Deshaun Watson is scheduled to have a hearing with the NFL this week on his potential violation of the league’s personal conduct policy and a severe punishment could be coming soon for the Cleveland Browns quarterback.
According to Andrew Beaton of the Wall Street Journal, the NFL is pushing for an indefinite suspension with a minimum of one year, citing sources familiar with the matter.
Watson and his lawyers are preparing to “vigorously fight such a tough ban,” per Beaton.
The 26-year-old quarterback’s case under the NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement means the ruling will come from a neutral arbitrator, former U.S. District Court judge Sue Robinson, whom Watson will be meeting with in his hearing on Tuesday.
Robinson, who was mutually selected by the league and players’ union, will determine whether or not Watson violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy and suspend him. Either the league or NFLPA can appeal the length of the suspension.
A resolution could be made by the week of July 4 or possibly even sooner, per Beaton.
Watson was accused of sexual misconduct or assault by 24 different women who were massage therapists since March 2021, all of whom filed civil lawsuits against him. The quarterback, who has denied any wrongdoing, settled 20 of those suits last week.
Watson and the NFL reportedly have held talks to negotiate a disciplinary settlement, but little to no progress has been made, with the NFL firm in its position that it will not accept any penalty shorter than a full season suspension, according to Beaton.
An indefinite suspension of Watson would be one of the harshest punishments in league history and give the NFL flexibility for further discipline if more allegations surface.
Per Beaton, the league is focusing on five of the alleged victims whose cases they believe have the strongest evidence to warrant such a significant disciplinary action.
The allegations against Watson came while he was a member of the Houston Texans, but he was traded to the Browns earlier this year and subsequently signed a record five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed contract.
While the base salary for Watson is low for the first season (a mere $1.035 million compared to $46 million in 2023), he would still lose out on the first full year of his contract if he is suspended a full season.
However, there have been talks to potentially delay the start of Watson’s contract until 2023, according to Beaton, but that would also harm Watson as it would push his potential free agency back another year.
Previous indefinite suspensions in the NFL included Michael Vick — who went to jail for his involvement in a dog-fighting ring — and Ray Rice — who was caught on video assaulting his wife, then-girlfriend, although that was overturned on an appeal.
Both occurred under previous iterations of the personal conduct policy, however. Vick also served prison time, making his case especially unique.