NFL to seek ‘meaningful’ suspension for Deshaun Watson

NFL to seek ‘meaningful’ suspension for Deshaun Watson

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The NFL will argue that Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson should receive a “meaningful” suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, multiple people familiar with the matter said Friday.

The league will “likely” seek a full-season suspension for Watson, a person on Watson’s side said Friday. A person familiar with the league’s perspective on the matter warned to be “careful” about specifying a specific length at this point for the suspension the NFL will seek. But this person also said, “Significant would be the proper term.”

Watson faces 24 active civil lawsuits filed by women accusing him of sexual misconduct. The allegations include making inappropriate comments, exposing himself and forcing his penis on women’s hands during massage therapy sessions. Watson and his lawyer, Rusty Hardin, have denied the allegations. Two Texas grand juries declined to charge Watson with a crime. The NFL is preparing to present the findings of its investigation to Sue L. Robinson, the former U.S. District Judge who is the disciplinary officer jointly appointed by the league and the NFL Players Association under the current version of the disciplinary policy. conduct.

The league hopes the entire disciplinary process, including resolving any potential appeals to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or someone designate by him, will be completed by the start of training camp, a source said. person familiar with the case. The Browns are scheduled to open training camp on July 27.

Deshaun Watson faces 24th trial accusing him of sexual misconduct

“As I said, I never assaulted anyone or harassed anyone or disrespected anyone,” Watson said Tuesday. at a press conference during an off-season Browns practice. “I never forced anyone to do anything.”

Under a process that was revised in the last collective agreement between the league and the NFLPA completed in 2020, the initial decision on a potential suspension or fine will be made by Robinson, now an attorney in Wilmington, Del., After having retired from the bench in 2017.

The case would be over, with no appeal possible, if Robinson finds there was no violation of the personal conduct policy. If it decides there has been a policy violation and imposes a penalty, either party could appeal to Goodell. The NFLPA has been pushing for revisions to the CBA’s personal conduct policy after clashes, some of which spilled over into courtrooms after litigation filed by the union and players, in previous disciplinary cases. Previously, Goodell was responsible for both making the initial disciplinary decision and resolving appeals.

It’s unclear whether Robinson will hold what amounts to a quasi-trial before making his decision. She declined to comment this week, referring questions to the league and the union.

The NFL investigation was led by Lisa Friel, the former head of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office sex crimes prosecution unit, who serves as the league’s special counsel for investigations.

Friel interviewed at least 11 of the women accusing Watson who are represented by attorney Tony Buzbee, according to a person familiar with the investigation, along with other women. She reviewed the relevant documents available. NFL representatives interviewed Watson over several days in Houston.

“I can’t control this,” Watson said this week of the NFL’s disciplinary process. “I met the NFL a few weeks ago and did everything they asked me to do. I answered honestly all questions the NFL asked me. I spent hours with the people they knocked down. And that’s all I can do is be honest and tell them exactly what happened. I know they have a job and I have to so respect that. And that’s what we wanted to do, is cooperate. And they have to make a decision [that’s] best for the league.

NFL investigation into Deshaun Watson nearly complete, says Roger Goodell

Hardin confirmed he was involved in representing Watson in the NFL’s process with the union, but declined to comment further on league proceedings.

The league made a presentation on the matter to representatives from the NFLPA and Watson, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. This led those on Watson’s side to conclude that the NFL will seek a substantial penalty.

It’s unclear whether Major League Baseball’s two-season suspension of pitcher Trevor Bauer under its domestic violence policy will set a precedent for the NFL’s proposed suspension of Watson, another person familiar with the matter said. the league’s perspective in recent weeks. But the NFL is aware that the length of Bauer’s suspension could affect public expectations and reaction to the Watson case, the person said.

NFLPA outside attorney Jeffrey Kessler became involved in the case. A person familiar with the NFL’s perspective said the league is concerned that Kessler is not advocating for any disciplinary action.

Kessler declined to comment on Friday, referring questions to the NFLPA. The NFLPA could cite the absence of criminal charges, although NFL policy allows discipline to be imposed without such charges.

The NFLPA’s defense of Watson will raise the issue that owners Daniel Snyder of the Washington Commanders, Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots and Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys have not been suspended by the league for incidents involving them and their teams. This was confirmed by a person with knowledge of the matter after being reported by Pro Football Talk.

The league would “ideally” like the entire process, including the resolution of any appeals, to be completed before the start of training camp, a person familiar with the NFL’s perspective said, adding the warning that the approach taken by Kessler and the NFLPA could slow down the procedure.

This first case resolved under the new disciplinary system is a highly publicized case. Someone on Watson’s side wondered if Goodell might be reluctant to overturn the neutral referee’s disciplinary decision in the first instance.

The league and NFLPA could reach a settlement at some point to prevent any appeals or further legal action by Watson.

The Browns traded Watson with the Houston Texans this offseason and signed him to a new contract worth $230 million guaranteed over five seasons. Watson didn’t play last season, being placed on the Texans’ inactive roster on a weekly basis.

Any suspension would be without pay, based on Watson’s $1.035 million salary for the 2022 season. The NFL could seek a fine, in addition to any salary lost by Watson. The league could also stipulate that additional discipline could be imposed if new information surfaces.

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