Today could be the day that the NFL issues its final ruling in the Deshaun Watson case.
Today probably will be the day, especially if hand-picked Roger Goodell surrogate Peter Harvey will be suspending Watson for a full year, effective immediately.
The Browns play a preseason game tonight in Jacksonville. The Browns already have announced that Watson will start the game. The Commissioner’s strong comments about Watson from earlier in the week can easily be interpreted as reflecting a belief that Watson will not play in any NFL game this season.
Harvey doesn’t have a deadline for issuing a decision on the Watson appeal. However, the process must be “expedited,” by rule. It makes plenty of sense for a decision to come today.
It makes even more sense for it to come today, if the NFL hopes to keep Watson from donning a uniform and taking the field in the preseason. That happens if Harvey gives the league what it wants — a one-year suspension, minimum.
My own semi-educated guess is that Harvey’s decision (if it’s one full year) will come between 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. ET. The longer Harvey waits, the less time the NFL Players Association will have to get a temporary restraining order that would allow Watson to play in Jacksonville, in a game that begins at 7:00 p.m. ET.
Also, to the extent that the NFLPA has a civil complaint ready to file in Ohio or wherever, there’s a very good chance (if not a strong probability) that the NFL will file its own lawsuit in federal court in New York City, seeking a declaration that the league properly exercised its rights under the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Then, the union would have to hustle to file a counterclaim and an emergency motion for a TRO — all within the time that passes between Harvey issuing a ruling and the Browns-Jaguars game kicks off.
Bottom line? The league holds the cards. If there’s a race to the courthouse, the NFL has its finger on the starter’s pistol. And Harvey will fire it at the perfect time to keep the NFLPA from getting a piece of paper that would let Watson play in tonight’s game.
Again, all of this is based on Harvey issuing a one-year suspension. Goodell’s comments from Tuesday are the clearest indication yet that this is what he wants. If Harvey doesn’t give it to him, Goodell will find someone else in the future who will.