More than one year after the first civil lawsuit was filed against Deshaun Watson, independent arbiter Sue L. Robinson handed the Cleveland Browns quarterback a six-game suspension for the 2022 season.
The 26-year-old is accused of sexually assaulting and harassing dozens of female massage therapists in the Houston area between 2019 and 2021, when he was a member of the Texans.
The NFL exercised its collectively bargained right to file an appeal Wednesday in the wake of the suspension by Robinson, a disciplinary officer appointed by the league and players’ union.
Robinson’s ruling was labeled as a ‘joke’ across social media by critics who felt a six-game suspension was insufficient given the allegations against Watson, and the NFL is now expected to increase the punishment.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was given a six-game suspension Monday
The 26-year-old is accused of sexually assaulting and harassing dozens of female massage therapists in the Houston area dating back to his time with the Houston Texans
What happens next?
Watson is the first NFL player to face the new revamped disciplinary process that takes the initial ruling away from commissioner Roger Goodell and places it in the hands of an independent arbiter.
However, under Article 46 of the collective bargaining agreement, Goodell could have heard the appeal himself or appointed a another arbiter – and that ruling by Goodell or his designee would be final and binding to all parties.
However, Goodell will not personally hear the appeal and has instead appointed former New Jersey attorney general, Peter C. Harvey, according to multiple reports.
Mr. Harvey served as the Attorney General of New Jersey and is now a partner at the Paterson Belknap firm in New York.
He is as a member of the National Football League’s (‘NFL’) Diversity Advisory Committee, serving as a consulting expert with respect to the NFL’s effort to improve racial and gender diversity in the hiring of head coaches and senior executives throughout the NFL’s 32-member clubs and League office.
The league is appealing for an indefinite suspension that would be a minimum of a year and could also include a monetary fine, according to ESPN’s Jeff Darlington.
A league spokesperson has not responded to DailyMail.com’s request for confirmation.
In her ruling (pictured), Sue L. Robinson wrote that Watson should limit his massages to club-directed sessions with club-approved massage therapists for the ‘duration of his career’
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell can hear the appeal himself or appoint a third-party arbiter
Where does Watson go from here?
Both the NFL and the NFLPA had three days to appeal Robinson’s decision however, the players’ association issued a statement Sunday night saying it would ‘stand by Robinson’s decision’ and not appeal, regardless of the result, and called on the league to agree to the same.
Since the league has filed an appeal, the NFLPA now has until Friday to file a written response.
It looks increasingly likely that the final decision will have to be made in federal court as the NFLPA is preparing to sue the league, according to ESPN.
The NFL had three days to file an appeal against the suspension and did so on Wednesday
When can Watson rejoin the Browns?
Watson will be able to continue participating in practices and games throughout the preseason but once the regular season begins he will have to be away from the team.
Watson will not be allowed to be at the Browns’ facility for the first half of his suspension during the regular season.
But, according to the CBA, he will be allowed to rejoin the team and practice during the second half of the ban, commencing in Week 4.
Once regular season begins Watson will not be allowed to participate in practice and games
What did the Browns expect when they acquired him?
The Browns have invested a number of resources into their acquisition of Watson – and not just finances.
Cleveland first sent its first-round draft picks in 2022, 2023, and 2024, as well as its third-round pick in 2023 and fourth-round picks in 2022 and 2024 to Houston for Watson.
Then the Browns signed Watson to a five-year, guaranteed $230 million contract extension – the most guaranteed money of any contract in NFL history.
The commitment to the player was strengthened by the fact that the organization was aware that a suspension was possible, according to ESPN.
However, the initial belief within the organization after the trade was that the ban would most likely be between four to six games.
The franchise was aware that a full-season suspension was on the table, but made the commitment to Watson, nonetheless.
The Browns made a massive commitment to the quarterback when they acquired him in March
What happens to the $230million in guaranteed money?
Most of it will remain. Watson will only lose $345,000 total in game checks for the six weeks he is set to miss, but what remains of the $230m in guaranteed money seems to be his to keep.
Furthermore, Paragraph 42 of Watson’s contract appears to protect him from losing any guaranteed money if he is suspended for the 2022 or 2023 seasons and prevents both the team from voiding his contract in that case.
In Paragraph 42, Watson ‘represents and warrants (except as disclosed to club in writing), as of the date hereof, that (i) Player has not been charged with, indicted for, convicted of or pled nolo contender to any felony and/or misdemeanor involving fraud or moral turpitude, (ii) Player has not engaged in conduct which would subject him to a charge, indictment or conviction of any such offense, and (iii) no circumstances exist that would prevent Player’s continuing availability to the Club for the duration of this Contract.’
However, the clause is a mere formality as the Browns have reportedly given every indication they are prepared to move forward with Watson as quarterback, with the suspension unlikely to change their stance.
Watson will only lose $345,000 total in game checks for the six games he is set to miss
What are the Browns options at QB?
It is the least important question but many Browns fans will surely be asking what this means for their team ahead of the coming season.
If Watson does face a season-long suspension following the appeal from the NFL, the Browns should explore their options at quarterback.
Jacoby Brissett is set to be the Week 1 starter for the Browns in the wake of Watson’s six-game ban this week.
The Browns inked the veteran quarterback to a one-year deal shortly after completing the mega-money deal for Watson under the assumption he could see some games as starter with Watson facing a lengthy suspension.
Jacoby Brissett is set to be the Week 1 starter for the Browns in the wake of Watson’s ban
Brissett has served as backup for some of the league’s most high profile quarterbacks, including Tom Brady, and his experience could serve the Browns well.
‘Since I’ve been in this league, it’s been the next man up,’ he told reporters Tuesday. ‘So that experience obviously helps with not only the playing but also like the mindset of understanding — you gotta be ready whenever your number is called.’
However, the Browns could also look to rumored long-term target Jimmy Garoppolo as a solution.
The Browns could also look to rumored long-term target Jimmy Garoppolo as a solution
The San Francisco 49ers have give Garoppolo’s agents permission to seek a trade, according to ESPN.
Garoppolo is a proven veteran with a 33-14 record as starting quarterback and was cleared to start practicing again last month after recovering from offseason surgery on his throwing shoulder.
But, as it stands, Josh Dobbs and Josh Rosen, who was brought in by Cleveland on a one-year deal, will battle it out for the backup job behind Brissett, who previously played alongside Garoppolo in New England.
What are the fans saying?
Fans were extremely critical of Robinson’s decision Monday, which they felt was unfairly light given previous suspensions given to NFL players.
Tom Brady, for instance, got four games over his role in the infamous deflategate scandal – a cheating accusation that the league struggled to prove in 2015.
Many were quick to point out on social media that former Atlanta Falcons running back Calvin Ridley got a full-season suspension for placing a bet on his own team. The 2022 ban will cost him his base salary of $11.1 million.
Many were quick to point out on social media that former Atlanta Falcons running back Calvin Ridley got a full-season suspension for placing a bet on his own team. The 2022 ban will cost him his base salary of $11.1 million
Others, such as New York Times baseball editor Benjamin Hoffman, pointed to Josh Gordon’s repeated suspensions for drinking and recreational drug use
Fans slammed Deshaun Watson’s ‘joke’ six-game suspension over dozens of sexual misconduct allegations
One Twitter user compared it to Colin Kaepernick’s situation, writing: ‘Want to know what is wrong with America? Deshaun Watson commits at least 24 known crimes and is free and suspended for 6 games.
‘Colin Kaepernick exercises his rights as a concerned citizen and is barred from the NFL.’
Another user echoed the sentiment, posting: ‘Women know all too well men like Deshaun Watson. We’ve all been there.
‘ His 6 week suspension is a joke. He gets a slap on the hand, never has to admit to what he did and a hero like Kaepernick is shunned. Something is seriously wrong with the NFL.’
Others have slammed the NFL’s handling of the situation with one claiming it made ‘the rules up as it went along’.
They wrote: ‘If Deshaun Watson is expelled from the league forever, it wouldn’t break my heart, but the NFL’s process in handling these situations is a complete joke as illustrated by Robinson’s ruling. No meaningful guidelines, so you just make up the rules as you go along.’
Meanwhile, another suggested that the NFL never should have allowed Watson to be traded.
Other football fans expressed anger at the NFL for the way it handled the situation
They said: ‘The more I think about this, the angrier I get. Goodell let at least 4 NFL teams fight for Deshaun Watson all the while knowing his goal was to suspend him indefinitely. That’s some shady stuff. Goodell doesn’t have (the) backs of NFL owners. Fire him.’
Browns fans believe they are ‘screwed’ for the coming season and insisted the franchise never should have traded for Watson.
‘Browns fan here,’ they began. ‘We are screwed. Should have never traded for Watson. He obviously has serious issues and is LUCKY to not have been criminally charged. Cannot have him as the leader of your organization and expect anything good to happen.’
One Twitter user, meanwhile, sided with Watson and insisted it is ‘crazy’ that he is being ‘blackballed from the NFL for something he was found innocent on’.