On Tuesday, Deshaun Watson shall appear before NFL Disciplinary Officer Sue L. Robinsona former federal judge, to work out a potential union response to more than two dozen allegations of sexual misconduct involving massage therapists Watson hired†
The Wall Street Journal on Saturday reported that the NFL is seeking an “indefinite suspension” that Watson would keep “not less than a year.” Numerous other media outlets have corroborated that notion, a sign that the league wants it to be publicly known how seriously it wants to punish Watson.
That’s either to soften the shock of any harsh punishment or to claim a morale high, even if it’s shorter in duration.
Robinson was named jointly by both the NFL and the NFLPAand the union will defend Watson and likely appeal any decision, while Watson himself will have adequate legal representation.
But the history of league discipline and a system where the final decision on any punishment rests with either Commissioner Roger Goodell or a designated person suggests that whatever the NFL wants here, the NFL will get.
In other words, don’t expect Watson to play for Cleveland in 2022.
Where conventional wisdom once stuck with Watson missing six or maybe even eight games into the coming season, the Browns are suddenly having to brace themselves for the idea that this could stretch into 2023.
Truth serum would probably have to be dripped into the water supply at Browns HQ to get them to admit it wasn’t something they intended, but the reality is that the player and the team – in pure football terms – face an unexpected penalty. to see.
Cleveland traded three first-round selections, a future third and two-fourths to Houston to acquire Watson and a sixth-round roster in 2024. It then pledged a fully guaranteed $230 million to Watson over five years, thereby increasing the league’s salary structure by guaranteeing the terms of the contract whether Watson played or not… a la the NBA or MLB.
In fact, the deal is structured so that Watson’s base salary for 2022 is just $1 million, meaning missed game checks due to suspension would be minimal. His nearly $44 million bonus has already been paid and is untouchable. That kind of obvious subversion of justice probably won’t play well with the NFL.
The Browns sold their future — and a sliding scale of goodwill among some fans — for the chance to get a quarterback considered one of the best in the league ahead of the flurry of sexual harassment lawsuits. †Watson has since arranged 20 out of 24 of them†
Now the terms of the deal can be shortened by the league. Five seasons for $230 million could be three and a half seasons for $230 million, or something like that.
That includes 2022, when the Browns have a full roster that looks set to compete for a highly anticipated Super Bowl…if only it had a great quarterback.
Instead, after virtually breaking off their relationship with Baker Mayfield, the former No. 1 overall pick and four-year starter, the Browns may embark on a once-promising campaign with journeymen Jacoby Brissett and Joshua Dobbs.
If the Browns couldn’t win last year with Mayfield, who is still on the roster but expected to be split unless Cleveland can (or even will) crawl and get him back, how will this go?
Cleveland owners Jimmy and Dee Haslem sounded cheerful and confident when they announced Watson’s trade and signing earlier this spring. General manager Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski spoke of their confidence in Watson “the person” and continued on the endless investigative work the team was doing on the business.
Do those feelings stay?
It’s one thing to think you could lose Watson for some early games this season. Everyone expected that. An indefinite suspension — especially with four unresolved civil lawsuits out there — or a ruling that could significantly hold Watson back in 2023 changes the dynamic.
Watson, who turns 27 in September, has not shot a shot in the NFL since the 2020 season. The longer it sits, the longer it will likely take to shake some of the rust off.
Watson was a great player, but it would be an extreme challenge to jump into action for four, six or even eight games in the 2023 season and not expect a loss of game. Can he really go from scratch to the Super Bowl?
That would mean two peak years of a strong team were wasted or crippled, the opportunity to add top talent through design is limited, and huge chunks of future salary caps are tied to Watson.
For Watson to make this deal worthwhile, he must be an incredible performer when he finally gets to perform. And that’s discounting the fan resentment there is. Cleveland is counting on the notion that Watson will bring enough wins to forget them all (at least by most fans). The team is probably right, but that’s a lot of pressure on Watson to be really good from the jump.
Nothing has been officially settled yet. But the NFL’s signal that it wants a significant penalty is not good for Watson or the Browns.
The 2023 season is now in question, and it’s unlikely that possibility ever seriously occurred to Cleveland when it brought in Deshaun Watson.