Regardless of what happens with the criminal investigation, a criminal investigation now exists. With one person making a criminal complaint, more could follow.
It’s unclear whether the person who filed the complaint is one of the 21 persons who have sued Watson. Attorney Tony Buzbee, who represents all of the plaintiffs who have filed suit, recently said he won’t provide evidence to the Houston Police Department. Regardless, the activation of the criminal process takes the entire controversy to a different place, one that in theory could result in Watson losing more than money and/or a portion of his playing career.
Before Watson faces a conviction and potential incarceration, a prosecutor would have to decide to pursue charges. Most prosecutors avoid filing formal charges unless they believe that they can satisfy the very high standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Still, it eventually will be up to the prosecutor, and if the prosecutor: (1) believes the complainant tells a compelling and credible case; and (2) assumes Watson will exercise his Fifth Amendment right to not testify, the prosecutor could decide to roll the dice on getting a jury that completely believes the accuser.
The mere existence of criminal complaint will become a factor in the NFL’s handling of Watson. The league office did not respond to a Saturday morning email requesting comment on the filing of criminal complaint against Watson. A follow-up has been sent.
While something along the lines of “no comment” should be expected, silence doesn’t seem to be a viable strategy as the offseason continues to unfold. One of the best players in the NFL has now had a criminal complaint filed against him, on the heels of the filing of 21 sexual assault civil lawsuits.
With the draft happening in less than four weeks and workout programs due to commence later this month, the clock will be ticking toward the NFL having something more substantive than to say nothing at all — especially if, as it appears, there won’t be an effort to bring his accusers together for a mediation sessions aimed at resolving these issues in a way that makes everyone believe they’ve been heard and have received a fair and satisfactory outcome.
Watson’s intention to stay away from the Texans while he waits for a potential trade reduces some of the pressure on the league to act. With Watson apparently planning to be absent from the offseason program, the league won’t have to tell him to stay away. With Watson apparently unwilling to show up for training camp, the league can also choose to do nothing.
For Watson, the question becomes whether he believes he’ll land on the Commissioner Exempt list. If so, he can show up and then be placed on paid leave and receive his full salary for as long as the league keeps him in that status. If he doesn’t show up, he gets nothing — and he risks forfeitures and fines that will exceed the $10 million he’s due to earn in 2021 salary.