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Deshaun Watson

Is New Deshaun Watson Suspension Harsh Enough?

  • Justin Melo
  • August 18, 2022
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Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson has been suspended for 11 games and will pay a $5 million fine for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. The final ruling arrives following the NFL’s decision to appeal the original six-game suspension (and no fine) previously handed down by jointly appointed neutral arbitrator disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson. Additionally, Watson must commit to mandatory evaluation and treatment. 

It’s the conclusion of a negotiated settlement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association. It ends the internal process completely, and it results in no litigation or other efforts to fight the punishment in court by either side. It’s a lighter suspension than Watson would have earned had no agreement been reached (the league was reportedly pursuing a full-year suspension), but it’s noticeably harsher than the original ruling.

Watson and the league had reportedly been engaging in settlement discussions ever since Robinson announced her ruling. Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league apparently indicated they were willing to settle on a 12-game suspension with a heavy fine (reportedly in the $8 million range). It’s worth noting the ultimate ruling is one contest and $3 million lighter than the league’s original alleged offer. Watson’s representation and the player’s association likely view this outcome as a victory, despite the significant financial loss.

The league had appointed former New Jersey attorney general Peter. C. Harvey to oversee their appeal of Watson’s original six-game suspension. Commissioner Goodell and all parties involved were within their rights under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) to pursue an indefinite suspension, although a lawsuit from the NFLPA would have likely arrived had they gone that route. Reaching a settlement that falls short of their alleged initial plan ultimately feels like the league simply wanted to avoid a lengthy, ugly process in court.

Watson will be eligible to return to regular-season games on Nov. 28, shortly before the Browns are scheduled to play Watson’s ex-team, the Houston Texans in Houston in Week 13. Watson appears primed to make his return following a lengthy spell on the sidelines against the franchise that controversially traded him to the Browns in exchange for a king’s ransom. It makes the slightly random number of an 11-game suspension feel oddly purposeful.

From a football perspective, the Browns must now decide if they plan to move forward with backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett throughout Watson’s 11-game absence. Brissett was originally signed with the admission he’d likely be filling in for Watson at some point, but the Browns’ front-office brass could alter their thinking now that they understand the full scope of Watson’s punishment. The Browns remain high on Brissett internally. Trading for disgruntled San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo remains the most realistic alternative option. Garoppolo is undoubtedly a better quarterback than Brissett, but the situation is complicated and boils down to more than simply choosing the better signal-caller (Garoppolo’s contract and coming to terms on a package with the 49ers, notably).

The lengthy, publicized process received its conclusion on Thursday afternoon. Watson will be suspended for 11 contests with a $5 million fine. Barring an unforeseen development, Watson will make his highly-talked about return against his former Texans, which will receive more fanfare than it deserves. The outcome feels like a cowardly conclusion from the league’s perspective.

Written By

Justin Melo