFL and the NFLPA have taken place periodically, and more clarity has emerged on what each side is willing to accept. The NFLPA spent weeks arguing that Watson shouldn’t be suspended at all, but ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano 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 were to be implemented via a settlement, Graziano adds that the NFL also wanted Watson fined approximately $8 million.
Watson’s camp was unwilling to accept pressure from the NFL for an indefinite suspension, according to NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo, who describes it as a key driver in breaking off settlement talks (video link). As it stands, Watson is expected to lose less than $500,000 from his six-game ban. A full season absence would only cost him his base salary of $1 million.
This process, which involved 25 civil lawsuits filed against the recently traded quarterback, will be designed to conclude quickly, relays Jeff Darlington of ESPN.com (on Twitter). No further hearings are forthcoming, only Harvey’s decision. After that, it could spill over to the court. The Browns are ready to give their starting job to Jacoby Brisset during Watson’s absence, with Josh Dobb and Josh Rosen serving as reserve options.