On the eve of the hearing before the independent disciplinary officer who will make the initial ruling on what kind of punishment Deshaun Watson will face, the NFL has recommended that the quarterback serve an indefinite suspension of at least a year.
The league informed Sue L. Robinson, the former federal judge who serves as the disciplinary officer, Watson and the NFL Players Association of its recommendation Monday evening, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed to USA TODAY Sports. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized by either party to comment on the matter.
Upon completion of the hearing, which is slated to begin Tuesday and possibly extend into Wednesday, Robinson – who is jointly compensated by the league and players union – will review the facts gathered during a year-long investigation conducted by the league. She will also consider the arguments presented by the lawyers of the NFL and NFL Players Association.
She will then hand down her decision on what, if any, punishment Watson should receive.
If Robinson follows the NFL’s recommendation, it is expected that Watson and the NFLPA will appeal. However, chances of winning such an appeal would appear rather bleak because according to terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would either preside over that process and make a final determination, or designate another individual to do so.
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The recommendation of an indefinite suspension of at least a year gives the NFL wiggle room to make the punishment longer if more incriminating evidence comes to light either during any of the four ongoing civil suits against Watson, or elsewhere. The NFL also will recommend certain terms that Watson would have to meet to make his reinstatement possible, the person said, confirming a Wall Street Journal report on the league’s plans.
The sexual misconduct allegations against Watson first began to surface last year after the quarterback voiced his displeasure with Houston Texans brass and requested a trade. Watson didn’t suit up for a single game last season while at odds with the Texans, who remained determined to secure handsome compensation for one of the game’s brightest stars.
Opposing teams hesitated meeting those demands while unsure if Watson would face criminal charges from Houston authorities. Two grand juries this past spring opted against leveling any charges against the 26-year-old. However, 24 massage therapists whose services Watson had secured through social media interactions over the last several years still filed civil suits against him.
Shortly after the grand jury decisions, the Cleveland Browns acquired Watson in exchange for first-round picks, a third- and two fourth-rounders. The Browns also signed Watson to a record five-year, fully guaranteed $230 million contract. The deal featured a low base salary of just more than $1 million for 2022 to help the quarterback avoid heavy financial losses in the event he received a lengthy suspension this year.
Last week, Watson – who has maintained that he never assaulted any of the women or forced any of them into non-consensual sex acts – reached confidential financial settlements with 20 of the 24 women.
But that had no bearing on the NFL’s decision to recommend an indefinite suspension of at least a year.
NFL officials wanted to send a strong message that sexual misconduct will not be tolerated and thus requested a stiff punishment. According to people familiar with the situation, NFL officials have expressed frustration with the Browns’ creative salary structure. That, along with the high number of accusers and grand scope of accusations against Watson, factored in the league’s decision to push for a suspension of at least a year.
During preliminary talks regarding a settlement with the league, the NFL had informed Watson’s camp that if he accepted a year-long suspension, it would not change the length of the punishment if additional details became public. However, Watson opposed the proposal of a year-long ban.