Will the NFL place Deshaun Watson on paid leave?

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Many league insiders and observers have assumed that, given the sheer volume of civil cases pending against Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, the NFL eventually will place him on paid leave pending the resolution of 22 lawsuits.

Given that the litigation schedule ensures that Watson won’t be questioned under oath until after the next Super Bowl, Watson and his legal team have kept the door open on Watson playing this season, even if the cases aren’t settled.

Although Commissioner Roger Goodell has broad discretion in matters of this nature (a tactful way of saying that the league can do whatever it wants in any given case), the language of the Paid Leave section of the Personal Conduct Policy becomes relevant. Here it is:

“A player may be placed on paid administrative leave pursuant to the Commissioner Exempt List under either of the following circumstances: First, when a player is formally charged with: (1) a felony offense; or (2) a crime of violence, meaning
that he is accused of having used physical force or a weapon to injure or threaten a person or animal, of having engaged in a sexual assault by force or against a person who was incapable of giving consent, or having engaged in other conduct that poses a genuine danger to the safety or well-being of another person. The formal charges may be in the form of an indictment by a grand jury, the filing of charges by a prosecutor, or an arraignment in a criminal court.

“Second, when an investigation leads the Commissioner to believe that a player may have violated this Policy by committing any of the conduct identified above, he may act where the circumstances and evidence warrant doing so. This decision will not reflect a finding of guilt or innocence and will not be guided by the same legal standards and considerations that would apply in a criminal trial.

“Third, in cases in which a violation relating to a crime of violence is alleged but further investigation is required, the Commissioner may place a player on the Commissioner Exempt List on a limited and temporary basis to permit the league to conduct a preliminary investigation. Based on the results of this investigation, the player may be returned to duty, be placed on the Commissioner Exempt List for a longer period or be subject to discipline.”

The first paragraph won’t become relevant unless and until criminal charges are filed against Watson. A criminal investigation has been launched, but no decision has been made. If he isn’t charged or indicted before the regular season starts, Goodell will need another basis for placing Watson on paid leave.

The third paragraph applies where accusations arise at a time when there’s no realistic opportunity to investigate the situation before the player once again takes the field. In this case, the league will have had months for conducting a “preliminary investigation” aimed at deciding whether Watson should be allowed to play or placed on paid leave.

For Watson, the second paragraph becomes the most important. It allows placement on paid leave if “an investigation” causes Goodell “to believe” that Watson “may have violated” the Personal Conduct Policy by engaging in a “felony offense,” a “crime of violence,” or a “sexual assault by force.”

“May have violated” is broad, malleable, expansive. The allegations alone would justify a conclusion that Watson “may have” committed the things he’s accused of doing. Even with only two of the 22 lawsuits accusing Watson of sexual misconduct by force, if Goodell concludes that Watson “may have” engaged in that behavior, that’s enough to put him on paid leave.

So, yes, the policy gives Goodell broad discretion. A tactful way of saying the league can do whatever it wants.

What it ultimately decides to do inevitably will be influenced by P.R. considerations. The entire Personal Conduct Policy flows from P.R. considerations. The NFL remains one of the only employers in the nation that would take any type of action against employees accused of misconduct that has not yet been proven.

Innocent until proven guilty. It applies in a court of law. It doesn’t apply in the Court of the Commissioner, in part because the NFL continues to insist that paid leave doesn’t constitute punishment.

Of course it does. Football players want to play football. Even if they get their game checks, preventing them from playing punishes them.

Unless Watson settles the 22 cases and the criminal investigation closes with no charges being filed, the possibility of non-punishment punishment in the form of paid leave continues to hover over Watson. Ultimately, Goodell’s broad discretion will be applied to these facts.

In other words, at some point before the regular season begins, the league will do whatever it wants. And one of the biggest factors will be the league’s assessment of how fans, media, and Twitter will react to whatever the NFL does or doesn’t do.

So here’s how it likely will go. Barring a dramatic change in the pending civil cases or criminal investigation, Watson won’t be traded. He’ll show up for training camp with the Texans. Then, the league either will — or won’t — direct him to go home at full pay until further notice, and possibly until each of the 22 lawsuits are resolved.

31 responses to “Will the NFL place Deshaun Watson on paid leave?

  1. It Texans want to tank for the first pick then yes to paid leave. Otherwise he plays.

  2. So basically, he needs to settle before camp and pray Goodell looks the other way. Don’t think he even has a chance of playing until this is settled.

  3. Can’t imagine being a Texans season ticket holder and dropping a few grand to watch this chaos… what a mess

  4. He will go on the commissioner’s exempt list soon, you can bank on it. He’s done with football, played his last snap.

  5. So the Texans, who Watson has told he will not play for, will be forced to pay him $10+ million to NOT play.

    The Texans will in effect be financing his legal defenses against 22 plaintiffs, 22 separate lawsuits. ( When was the last time 20+ women accused any man in, like, ever?) Just doesn’t seem equitable.

  6. “Paid leave” should be at the league minimum. I’m sure even a baller NFL QB can somehow scrape by on that kind of coin.

  7. scout101 says:
    May 23, 2021 at 11:30 am
    It Texans want to tank for the first pick then yes to paid leave. Otherwise he plays.
    They won’t need to tank to be in the running for the first pick.

  8. So the Texans get screwed? Don’t get the picks from a trade, don’t get Watson’s QB play, AND get to pay him his full salary? They don’t need more help sucking, Goodell needs to help teams rather than hold them down.

  9. Is not another option just be imposing a suspension right now, ie, for 6 games, based on much greater allegations than others have faced prior to resolving the matter???

  10. I think the only way the NFL puts Watson on paid leave is to PROTECT the player.
    If Watson shows up at Texans camp after his demands for a trade and sexual manipulations, the fans will BOO him. He will be trashed until he throws TD’s and wins games. I think he would prefer $10 million to stay away.

  11. I don’t understand why going through due process first before punishing someone is wrong. If these allegations are proven true he should be punished then. Not before. The level of egotism the NFL has of being judge, jury, and executioner in these matters needs to end.

  12. And set a bad precedents to encourage other players to objectify women and be rewarded by being paid well to stay away from work…

  13. Watson, whether you believe him, or don’t believe him has become a huge PR negative for the league. They don’t like that, takes the shine off the shield in their eyes. And that is all that is required for them to pull the lever on the trap door beneath Watson and he disappears from view(they hope) goes on the exempt list until all this is worked out. We often post here about hey be happy guys try my job and it’s rules, try working 9-5 and doing a real world job, stop complaining. This is one of those examples that shows how bleeping different being a pro athlete as a job is. If Watson finds a way to settle, with NDAs and gag orders in the press and all the talk almost stops his employer might do very little. But if not, regardless of innocence or guilt the PUBLIC nature and press attached will make his employer possibly remove him from his workplace. Not many of us exist in a job anywhere close to that, thankfully.
    So we debate here a lot about his actions, the lawyers, the allegations. Frankly I think that matters little to the NFL other than we are talking about him and not the rest of the league.
    THAT is why I think he goes on the list. Cause we here, and many others keep talking about it, the lawyers keep being VERY public and the story will not die. The NFL will put him on the list to try and kill the story as much as possible and I think it’s that simple even if I don’t think that will work.

  14. matt4787 says:
    May 23, 2021 at 5:18 pm
    I don’t understand why going through due process first before punishing someone is wrong. If these allegations are proven true he should be punished then. Not before. The level of egotism the NFL has of being judge, jury, and executioner in these matters needs to end.


    This isn’t a trial….it’s a business. If Goodell and the owners determine Watson is bad for business then they will take action and punish him. It’s really quite simple

  15. If I was accused by 23 women of inappropriate behavior, I know my employer wouldn’t put me on ‘paid’ leave. He would simply fire me in a second.

  16. So my understanding was that Watson wanted the agreement to be made public and the 22 didn’t Buzzby has tried this case on Instagram so who knows but If Watson becomes bad for business he will just go away

  17. Personally I would prefer the cases play out in court before the NFL takes action but there’s too much of a precedent with Greg Hardy and Ezekiel Elliot and even Tom Brady with the footballs for them to change course now. Honestly based on what those guys got he should probably get a year minimum

  18. Yes, they are putting him on paid leave because he is contractually owed that money. If he somehow proves he’s innocent, then the nfl jumped the gun on withholding his salary. Watson then sues for billions. This is a high profile athlete and company however same concept applies to all levels of business and companies.

  19. It does not seem that Deshaun Watson violated any criminal law. However that’s to be determined by interviewing both parties involved with each case. I don’t feel that this continued debate on disclosure or non disclosure is in Watson’s best interest. This needs to be settled so Watson can play after the NFL discipline at some point this coming season.

  20. Ellicott Raven says:
    May 23, 2021 at 8:08 pm

    If I was accused by 23 women of inappropriate behavior, I know my employer wouldn’t put me on ‘paid’ leave. He would simply fire me in a second.


    For most people, the filing of a civil suit wouldn’t become public knowledge and your employer would never know.

    Depending on your employment situation, your employer may not be on solid ground firing you based on accusations. Certainly if you had a long term contract like Watson does, there would need to be some due process.

  21. The judge in this case should put a gag order on both lawyers – this shouldn’t be tried in the court of public opinion, though it’s already too late for that. I’ve seen far too many posters here already calling for the end of his career, which is ridiculous. Why have a justice system if we try and punish someone based on allegations?

    I’m sure he’ll be placed on the exemption list before the season. I can’t imagine him playing with this hanging over him.

  22. Ellicott Raven says:
    May 23, 2021 at 8:08 pm

    If I was accused by 23 women of inappropriate behavior, I know my employer wouldn’t put me on ‘paid’ leave. He would simply fire me in a second.

    Probably NOT if there was no “proof” the accusations were true.
    If you were “fired” simply on the basis of accusations before any legal proof was provided, then they would be open to a lawsuit.

    So, you are probably wrong. They might WANT to fire you, and in years gone by COULD have, but unless there is legal language whereby they can dismiss you without cause of any kind, I doubt you are correct.

  23. How many weeks has the CRIMINAL investigation been going? LOL… that’s what I thought.

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