Predictably, the NFL has received significant backlash in the wake of Monday’s controversial ruling by federal judge Sue L. Robinson, suspending Deshaun Watson six games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Watson, of course, was the subject of a criminal investigation following widespread allegations of sexual assault, with dozens of women coming forward to accuse the Browns quarterback of inappropriate conduct, making unwanted advances and exposing himself during massages. Monday’s outcome was seen as a resounding victory for both Watson and the players union, setting the precedent for future disciplinary cases that, in past years, would have been overseen by commissioner Roger Goodell. The NFL has until Thursday morning to appeal Judge Robinson’s decision, and Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk on NBC Sports expects Goodell will do exactly that.
“Everything I know about the league, everything I know about Roger Goodell and based on that ruling, it all points to Goodell being motivated and pissed off, frankly, about the outcome and the finding that, not only did [Watson] do it, but he lied when he testified about what he did or didn’t do. I just think it all adds up to a significant suspension,” opined Florio during his appearance Tuesday on The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz. “He’s not going to allow himself to be scrutinized and criticized for being too lenient. I just think it’s a matter of time before he bangs the gavel on something more than six, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a full season. Not saying it will be, but I won’t be surprised if it is.”
Florio noted a similar instance in 2014 when Ravens running back Ray Rice was suspended two games for a domestic violence arrest. When video of the attack went public (TMZ released footage of Rice assaulting his wife in a hotel elevator), Goodell found himself at the center of a PR catastrophe. Since the Rice debacle, Goodell has drastically changed his philosophy, levying progressively harsher punishments for players involved in off-field incidents.
“Ray Rice [got] a two-game suspension in 2014. The video comes out of the knockout punch in the elevator. It almost brings the house down on Goodell. He resolved at that point, I believe, to never be accused of being too lenient with a player again,” said Florio, a practicing lawyer in West Virginia for 18 years prior to his sports writing career at NBC. “That’s why Ezekiel Elliott got six games. Never arrested, never charged, never even sued. He got six games. We’re still in that mode, we’re still in that mindset.”
If Goodell wasn’t already swayed by public outcry to Watson’s ludicrously light suspension, Florio thinks a statement released by Browns ownership Monday, seemingly undermining Goodell’s authority, could be the straw that ultimately breaks the camel’s back.
“It’s basically poking the bear in the ass on a day when the bear is already upset,” expressed Florio. “I just thought it was a horrible mistake by the Browns at a time when there are already people pissed off about the contract, fully guaranteed, five years, $230 million, sets a precedent that other owners have to deal with. They’re just asking for more trouble and they’re asking for a longer suspension by handling it the way they did [Monday].”
Florio stressed that Goodell is under no obligation to accept Judge Robinson’s ruling, suggesting Watson could be headed for a much longer suspension. The NFLPA would likely counter that by bringing the case to federal court, similar to the legal battled that ensued when Tom Brady appealed his Deflategate ban in 2015.
“The way I read it, as long as [Goodell] doesn’t introduce new facts—in this case, he doesn’t need to—he can do whatever he wants,” said Florio. “He can pick whatever number he wants and there’s nothing that anyone could do about it. The way it was bargained by the union, he’s got final say, and I expect him to exercise final say.”