Why bother tossing bad news on a Friday afternoon in late June when it can instead be buried nearly five o’clock on a Saturday?
At a time when many expected the NFL to begin the process of disciplining Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson under the Personal Conduct Policy by offering a significant suspension which would then be followed by a hearing before a (sort of) independent disciplinary officer, the league shuffled Stage One and Stage Two together.
According to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter, who hasn’t had much to say about Watson since he fueled the false narrative that a grand jury’s decision not to indict Watson on nine criminal complaints amounts to a sort of exemptionWatson’s disciplinary hearing is scheduled to begin on Tuesday.
It’s unclear when Watson and the NFL Players Association became aware of this schedule. If they knew before 4:49 p.m. ET on Saturday, they didn’t say anything. This gives the impression, rightly or wrongly, that everything is put together in a hurry.
Retired federal judge Sue L. Robinson will preside over the hearing and render a decision on the discipline, if any, to impose on Watson. The league will propose a punishment, at some point. PFT reported nine days ago that the NFLPA expects the league’s proposal to be “unprecedented.”
The impending proceeding is also unprecedented. Adopted in 2020, it is not yet applied. Apparently, the league has no intention of announcing Watson’s proposed suspension before initiating the formal review process before Judge Robinson. It remains to be seen if anyone leaks the suspension proposal to the media.
According to Schefter, a decision could be made within a week, or it could be made when training camp opens. While Judge Robinson imposes discipline on Watson, either side can appeal to Commissioner Roger Goodell, whose decision would be final. Watson escapes Goodell’s jurisdiction only if Judge Robinson concludes that Watson should not be punished at all.
Attorney Rusty Hardin tried to argue that there should indeed be no punishment, given that no grand jury has indicted Watson on criminal charges. This position, as explained above, is flawed, self-serving and illogical. Recently, the Harris County prosecutor said in no uncertain terms that the absence of an indictment does not constitute an exoneration.
As PFT also reported nine days ago, the NFLPA intends to highlight the punishment or lack of punishment for owners who may have violated the Personal Conduct Policy, including Commanders owner Daniel Snyder, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. That defense could bog down the hearing, but the NFLPA and Watson have every right to push it forward. With the policy making it clear that owners are held to a higher standard than players, the punishment or lack of punishment imposed on owners who may have broken the rules becomes directly relevant to the appropriateness of the proposed punishment for Watson.
Whatever happens, it will start happening during what is usually the slowest week of the NFL’s annual news cycle. This year, that will certainly not be the case.