The NFL has been largely mom to Deshaun Watson’s status since he was charged with sexual assault and misconduct in March 2021. Now, more than a year after the allegations against Watson came to light, the NFL is nearing the end of its Browns quarterback investigation.
Watson could face a great deal of discipline as a result.
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The Washington Post’s Mark Maske reports that the NFL is trying to give Watson a “significant” suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct guidelines. In fact, the NFL could be looking to suspend Watson for the entire 2022 NFL season.
The league will “likely” seek a full-season suspension for Watson, a person on Watson’s side in the case said on Friday. One person familiar with the league’s view on the case cautioned against being “cautious” about giving an exact length of suspension the NFL will seek at this point. But this person also said, ‘Significant would be the correct term.’
It’s no surprise that the NFL is trying to give Watson a lengthy suspension. The Cleveland quarterback faces 24 civil charges of sexual assault and misconduct. Additionally, a recent story by The New York Times’ Jenny Vrentas revealed that Watson used as many as 66 different masseuses between 2019 and 2021.
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Based on these allegations, the NFL is expected to suspend Watson under the league’s personal conduct policy. Violations of this policy involving assault, assault, domestic violence or sexual assault will result in a “basic suspension without pay for six games, taking into account all aggravating or mitigating factors.”
The NFL has the authority to suspend a player longer based on these factors. This includes violence with a weapon, choking, repeated beatings or when an act is committed against a particularly vulnerable person such as a child, woman or elderly person. It’s unclear if any of those points apply to Watson at this point, or if the length of the NFL’s suspension is related to the number of allegations against Watson.
In any case, the league will punish Watson regardless of whether he ultimately faces criminal charges. While a grand jury has ruled not to indict Watson in nine of the 10 criminal charges he has faced so far, that doesn’t matter when considering the implementation of the personal conduct policy. The NFL does not need a player charged or found guilty to implement the policy.
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The league suspended Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for four games after he was charged with sexual assault but not convicted in the 2010 NFL offseason. It seems likely that it also imposes discipline on Watson; he can only be suspended longer.
Of course, Watson can go through an appeals process if and when he’s suspended. This could result in a reduction in his suspension period, which we have seen frequently due to the vagaries of personal conduct policy.
So what does all this mean? The NFL appears determined to suspend Watson long-term. It’s just a matter of how long he can be sidelined and whether the league will succeed to make the case for a possible year-long ban.