The silence is about to be broken surrounding Cleveland Browns star quarterback Deshaun Watson as a disciplinary ruling is expected to be rendered Monday at roughly 9 a.m. ET, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
The unprecedented case involves multiple accusations of sexual misconduct stemming from the three-time Pro Bowl selection’s sessions with female massage therapists alleging a pattern of misbehavior. Watson was not charged with any crimes by two Texas grand juries, and he has maintained his innocence.
Sources weigh in on potential Deshaun Watson punishment
Former Delaware federal Judge Sue L. Robinson, the jointly appointed disciplinary officer, will issue her much-anticipated ruling. Multiple league sources emphasized that the judge’s ruling can’t be predicted because Robinson, hearing a league disciplinary case for the first time under the altered personal conduct policy from the NFL collective bargaining agreement, hasn’t indicated what she has decided to either side.
That said, one source said it would be a victory for Watson if he plays any football in 2022. Another source predicted that the judge will ultimately decide that a relative compromise between 8-12 games and perhaps a heavy fine will be her ruling. Any ruling can be appealed, but the NFL Players Association called for the league to not appeal any ruling and has stated it will not appeal the ruling.
That has been interpreted by some league sources as a strong indication that the Watson punishment will not be for an entire season, as NFL lawyers argued for during a three-day disciplinary hearing before Robinson in June in Delaware. Settlement talks were unsuccessful with the league pushing for an entire year, and the NFLPA and Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, argued that his punishment, if any, should be significantly shorter.
The NFL presented four cases involving different massage therapists and attempted to establish a pattern of inappropriate behavior. The union argued that a potentially significant punishment for Watson would be unfair, since NFL owners who have faced allegations, including New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, and Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder, haven’t been dealt with harshly.
NFLPA issues statement about Watson situation
On Sunday evening, the NFLPA issued a statement regarding the looming disciplinary ruling.
“In advance of Judge Robinson’s decision, we wanted to reiterate the facts of this proceeding,” the union said in a statement. “First, we have fully cooperated with every NFL inquiry and provided the NFL with the most comprehensive set of information for any personal conduct policy investigation. A former Federal Judge — appointed jointly by the NFLPA and NFL — held a full and fair hearing, has read thousands of pages of investigative documents and reviewed arguments from both sides impartially.
“Every player, owner, business partner and stakeholder deserves to know that our process is legitimate and will not be tarnished based on the whims of the League office. This is why, regardless of her decision, Deshaun and the NFLPA will stand by her ruling and we call on the NFL to do the same.”
Under the rules governing a potential appeal, each side has three days to file an appeal. The NFL can’t appeal if Watson gets no suspension, but that scenario is regarded as extremely unlikely, if not a wildly unlikely outcome, per multiple sources.
Should a punishment be appealed, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell or a designee will issue a written decision “that will constitute full, final and complete disposition of the dispute.”
In June, Watson settled 20 of 24 lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct with confidential settlements reached between the NFL player and the plaintiffs represented by Houston attorney Tony Buzbee. Four lawsuits are active and scheduled to be heard next year.
The Texans reached confidential settlements with 30 women, admitting no wrongdoing after being accused by Buzbee of enabling Watson’s behavior with a Houstonian hotel and spa membership and a nondisclosure agreement given to him by a team security director after a woman threatened to “expose” Watson and posted his Cash App and telephone number on social media.
Watson was traded in March from the Texans, in exchange for three first-round draft picks. He then signed a five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed contract.
Should Watson be suspended, the Browns plan to go forward with Jacoby Brissett as their starting quarterback. The hope for the Watson camp and the Browns is that he is allowed to play at least a portion of the season for Cleveland.
Watson’s case information known thus far
The NFL and the players union previously attempted to strike a compromise on a settlement of a proposed punishment of Watson, who didn’t play last season and was paid his full $10.54 million salary after requesting a trade from the Texans. However, sources emphasized that they never came close to a deal.
The reasoning from the league behind a potential indefinite suspension, as the NFL imposed in the Michael Vick dog fighting scandal and Ray Rice’s domestic violence case, would be to give them the flexibility to potentially impose further discipline in case other allegations of misconduct surfaced. Although no DNA, audio, or video evidence exists in the cases, according to multiple sources, the NFL used text messages, depositions, and interviews to make its argument.
When the settlement was reached, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email to Pro Football Network that the settlement wouldn’t affect the ongoing league investigation, writing, “Today’s development has no impact on the collectively bargained disciplinary process.”
Watson has maintained his innocence throughout the legal process.
“I’ve been honest and I’ve been truthful about my stance, and that’s I never forced anyone. I never assaulted anyone,” Watson said during a press conference. “So, that’s what I’ve been saying it from the beginning and I’m going to continue to do that until all the facts come out on the legal side. I have to continue to just go with the process with my legal team and the court of law.”