Why bother dumping bad news into a Friday afternoon in late June when it can instead be buried close to five o’clock on a Saturday?
At a time when many were waiting for the NFL to initiate the process of disciplining Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson under the Personal Conduct Policy by proposing a significant suspension that would then be followed by a hearing before an independent (sort of) disciplinary officer, the league has mashed Step One and Step Two together.
According to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, who hasn’t had much to report about Watson since fueling the false narrative that a grand jury’s decision not to indict Watson on nine criminal complaints somehow amounts to exoneration, the disciplinary hearing of Watson is due to begin on Tuesday.
It’s unclear when Watson and the NFL Players Association became aware of this timetable. If they knew about it before 4:49 p.m. ET on Saturday, they didn’t say anything about it. It creates the impression, right or wrong, that the whole thing is being hastily slapped together.
Retired federal judge Sue L. Robinson will preside over the hearing and issue a decision on discipline, if any, to be imposed on Watson. The league will propose a punishment, at some point. PFT reported nine days ago that the NFLPA expects the league’s proposal to be “unprecedented.”
Also unprecedented is the looming procedure. Adopted in 2020, it has not yet been applied. Apparently, the league doesn’t intend to announce the proposed suspension of Watson before initiating the formal review process before Judge Robinson. It remains to be seen whether someone leaks the proposed suspension to the media.
Per Schefter, a decision could come within a week, or it could be issued when training camp opens. As long as Judge Robinson imposes any discipline on Watson, either side can appeal to Commissioner Roger Goodell, whose ruling would be final. Watson escapes Goodell’s jurisdiction only if Judge Robinson concludes that Watson should not be punished at all.
Attorney Rusty Hardin has tried to argue that there should indeed be no punishment at all, given that no grand jury indicted Watson on criminal charges. That position, as previously explained, is flawed, self-serving, and illogical. Recently, the Harris County District Attorney said in plain terms that the lack of an indictment does not constitute exoneration.
As PFT also reported nine days ago, the NFLPA intends to point to the punishment or lack thereof imposed on owners who may have violated the Personal Conduct Policy, including Commanders owner Daniel Snyder, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. That defense could cause the hearing to bog down, but the NFLPA and Watson have every right to advance it. With the policy clearly stating that owners are held to a higher standard than players, the punishment or lack thereof imposed on owners who may have broken the rules becomes directly relevant to the propriety of the proposed punishment for Watson.
Whatever happens, it’s going to begin to occur during what usually is the slowest week of the annual NFL news cycle. This year, that definitely won’t be the case.