NFL, Deshaun Watson settlement remains possible, but still not likely (for now)

USA TODAY Sports

Six days ago, the hearing regarding potential discipline for Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson ended. Five days from now, the two sides will submit written paperwork to Judge Sue L. Robinson arguing their respective positions. In the interim, a negotiated compromise can be reached. In theory.

Arguments have been made as to the wisdom of a settlement. And it would make sense. Legal disputes become finalized without a formal ruling all the time. The best outcome results in both sides being a little pissed off at the final decision. But it eliminates the prospect of one side ending up extremely pissed off over the clear and conclusive loss.

The problem for the league is P.R. The NFL, and specifically Commissioner Roger Goodell, can’t afford to be perceived as being too lenient with Watson, despite the potential flaws in the case that was presented to Judge Robinson. That’s why the league wants a minimum suspension of one year, and why the limited updates from the three days of the hearing consisted of largely of reminders that, yes, the league still wants him to be suspended for at least a year.

How could the league sell the idea of something less than that? It wouldn’t be easy. Although plenty of cases like this are indeed resolved by agreement, the mere suggestion from the week before the hearing began that Watson could be actively involved in the determination of his suspension drew confusion and criticism. Even if the league leaks its reasoning to reporters who will present it to the public without skepticism or Goodell conducts a press conference explaining it without the usual stream of non-answers, it will be hard for the league to sell something like a four-game or six-game or even eight-game suspension.

For now.

A settlement could make much more sense for the NFL after Judge Robinson announces a decision. As long as she imposes any discipline whatsoever, the league can appeal to Goodell, who would have final say. He could, if he wanted, impose a full-season suspension, or longer. It becomes much easier for the league to negotiate with Watson once someone other than the league issues a decision as to whether the Personal Conduct Policy was violated and the punishment that should ensue.

Let’s say Judge Robinson suspends Watson four games. That’s her decision, one that ideally will be communicated through a carefully-written decision that will be understandable to anyone who is inclined to believe at first blush that the discipline isn’t sufficient. Then, with Goodell holding the hammer that would allow him to increase the punishment to a full year, the settlement talks could happen — and a suspension that ends up being longer than the one Judge Robinson imposed would be viewed as the league pushing successfully to get a stronger punishment.

Some would say that, with Goodell holding all the cards if/when Judge Robinson imposes any discipline at all on Watson, why should he do anything less than use the full extent of his power? That would avoid the possibility, slim as it may be, of losing in court. If it ever gets to that point.

The league isn’t in the habit of going easy on players, especially not after the Ray Rice fiasco of 2014. This is the first case handled under a process aimed at minimizing Goodell’s influence. And his influence is indeed minimized, until the time comes for an appeal.

Someone from the league floated last week the idea of the NFL not appealing at all, if Judge Robinson suspends Watson for six or eight games. Maybe, if she suspends him for something less than that, the league would appeal the case and accept six or eight games as a negotiated compromise. Maybe there’s a way to use the fact that Watson missed all of 2021 as time served, since he absolutely would have been traded to another team and would have played the full season if the 24 civil lawsuits and 10 criminal complaints hadn’t been pending.

He’d have to give up the $10 million in salary that he made for not playing last year, if a full season of de facto paid leave becomes an after-the-fact suspension. Maybe he’d do it, if it meant getting on the field sooner than later. If the choice comes down to risking a suspension on appeal for all of 2022 or giving up his 2021 pay while missing four or six or eight games in 2022, maybe he would do it.

Regardless, it will become easier for the league to sell something like that to the media and the fans after Judge Robinson issues a ruling that explains, from the perspective of a true outsider, why the Personal Conduct Policy as applied to the facts of the case possibly don’t justify anything close to what the league wants. At that point, it would make plenty of sense for the two sides to work something out, especially since the league could choose to hold firm. To suspend him for a year. And then to take their chances in court.

The biggest risk the league assumes by waiting for Judge Robinson’s decision is that, if she imposes no discipline at all, there’s nothing that can be done at that point. The NFL will have lost conclusively, and Watson will be completely free to suit up for Week One.

They could still settle all of it at any time. Again, without Judge Robinson’s decision, it would be very difficult for the league to avoid creating the impression that it didn’t go far enough in punishing Watson.

21 responses to “NFL, Deshaun Watson settlement remains possible, but still not likely (for now)

  1. Any finding against Watson would totally destroy the NFL,
    aka/collateral damage when appealed via the courts.

  2. If I had the responsibility for imposing punishment I would impose a two year suspension for embarrassing the league.

  3. It seems the only circumstance under which the league would consider a settlement is if they thought Judge Robinson would be inclined to give no punishment at all. With even a 1 game suspension from Robinson, Goodell can overturn that and impose any punishment he chooses. Guess it depends on how well the league thinks they presented their case to the judge. My instinct is that Robinson imposes 4-6 games and Goodell doubles it.

  4. Watson is a predator. If the Judge and Commissioner don’t flat out suspend him for a year with no $$, they are just enabling him to think he has done no wrong and the statistics show, he will do it again. His pathetic statement that “I want to clear my name” is beyond reproach.

  5. The biggest risk to the league is if they do not come down on him like a hammer. Even if Robinson comes back with no suspension. The NFL needs to take a back door and put him on paid exempt list to sit him anyway based on the unsettled and future cases. Then use the agreed to discretion to fire the Judge and come back with a new set of cases for suspension based on any new cases filed. Which they will be filed. This is the one case that will turn fans away. Even Browns fans are walking away so Goodell better have a backup plan. I for one have been a true football fan for 40 years and I promise you I will turn the games off if he gets less than a year. I may be done if he plays ever again. I am not alone I can promise you that.

  6. If only there was video evidence that the league could have lost, or just denied receiving, then they could have given him the 2 game Ray Rice deal…

  7. If the judge rules he is not to serve any suspension then Roger Goodell should be removed as commissioner as it would clearly show his incompetence. This whole judge ruling thing is all for show, the commissioner should be able to impose any suspension as he sees fit. If it is a situation where it is an unprecedented like this well that
    Is why he is paid 50 million dollars to handle matters like this. This hiding behind the judge thing is bogus.

  8. I would tell Mr. Watson to reach out to the CFL or USFL for employment.

  9. AFC North teams, not named the Browns, are scared to death that Watson will play this year…

  10. They NFL’s biggest fear has to be the possibility new allegations will turn up. Everybody is currently just kind of pretending/hoping this is all behind him but that was a LOT of incidents and serial abusers very rarely just turn off the switch and never commit an offense again.

  11. If we assume Judge Robinson will come up with a middle of the road punishment like 4 to 10 games, once the negotiation begins between Watson camp and the NFL, what will be the impact of the 4 pending civil cases in the settlement ?

  12. I am speaking strictly from a football perspective. There are not enough good quarterbacks in the league to start on every team.
    Now fans want DW suspended for 2 years?? That would set back the browns in a big way. With DW they have a good chance to go deep into the playoffs. I do think he deserves some punishment. But let’s not kid ourselves, there are worse offenders in the league with multiple violations, even criminal that are allowed to play.

  13. Why is the NFL even negotiating????? It’s totally ridiculous and self-serving to Watson. What a weak weak NFL commissioner.

  14. I would ban him for life. Playing is a privledge not a right and up to 66 possible victims that could pop their heads up is beyond acceptable. Dude just needs to go away. Plus it would be awesome watching the Browns have to pay top dollar for a QB they’ll never have. It would be the most Browns thing ever. Here’s a poll, whose more incompetent and irritating owner Snyder or Haslam?

  15. The NFL brand will take a hit when they go easy on Watson in the name of money and owner preservation. Facts will continue leaking out. The worst is yet to come.

  16. Twenty six credible allegations – one game for each allegation = 26 game suspension. ANd if he does it again, he’s gone for good.

  17. It’s going to be a long July. I do wonder how if the other 4 do settle by say next week if that throws a whole new wrench into this.

  18. The Browns and the league have completely ignored the women involved in the league, fans, employees, wives, daughters and why?

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