Quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has not played a down of football since the 2020 season, will not be playing to start the 2022 regular season as NFL discipline officer Sue Robinson has ruled he will be suspended six games for violating the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy.
Watson is allowed to continue practicing and otherwise preparing for the season with the Browns but must miss regular-season games against the Carolina Panthers, the New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta Falcons, L.A. Chargers and New England Patriots.
Watson is eligible to return for his first game with the Browns the week of Oct 23 against the Baltimore Ravens. Watson will miss only one game against a division opponent.
Both Watson and the NFLPA on his behalf and the NFL may appeal this decision within three days.
The suspension is tied to Watson’s alleged sexual harassment and other sexual misconduct allegations made by multiple women who brought suit and even filed criminal complaints against the former Houston Texans player.
All but one of those 24 suits have been settled and two grand juries declined to return indictments on any criminal complaints, but the NFL moved forward in investigating and then deciding Watson’s fate with his new team, the Cleveland Browns.
“I never assaulted, disrespected or harassed anyone,” Watson told reporters in June.
The Browns, who traded three first-round picks and paid Watson a fully guaranteed $230 million in the offseason, are expected to rely on backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett as their starter and either Joshua Dobbs or Josh Rosen as the backup once the regular season begins.
Brissett, 29, was 2-3 and threw 5 TDs and 4 interceptions in his five starts for the Miami Dolphins last year. The Browns have a roster lined with stars, including running back Nick Chubb, receiver Amari Cooper, and edge rusher Myles Garrett — all former Pro Bowl players — and the club thinks itself a postseason contender with Watson at quarterback.
The question for the organization now becomes how well it can weather the storm of losing its starting quarterback until October due to suspension — one which was forecasted when the club acquired Watson.
Robinson’s ruling, which comes after hearing evidence from four of the 24 women who filed suit, is not without controversy.
Watson is scheduled to miss six games after more than two dozen women, all of them Houston area massage therapists, alleged he exposed himself to them, asked them to fondle him, and even asked them to engage in sex acts with him.
Watson said he never did or said anything to disrespect or harass any of the alleged victims but did admit to having sex with some of the over 60 massage therapists he engaged over an 17-month period starting in 2019.
Watson has a $1 million base salary in 2022 so assuming this suspension stands, it will cost him approximately $333,3333 in base salary. Watson does collect close to $46 million this year nonetheless based primarily on his guaranteed money from his $230 million contract with the Browns.
That saga has culminated in the six-game suspension that compares to a season-long suspension of Atlanta Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley for betting what he says was a total of $1,500 on NFL games. Arizona Cardinals receiver DeAndre Hopkins was suspended six games for violating the league Performance Enhancing Drug policy.
Both the NFL (via the Management Council) or Watson (using the NFL Players Association) can appeal Robinson’s ruling. And that’s where it gets interesting.
According to the language from the Personal Conduct Policy, “Following communication of the disciplinary decision, either the league (through the Management Council) or player (through the NFL Players Association) may appeal the decision to the Commissioner or his designee.
“Such appeals will be: (i) processed on an expedited basis; (ii) limited to consideration of the terms of discipline imposed; and (iii) based upon a review of the existing record without reference to evidence or testimony not previously considered.
“No additional evidence or testimony shall be presented to or accepted by the Commissioner or his designee. Any factual findings and evidentiary determinations of the Disciplinary Officer will be binding to the parties on appeal, and the decision of the Commissioner or his designee, which may overturn, reduce, modify or increase the discipline previously issued, will be final and binding on all parties.”
So the NFL has final say over the discipline. The NFL Commissioner Roger Godell will make a “final and binding” decision.
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