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Browns' Deshaun Watson Should Be Suspended 6 Games, Rules Sue L. Robinson

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVAugust 1, 2022

Nick Cammett/Getty Images

Former federal judge Sue L. Robinson has decided Deshaun Watson should be suspended six games for violation of the NFL's personal conduct policy.

ESPN's Adam Schefter and Ian Rapoport of NFL Network first reported the news.

Ian Rapoport @RapSheet

The NFL statement on the Deshaun Watson ruling <a href="https://t.co/0kE7wiQi7C">pic.twitter.com/0kE7wiQi7C</a>

IG: JosinaAnderson @JosinaAnderson

While Sue Robinson's 6-game suspension falls notably short of the indefinite suspension of at least 1-year that the NFL was seeking, I'm told Deshaun Watson's counsel &amp; reps are currently displeased with the ruling. Watson's side still firmly maintain it should have been 0 games.

Jake Trotter @Jake_Trotter

Statement from the Haslams <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Browns?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Browns</a> <a href="https://t.co/Rs2o5xLwrz">pic.twitter.com/Rs2o5xLwrz</a>

The NFL and NFLPA jointly appointed Robinson as the disciplinary officer for the case.

She noted in her 16-page decision, that of the 24 massage therapists who had filed civil suits against Watson, "the NFL investigators were only able to interview 12; of those 12, the NFL relied for its conclusions on the testimony of 4 therapists." Arriving at her recommendation of a six-game suspension without pay, Robinson wrote that she was "looking at the record when compared to the relevant precedent, and looking forward to how this disciplinary determination might be used in the future."

In addition to the suspension, she outlined that Watson should "limit his massage therapy to Club-directed sessions and Club-approved massage therapists for the duration of his career" and that he must "have no adverse involvement with law enforcement, and must not commit any additional violations of the Policy."

Robinson issued no fine for Watson. Mark Maske of the Washington Post noted how the suspension will impact Watson's pay this season:

MarkMaske @MarkMaske

The six-game suspension is without pay and will cost Deshaun Watson $345,000 of his $1.035 million salary for this season. There is no additional fine imposed by NFL/NFLPA disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson.

Tom Pelissero @TomPelissero

Judge Sue L. Robinson’s decision says Deshaun Watson’s “pattern of behavior was egregious,” but notes that behavior was “nonviolent sexual conduct” in explaining the decision to suspend him six games, per source.

Tom Pelissero @TomPelissero

So the discipline for <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Browns?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Browns</a> QB Deshaun Watson, pending a possible NFL appeal:<br><br>6-game suspension<br>No additional fine <br><br>Sue L. Robinson’s decision also requires no massages other than directed by club personnel and no adverse involvement with no law enforcement.

Tom Pelissero @TomPelissero

<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Browns?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Browns</a> QB Deshaun Watson is in the building and expected to practice today, per source. <br><br>Players suspended less than a year are generally permitted to participate in all activities through the preseason.

In March, Ian Rapoport pointed out that because "His base salary for 2022 is $1M" it then "means if he’s suspended, it’ll come out of that base." Albert Breer elaborated:

Albert Breer @AlbertBreer

Under the terms of his Texans contract, his base was $35 million, which means he would've lost $1.94 million for every game he was suspended. Under the terms of his new deal, he'll lose $55,556 for every game he's suspended.<br><br>Pretty massive difference. <a href="https://t.co/z0RtrFKe78">https://t.co/z0RtrFKe78</a>

Andrew Berry, the Browns' general manager and executive vice president of football operations, explained this spring that it's typical for the Browns to keep base salaries low in the first year of a new contract relative to the full term of the contract and that this was not designed specifically for Watson's situation.

If that's the case, the practice seems to have indirectly resulted in the cost of Watson's suspension being substantially less than it would have been otherwise.

Meanwhile, Front Office Sports specifies how a suspension impacts Watson's signing bonus:

Front Office Sports @FOS

Deshaun Watson will lose none of his $44.9 million signing bonus — he received the first $15 million yesterday.<br><br>He is guaranteed another $184 million through the 2026 season. <a href="https://t.co/R8OHyGVt7X">pic.twitter.com/R8OHyGVt7X</a>

In March 2021, attorney Tony Buzbee announced several lawsuits filed against Watson by women who had all been hired by the then-Houston Texans quarterback to perform massages. A total of 25 lawsuits were filed, all accusing Watson of sexual assault or misconduct, although one was dropped early in the process.

Watson has denied the allegations, and his legal team argued that any sexual activity between him and the women was consensual. He settled 20 of the lawsuits in June and settled three more Monday, per ESPN's John Barr.

The NFL released a statement in April 2021 in which it said it would investigate the "deeply disturbing" allegations.

The NFL's statement came on the same day Ashley Solis and Lauren Baxley publicly identified themselves as two of the plaintiffs in the civil lawsuits against Watson.

Sarah Barshop of ESPN shared some of Solis' statements in which she said Watson "robbed" her of the reasons she got into massage therapy in the first place and "tainted a profession in which I take enormous pride."

She also said she suffers from "panic attacks, anxiety and depression," adding, "I hope he knows how much pain he's inflicted on me emotionally and physically. And I hope he knows how much pain he's inflicted on these other survivors."

Baxley was not present at the April 2021 press conference, but attorney Cornelia Brandfield-Harvey read a letter on her behalf that called Watson a "predator with power" who crossed "every boundary from professional and therapeutic to sexual and degrading."

In March, two grand juries declined to indict Watson on criminal charges, with potential NFL discipline the final question mark over his return to the field.

Watson did not feature in a single game in 2021 while with the Texans after an offseason that saw him file a trade request and then named as the subject of multiple lawsuits, but the NFL did not suspend him or place him on the exempt list while the lawsuits and 10 police complaints were still active.

The Texans traded Watson to the Browns this offseason following the confirmation he wouldn't face charges, and the AFC North team signed him to a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract even with his playing status not assured for the upcoming season.

In early June of this year, Jenny Vrentas reported for the New York Times that between the fall of 2019 and the spring of 2021 Watson scheduled massage appointments with at least 66 women. While he was with the Texans, the team indirectly helped to facilitate the appointments.

In late June, ESPN's Dan Graziano reported Watson's disciplinary hearing, which was overseen by Robinson after she was jointly appointed by the league and the NFL Players Association, had concluded after a three-day process.

Andrew Beaton of the Wall Street Journal reported June 25 that the NFL was eyeing an indefinite suspension of no less than one year.

"The league's belief that it should institute what is essentially the strictest discipline it can assess is based on its investigation over the last year, the breadth of the allegations against him and some accusations that NFL officials have concluded are particularly damning," Beaton wrote.

Yet Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com reported in July there was "growing sentiment within league circles that Watson will play at some point this season" with the NFLPA pushing for no suspension at all because "several NFL owners haven't been suspended for their direct or indirect involvement in sexual misconduct."

Graziano noted Sunday that settlement talks didn't produce a result:

Dan Graziano @DanGrazianoESPN

Per sources, Deshaun Watson and the NFL did engage in further settlement talks in recent days, but neither side felt they got close. The best Watson’s side indicated it would accept was 6-8 games. Best league indicated it was willing to do was 12 games + heavy fine $8 mil range).

Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports reported in July that Watson and the players association planned on filing a lawsuit against the NFL in federal court if he was suspended for a full season.

However, the NFLPA released a statement Sunday ahead of the ruling saying it would not appeal the decision on behalf of Watson and calling on the league to do the same.

Per the collective bargaining agreement of 2020, both the NFL and the NFLPA can appeal Robinson's decision in writing within three business days, with that period open to extension by either the league or the union if all parties agree to it. From there, any appeal would go to commissioner Roger Goodell unless he assigned someone else to review it.

So, though the 2020 CBA established this process for the handling of personal conduct cases, this being the first such case which, per the agreement, was heard by a disciplinary officer instead of Goodell, the final decision could still be in the commissioner's hands.

The NFL is currently reviewing the decision to determine its "next steps."

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