With appeals officer Peter Harvey quite possibly poised to impose a lengthy suspension on Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson as soon as Friday, Watson’s camp has floated the notion of Watson accepting an eight-game suspension, along with a $5 million fine.
The league has yet to offer any indication as to its position regarding Watson’s reported proposal. Our guess is that the league regards it to be far too little, and far too late.
In the current posture, the NFL is at the end of the road, with Harvey eight days into an appeal process that, by rule, must be expedited. It’s entirely possible that Harvey is putting the finishing touches on a written ruling that will suspend Watson for at least one full season, effective tomorrow. Watson’s sudden willingness to make a significant proposal comes at a time when it’s increasingly obvious that Harvey will be doing what Commissioner Roger Goodell wants — dropping the hammer on Watson.
The league can’t turn back now, not after the Commissioner used words like “egregious” and “predatory” when discussing Watson two days ago. A negotiated compromise that would result in Watson missing only two more games than Judge Sue L. Robinson imposed likely won’t fly in the court of public opinion. Thus, it won’t fly with the league.
Besides, at some point this isn’t about Deshaun Watson. It’s about the next Deshaun Watson. It’s about sending a clear message to any player accused of wrongdoing in the future that it’s always better to take your reckoning as early as possible, avoiding months of bad press and countless hours of work to prove something that the player should have just admitted to having done.
It’s also about the NFL fully exercising the power that it continues to possess under the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the Personal Conduct Policy.
Watson could have settled the Ashley Solis claim for payment in the range of $75,000, before the first suit was filed. Instead, Watson’s camp stonewalled attorney Tony Buzbee, and in so doing pissed him off. One lawsuit became 24 became repeated P.R. body blows and millions of dollars in settlements and legal fees. It hurt the league, too. The endless Watson stories damaged The Shield, indirectly. And if Watson had simply owned up to his misconduct instead of constantly doubling down, this would have ended for both him and the league before it ever even started.
Instead, Watson categorically denied wrongdoing. Judge Robinson necessarily found that Watson lied to the league’s investigators. One of his representatives crowed about Watson’s innocence to Adam Schefter of ESPN after a grand jury decided in March not to indict Watson, which only made things worse when Schefter tweeted that Watson welcomed a criminal investigation because he knew “the truth would come out.” Last Thursday, Buzbee called out Schefter during a press conference for his effort to carry Watson’s water after the grand jury opted not to file criminal charges, saying that “this kind of foolishness is exactly why people do not pursue justice.”
Although Buzbee’s tactics have at times been cartoonish, he’s right. The truth didn’t come out when prosecutors opted not to aggressively pursue a fight that, under the very high standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, they likely would have lost. Judge Robinson, hired jointly by the league and the union, made a ruling as to the truth, as far as the NFL is concerned. Four instances of non-violent sexual assault. “Egregious” misconduct. “Predatory behavior.” Untruthful denials. A total lack of remorse.
Sorry, Deshaun, but the time for having a true reckoning has long since expired. This is nothing more than a Hail Mary aimed at avoiding the punishment that the league has every right to impose. And it will definitely be a lot more than eight games and $5 million.