The NFL has been mostly mum on Deshaun Watson’s status since he was charged with sexual assault and misconduct in March of 2021. Now, more than a year after the accusations against Watson came to light, the NFL is nearing the end of its investigation into the Browns quarterback.
Watson could be facing some major discipline as a result of that.
Mark Maske of The Washington Post reports that the NFL is looking to give Watson a “significant” suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. In fact, the NFL could seek to suspend Watson for the entire 2022 NFL season.
The league ‘probably’ will seek a suspension of one full season for Watson, a person on Watson’s side of the case said Friday. A person familiar with the league’s view of the case cautioned to be ‘careful’ about specifying a precise length at this point for the suspension the NFL will seek. But that person also said: ‘Significant would be the proper term.’
On June 26, the Wall Street Journal reported that the league is seeking an “indefinite suspension” and will accept no less than a yearlong suspension for Watson. ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio explains that a yearlong suspension would protect the NFL against any other women who may potentially come forward between now and next year, when the two-year statute of limitations expires for Watson’s actions; that’s assuming that Watson ceased searching for massage therapists in March 2021.
The hearing for Watson’s discipline is expected to be heard in court on Tuesday, June 28.
It’s no surprise that the NFL is seeking to give Watson a lengthy suspension. Cleveland’s quarterback stands accused of sexual assault and misconduct in 24 civil lawsuits. Additionally, a recent story from Jenny Vrentas of the New York Times indicated that Watson had used as many as 66 different masseuses between 2019 and 2021.
Because of these accusations, the NFL is expected to suspend Watson under the league’s personal conduct policy. Violations of that policy involving assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault will result in a “baseline suspension without pay of six games, with consideration given to any aggravating or mitigating factors.”
The NFL has the authority to suspend a player longer depending on those factors. They include violence involving a weapon, choking, repeated striking, or when an act is committed against a particularly vulnerable person, like a child, woman or elderly person. It is unclear if any of these apply to Watson at this time, or if the NFL’s suspension length would be tied to the number of accusations against Watson.
Either way, the league is set to punish Watson, regardless of whether he ultimately faces any criminal charges. While a grand jury decided not to indict Watson in nine of the 10 criminal charges he has faced to date, that doesn’t matter when considering the implementation of the personal conduct policy. The NFL doesn’t need a player to be charged or found guilty to enact the policy.
The league suspended Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for four games after he was accused of sexual assault but not convicted during the 2010 NFL offseason. It seems likely to impose discipline on Watson, as well; he just may be suspended longer.
Of course, Watson will be able to go through an appeal process if and when he is suspended. That could end up shortening his suspension length, something we have seen happen often thanks to the vagaries of the personal conduct policy.
So, what does this all mean? The NFL appears determined to suspend Watson long-term. It’s just a question of how long he may be sidelined and whether the league will be successful in arguing for a potential year-long ban.