The NFLPA had two business days to submit a brief response to the NFL’s Deshaun Watson appeal. The trade union has, as expected, followed up by submitting a reply letter (Twitter link).
This case now goes to the appellant Peter Harvey, who Roger Goodell appointed to hear the league’s appeal. Harvey helped the NFL craft its personal conduct policy, and the fact that Goodell has chosen him to hear the appeal of Watson’s six-game suspension suggests the league is confident more games will be carried over to the Browns quarterback’s suspension.
What is taking place puts the NFLPA in a place where a legal battle seems likely. Since the union did not appeal Sue Robinson’s six-game suspension, Watson will miss the first six games of this season. However, a court battle could have him on the field immediately after. A preliminary injunction, as the courts deal with this case, would put Watson in position to play and — assuming the league’s CBA holds up in court — serve two separate suspensions. Or, the union’s legal efforts fail before that Week 7 window and Watson serves a longer suspension covering most or all of the 2022 season. Tom Brady and Ezekiel Elliott played under injunction, but each served the Goodell-imposed suspensions at later dates.
The NFL is again seeking a season-long suspension, the target in recent weeks. Robinson ruling that Watson violated the league’s personal conduct guidelines by committing sexual assaults during massage therapy sessions gives Harvey the power to increase his suspension. Short of a season-long suspension, the league wants to significantly increase Watson’s fine. The Browns’ structuring of Watson’s contract, which paid the former Texans Pro Bowler a league minimum salary to minimize his financial penalty in the event of a suspension, has not sat well with the NFL.
Settlement talks between the NFL and the NFLPA have been taking place periodically, and more clarity has emerged on what each side was willing to accept. The NFLPA spent weeks arguing that Watson should not be suspended at all, but Dan Graziano of ESPN.com reports that the union was willing to accept an eight-game suspension. The shortest absence the NFL was willing to allow was 12 games. If the 12-game suspension were to be put in place via a settlement, Graziano adds that the NFL also wanted Watson to be fined $8MM.
Watson’s camp was unwilling to join the NFL’s push for an indefinite suspension, according to Mike Garafolo of NFL.com, who describes that component as a leading pusher to break off settlement talks (video) link). As it stands now, Watson is set to lose less than $500,000 on his six-game suspension. A healthy season absence would only cost him his $1 million base salary.
That process, which involved 25 civil lawsuits filed against the recently traded quarterback, will be designed to end quickly, ESPN.com’s Jeff Darlington relays (at Twitter). No further hearings are forthcoming, just Harvey’s decision. After that, it can spill over to the court. The Browns are set to give their starting job to Jacoby Brissett during Watson’s absence, med Josh Dobbs and Josh Rosen serve as backup options.