CLEVELAND, Ohio — The NFL Players Association is bracing for “unprecedented” discipline from Deshaun Watson and is ready to fight it vigorously, a source told Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.
In addition, Florio reported that the division at the NFL office on the handling of Watson’s case is intensifying, with those who want him out of the field until his 24 civil lawsuits have been resolved gaining momentum following more filings by the lawyer plaintiffs Tony Buzbee and more allegations.
Buzbee told cleveland.com he plans to file two more lawsuits “in due course” and also plans to add the Houston Texans to the lawsuits for allegedly aiding and abetting Watson’s alleged sexual misconduct on dates. you with massage therapists.
As for the NFLPA’s strategy once the sanction is handed down, it plans to argue that any suspension of Watson without pay would be excessive following the light treatment of three NFL owners who have recently been involved in off-field transgressions. : Commanders owner Daniel Snyder, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
A league source confirmed to cleveland.com that the argument against the owners is, indeed, the union’s intended defense.
As Florio pointed out, the union believes that the relevant line of NFL personal conduct policy that should work in Watson’s favor is: “Ownership and management of the club or league has traditionally been held to a higher standard and will be subject to greater discipline when violations of the Personal Conduct Policy occur.”
“As for Snyder, the union will argue that his punishment in light of attorney Beth Wilkinson’s findings and potential recommendations was weak and was not fully implemented,” Florio wrote. “As far as Kraft is concerned, the union will argue that Kraft received no punishment when he allegedly received a massage that became a sexual encounter. (Although Kraft was charged with solicitation, the case was dismissed on the grounds that the CCTV used by law enforcement violated the rights of the various people who were being secretly recorded.) As for Jones, the union will argue that the league failed to investigate the voyeurism scandal involving the former chief of Cowboys public relations, Rich Dalrymple, including but not limited to key questions of what Jones knew, when he knew it, and whether he knew that Dalrymple was secretly recording several cheerleaders while they changed clothes.
Under the new personal conduct policy adopted in 2020, the union is confident that the defense of property will carry more weight than under the old rules. In the past, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell determined initial discipline and heard appeals.
Now, discipline is assessed by an independent officer jointly appointed by the NFL and NFLPA. In Watson’s case, that’s former U.S. District Judge Sue L. Robinson. As long as Robinson fines or suspends Watson, Goodell or designate can amend on appeal as they see fit.
Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, told cleveland.com he expects the suspension to be too harsh and will likely appeal.
According to the policy, “discipline can be a fine, a fixed or indefinite suspension, a combination of the two, or a ban from the league with the possibility of reapplying. Discipline may also include a probationary period and conditions that must be met for reinstatement and to remain eligible to participate in the league.
“Players with a history of misconduct, including misconduct that occurred prior to their association with the NFL, will be subject to enhanced and/or expedited discipline, including banishment from the league with the option to reapply. In determining discipline, both aggravating and mitigating factors may be considered.
“Reference may also be made to requirements to seek ongoing counselling, treatment or therapy, as appropriate, as well as the imposition of enhanced supervision, which, if complied with satisfactorily, would serve to mitigate the discipline otherwise imposed.”
As the NFL nears the end of its investigation, the Browns expect to hear something by the end of this month or early July. Hardin told cleveland.com that NFL investigators have completed interviews with Watson despite filing two new cases since speaking to him for four days on two separate occasions, and “a few other accusers speaking publicly for the first time in a New York Times investigative piece by Jenny Vrentas.
At the NFL’s annual meeting in March, Goodell took the commissioner’s exemption list — paid leave — off the table because Watson was not indicted by a grand jury on criminal charges. It’s unclear if Goodell still feels that way.
But if the league needs more time or discovery, it could suspend Watson indefinitely and ask him to meet certain conditions to return to the field. It could also impose a trial period.
During a podium interview after Tuesday’s minicamp practice, Watson reiterated that he had done nothing wrong in those sessions and still wanted to clear his name.
“I never assaulted anyone, I never harassed anyone, I never disrespected anyone, I never forced anyone to do anything,” he said.
The Browns wrapped up minicamp on Thursday and Watson is not expected to return to the field until the first practice of training camp on July 27. If he is suspended, he can train with the team until the end of the camp.
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