Is paid leave back on the table for Deshaun Watson? The NFL declines to comment

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In March 2022, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell took the possibility of paid leave (via the Commissioner Exempt list) off the table for Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson. Following recent developments in the civil cases pending against Watson — including the filing of two new lawsuits against him for the first time in more than a year and a New York Times article reporting that Watson received massages from at least 66 women in a 17-month period — we posed a very specific question to the league.

Does Goodell’s remark from March still stand?

In response, the league declined comment.

Here’s what Goodell said in March: “If the criminal [cases] had proceeded, that more than likely would have triggered the Commissioner Exempt [list]. I think at this point, the civil case in and of itself would not do that. If there’s a violation of the Personal Conduct Policy, that may trigger something, but that more than likely [would] trigger some kind of discipline in some fashion.”

If that’s still the case, why not say so? The league’s decision not to reiterate that paid leave is off the table arguably puts paid leave back on the radar screen.

Frankly, an argument could be made that paid leave is the right outcome. As PFT previously has reported, some in the league office believe that Watson should not be allowed to play until the 22 (now 24) cases pending against him are resolved. And the Personal Conduct Policy says this about paid leave in the absence of criminal charges: “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.”

The circumstances would be 24 pending civil cases, and the evidence would be the information gleaned by the league. If it were one or two cases, that would be one thing. With 24 cases pending (and in theory the possibility of more to be filed), what is the league supposed to do? Determine final discipline before the cases go to trial? Impose discipline for now with the possibility for more later, based on the outcomes of the cases? Do nothing until the litigation ends?

The best move could be to tell Watson that it’s just too much. That it’s too complicated. That it’s too problematic for the league, for his team, for him. That he will be on paid leave until the cases end, at which time the league will decide on a possible suspension without pay.

Putting Watson on paid leave would allow him to devote the 2022 football season to taking the various cases to trial. Also, it could nudge Watson to settle the cases — something he should have done from the moment they were filed.

Yes, it will be very expensive at this point to settle the cases. But that’s the price that literally must be paid for digging in and doubling down instead of accepting the reckoning and resolving these cases from the moment they were filed.

28 responses to “Is paid leave back on the table for Deshaun Watson? The NFL declines to comment

  1. Goodell is paralyzed with not having the slightest idea of what to do right now.
    He’s so invested in being the final arbiter of handing out punishment for things that take place away from the football field.
    Of course, no one else saw this mess coming from Watson either, but only Roger has anointed himself the Grand Poobar of “Personal Conduct”.
    He’s probably desperately hoping for some video evidence to make his job easier.

  2. The worHst part of this is the fix being in between Harden and the DA making the decision on criminal charges in Texas. The fix was in.

  3. Anything short of being able to play in 2022 is unacceptable.
    Watson claims his innocence. The Criminal Courts failed to indict him because they lacked the evidence to do so and failed to indict even though Watson or his legal team never had an opportunity to defend himself during the indictment process. No Civil case will change that. Losing a Civil case regardless if it’s 1 or 24 will not prove he is guilty of anything as that is not what the outcome of a Civil Case does, the burden of proof and verdict does not prove guilt or innocence . The idea he should be cancelled and lose his lively hood as a QB based on unsubstantiated allegations by 24 Women and that somehow the proof is in the quantity of Woman making the allegations is nonsense. The 24th Woman is more of the same, like the rest, she failed to file a criminal report at all or as several others who did but did not do so in a timely fashion (immediately after the alleged sexual misconduct) she makes the claims now in a Civil suit, but had the physical evidence back then when it allegedly happened (the dress with semen stains) that would have supported her claim with Police had she pressed Criminal charges. This is the USA and proof is needed to find guilt as it should. Verbal allegations with no proof is nothing more then a unsubstantiated allegation that proves nothing, the volume of allegations does not change that. Watson should be free and clear to play Football.

  4. Roger loves being the wise single arbitrator of the personal conduct policy. I’m glad that he, too, has his own squirming to do during this mess. They pay him 50 million bucks a year to figure it out, so earn your money.

  5. I say let him play. Give him a chance again. He can now be the villain of the league. Might as well be. Watson can never walk into a room again and have he shine he once did. So let him embrace his new role. Might be good for TV ratings.

  6. The only thing that should be on the table is leave just leave and don’t come back

  7. I wish that my job would give me paid leave. Isn’t that basically what the Texans did last year? Where is the punishment?

  8. If he settles the 24 civil cases, there’s nothing stopping the other 42 women from demanding equal compensation. So if he’s not giong to settle the cases out of court, this could drag on for multiple seasons.

  9. Not hating, just saying, it’s getting pretty easy to spot the Cleveland fans in the posts.

  10. Actually a very informative and reasoned article by Florio. While I personally dislike the possibility he could be very well paid while these trials are going on, I do understand it from the player’s perspective (I wouldn’t trust Roger either; he seems to be more political than fair in his judgments…but I guess that’s how you wiggle your way into a $50M cush job). Florio’s conclusion seems to me to be the only reasoned one available; it’s not the perfect solution for now but it’s the least less perfect. This is messy enough as it is and might only get messier as the summer moves along. This is a field position situation, best solution is to punt for now and then see how things unfold…only one that is harmed is the Browns and they made the decision to trade for him with eyes wide open. What doesn’t make sense to me is how two grand juries didn’t indict him (the standard is fairly low for indictment, not nearly the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt needed to convict in a trial), yet we’re seeing these stories, in print, under oath, by the plaintiffs of what he did. If I was on a grand jury, with the standard being is there enough to simply bring charges, certainly seems like enough to me…so why didn’t the grand juries (two of them in separate counties) indict?

  11. What happens if the NFL punishes Watson and he wins the civil cases? Ooops; we’re sorry for the suspension! We believed the 24 women’s lawyer; we never thought that you would win the court cases. When has a Plaintiff’s lawyer ever exaggerated or told a lie? Watson’s been convicted in the media, not the courts! Punishment before guilt is finally adjudicated is like shooting the pistol before you draw it from your holster! Or is his having sex with many women his crime? If so, Joe Namath and thousands of other NFL players should never have played in the NFL! Most defense lawyers will tell their clients not to try their cases in the media; Watson has followed that advice. Let’s take a breath and wait to see the evidence before we condemn the man. If the NFL institutes punishment, they are opening their investigations to discovery by the Plaintiffs’ lawyer. The NFL can’t impose sanctions unless they have irrefutable proof of his guilt; if it existed, it would have already been touted by the Plaintiffs’ lawyer (and Houston mayoral hopeful). We’re all in a holding pattern until Watson’s side of the story is established by a preponderance of the evidence.

  12. Since the Browns structured his salary as just $1M for the 2022 season (with millions more set up as signing bonuses), there is practically no difference between unpaid suspension and paid leave. So the “he shouldn’t be paid to sit out” argument loses steam.

  13. The league doesnt want Watson on the field until a year after the cases are resolved – simply for PR reasons.(Barring the extremely unlikely situation where he wins all 24 cases.)

    The easiest way to get there is the Exempt List.

  14. The commissioner placing Watson on the exempt list is the best (well, least bad) option. Watson still gets his 2022 pay, and the league defers final disciplinary action until the trials are complete or settlements have been agreed to. As we have seen, embarrassing info. about Watson’s disgusting, predatory habits will continue to keep being reported until there is resolution–settlements or trial verdicts. At that point, the league can reasonably say that they’ve collected the relevant facts and issue a suspension (without pay).

  15. While clamoring for an ever expanding pound of flesh, don’t forget, he has already missed one full season because of this. While he may have gotten salary, all kinds of bonuses as well as career stats were missed. He has already been punished.

  16. Seriously, what is the obsession with Watson getting paid leave? In what other profession could you be looking at 24 cases of this sort and still be acruing actual wealth? The man has made millions by staying away – now he deserves more?

  17. Watson will get his, but if the Texans knew and facilitated any of this ??? If they didn’t disclose it to the Browns ???? The Browns are gonna get out of this and the Texans should be worried.

  18. Giving Watson more paid leave is a slap in the face to everybody who actually works for a living for significantly smaller paychecks. But the NFL couldn’t care less about people who work for a living.

  19. This has been in the news for over a year. How can the NFL/Browns consider these Watson lawsuits not be found damaging to the brand(s)?

    At some point Watson is going to have to settle or go to trial to end this nightmare. Either way this is not going to end well for Watson, unless Watson wins every lawsuit at trial, which could take years for 24 lawsuits to go to trial.

    I do not see how Watson plays in the NFL for the next two seasons.

  20. Will there be 66 civil suits? Or considering the length of time it took to file the complaints, should there have been one or none filed?

  21. I would not be surprised if he plays every game this season. He sat out last year and was paid. I could see them giving him a huge fine on top of it, but the NFL has the “sweep it under the rug” way of things and the Texans should be penalized for the NDA’s they provided.

  22. Paid leave? You mean like when people get paid to make licence plates in prison?

  23. There’s just no way he can be allowed on the field to represent the league. The cases and allegations have to end before he can return. Watson should do whatever it takes to settle these cases or risk losing the $240M+ guaranteed in the contract.

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