BEREA, Ohio — If you were to trace the NFL’s Deshaun Watson’s appeal back to a starting point, to a juncture where the league was likely to reverse a decision by independent referee Sue L. Robinson, it would have been earlier in the season. disciplinary hearing attended by Watson and his legal team, along with representatives from the NFL and the NFL Players Association.
It was then that Robinson first informed league attorneys that the NFL was most likely No is going to get the one-year indefinite suspension he was seeking for the Cleveland Browns quarterback, multiple sources familiar with the proceedings told Yahoo Sports.
It was a revelation that Robinson delivered in front of everyone in attendance, sources said. He immediately dealt a stunning blow to the NFL’s effort to impose a historic suspension on Watson, who was accused of sexual misconduct or sexual assault against multiple women, a violation of the league’s personal conduct policy. It was a moment that surprised some in attendance, who mistakenly assumed Robinson wouldn’t bow to a possible ruling in the middle of the process.
It also served as a warning to the NFL, giving the league its first chance to reflect on what ultimately happened more than a month later: a league appeal of Robinson’s six-game suspension that was far less punitive than expected. the NFL wanted; and an appropriation, or undermining, of a revamped disciplinary process that was established in the 2020 collective bargaining agreement.
Referee’s early signal shaped settlement talks between Watson and NFL
Robinson, by putting the NFL on notice during the hearings, brings some clarity to what followed in the Watson case in July. He explains why media leaks began almost instantly that Watson would receive less punishment than the league was pushing. It also explains why Watson’s camp and the union were encouraged to take a hard line in settlement talks, which ultimately ended with the NFL suggesting a 12-game suspension and a fine that would have accounted for a significant portion of the $10.5 million. that Watson won with the Houston Texans in 2021. To some involved in the talks, it seemed the NFL was trying to turn Watson’s final season with the Texans (in which he never took the field) into a retroactive suspension. It was something the NFL could point to later and say, “Look, he lost most of what he made in 2021 and never took the field. So he basically got suspended. He now he has suspended another 12 games on top of that.”
Ultimately, those settlement talks could be the key to what happens next. Largely because it’s Commissioner Roger Goodell who will name a league-friendly appointee as the final referee in this case, and it stands to reason that the next referee would be aware of what the NFL was pushing in talks to reach a agreement.
What does this all mean?
Well, first let’s take a look in the rear view mirror. When this all started, Robinson was touted as an independent referee who offered to balance the NFL’s justice system. In the wake of the league’s appeal, the curtain was pulled back to reveal what many suspected about the Day 1 proceedings: Even with an independent referee in place, the most important element of power is still in the hands of the NFL. And that is ultimately the only window that matters in the years ahead. The NFL had the opportunity to leave a significant point of the suspension power in the hands of a referee. Instead, he opted to override that referee and regain that control.
Some will argue that it was the right move in Watson’s case. Others will cry badly. But the facts are what they are. The NFL had a lever to take control where it mattered most, and it pushed it Wednesday.
NFL find 1 of these 2 results for Deshaun Watson
All of which again underscores what the league is asking for as part of its appeal. According to sources familiar with the appeal, the NFL is seeking one of two outcomes:
Watson would be suspended indefinitely for one year. During that year, he would undergo an element of treatment related to the behavior established in his case. At the end of the year, Watson would apply for reinstatement and, if he meets the league’s criteria, he will return to the Browns’ fold. In this scenario, Watson would not be subject to a fine as part of his punishment. However, his contract in Cleveland would be up, essentially starting his five-year extension in 2023 instead of 2022.
That last point is considerable, as it would effectively delay Watson’s next contract by a year, erasing a season of earning power from his career.
Watson would be subject to a significant fine if his suspension is ultimately less than a year. Similar to the first result, he would also have to undergo treatment during his suspension. Think of this scenario as mapping to the league’s last windup dump in July, which would have suspended Watson 12 games and fined him close to his 2021 salary of $10.5 million. It would be a considerable economic cost to Watson, but also one that ends with him returning to the NFL without having to apply for reinstatement or suspend his current one-year contract.
The inherent problem with both outcomes is that Watson and the union have already rejected both, at the hearing with Robinson and in various settlement talks before and after those proceedings. The difference now is that Watson’s ability to find options is shrinking. With the NFL taking control of the end of the disciplinary process, Goodell’s designee’s findings will be binding, per the rules of the collective agreement.
That means if the DH reaches a result that Watson and the union reject, the next step is to follow in the footsteps of Tom Brady and Ezekiel Elliott and take the NFL’s disciplinary process to court. Even then, Watson may be at a greater disadvantage than any of those other players because neither Brady nor Elliott went through an independent referee to determine whether or not they had violated the league’s personal conduct policy. Watson did, and that referee clearly said in his decision that he violated the policy when he was found to have engaged in “non-violent sexual conduct.” And the league’s appeal of the suspension is something the union voluntarily submitted during the CBA negotiations.
That sounds like an uphill battle, one that began with the last CBA and the structure of a disciplinary process that remains what it was before: resting in the hands of a league that doesn’t seem shy about reining it in, especially when given advance notice of that things are not going to turn out as expected.