More than three months ago, the off-field controversy involving Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson first emerged. In less than half that time, the Texans will report for training camp. Before then, the NFL will have to decide whether to place Watson on paid leave, given the 22 lawsuits pending against him, alleging misconduct during massage sessions.
Attorney Rusty Hardin tells KPRC-TV in Houston that the NFL has not yet interviewed Watson regarding the allegations.
Typically, the accused in a situation like this is interviewed last. Given that the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy contemplates a preliminary process aimed at determining whether the player will land on the Commissioner Exempt list, it seems prudent to hear from Watson before deciding whether to do that.
It’s a delicate situation for the league, to be sure. After the Ray Rice debacle (along with the Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson situations), the league introduced the concept of paid leave as a way to remove from the public eye players against whom serious accusations have been made. The fact that the player is still paid makes the league believe it’s not punishment — a horribly misguided and unrealistic take. Of course it’s punishment; football players want to play football, and paid leave prevents them from playing football. And of course it’s driven by P.R. concerns, not by considerations of justice or fairness or due process.
As previously explained, the league has broad discretion to decide whether to place a player on paid leave. In other words, the league can do whatever it wants. Whatever it does, the league needs to make a decision and let everyone involved in the situation know about it before camp opens, so that everyone involved can make informed decisions about Watson’s future.
The situation would be much easier for the league if the 22 cases were settled. Although settlement talks happened at one point, Hardin confirmed to KPRC that they’re not happening now. Recently, attorney Tony Buzbee said that a settlement won’t be happening, at least not any time soon.
Settlement talks could resume at any time. Again, the fact that they previously broke down over the issue of confidentiality strongly suggests that the two sides made significant progress if not reached an agreement regarding the amount of the settlement. If so, it’s just a matter of one side or the other bending on the issue of confidentiality.