Anonymous source giveth, anonymous source taketh away.
On Tuesday, Rob Maaddi of the Associated Press, citing an unnamed source, reported that the league would be “more likely” to accept a 6-8 game suspension of Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson and not appeal the decision to Commissioner Roger Goodell.
On Wednesday, an unnamed source “rejected that scenario” in anonymous remarks to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The source said the league “isn’t budging” on its position that Watson should miss all of the 2022 season, at a minimum.
It’s unclear what it all means. My own somewhat-informed guess is that it’s an example of the divisions within 345 Park Avenue regarding the preferred outcome of the case. It also could reflect the notion that some in the league wanted its willingness to not appeal a suspension of 6-8 games to become known publicly, and that others did not.
Regardless, the league NEVER waives its collectively-bargained rights voluntarily. It has retained the power to decide the appeal of Judge Sue L. Robinson’s decision. Using that power will serve as a reminder to the union that the league has that ability, and that if the union wants the NFL to surrender that power, it will happen only as the bargaining table.
The original report from the AP felt like an effort to persuade Judge Robinson that her decision will be respected if it lands in the range of 6-8 games, pushing her away from thinking that her ruling escapes appeal only if she doesn’t discipline Watson at all. It’s quite possible that the plan (if it was the plan) was to plant a conflicting report, so that the league can claim it never promised not to appeal a decision in the range of 6-8 games, if it really was/is a ruse aimed at getting Judge Robinson to think a moderate suspension wouldn’t be challenged.
Then there’s the possibility that Judge Robinson — who undoubtedly told both sides to leak nothing about Tuesday’s proceedings (a theory proven by the fact that nothing from Tuesday’s proceedings leaked) — saw the AP report and made it clear at the outset of Wednesday’s session that she wasn’t pleased with this development. That’s one of the realities of dealing with someone who served as a federal judge for 25 years; she won’t hesitate to be candid and direct with the parties, if something happens that she doesn’t appreciate or condone.
And that’s really the bottom line. If someone from the league believed that low-end Jedi mind tricks will work on Judge Sue L. Robinson, that person was sorely mistaken.