There were reportedly "multiple" NFL owners who did not want Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson suspended for the 2022 season.
Peter King of NBC Sports spoke to one team executive who feels the owners reached out to commissioner Roger Goodell to express their desire for Watson to play this season.
The reasoning was reportedly strategic, rather than any stance on the morals of the issue. By suspending Watson for 11 games, the NFL prevented the Browns from being able to toll Watson's contract over to the 2022 season.
Watson carries a cap hit of only $9.4 million in 2022 versus a $55 million cap hit each of the next four years. Had the contract tolled, the Browns would have been subject to the same small cap hit next season, rather than taking a spike of $45.6 million.
Eleven games is the maximum amount of time the NFL could suspend Watson without his contract being eligible for tolling over.
One could easily argue that on-field competition factors should not matter when Goodell is deciding discipline — particularly in a case where more than 20 women accused a player of sexual assault and misconduct.
The NFL initially pushed for an indefinite suspension of at least one year before backing off amid a settlement with the NFLPA. It's likely the NFLPA factored in Watson's contractual status when agreeing to the 11-game ban.
The settlement allows Watson to reap the maximum possible benefits of his unprecedented five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed contract. A yearlong suspension likely would have been challenged in federal court, which could have delayed a ruling well into next season — thus potentially costing Watson tens of millions of dollars.
With certain owners in Goodell's ear pushing a settlement and the deal being in Watson's best financial interest, the league was able to reach a middle-ground solution that works for all parties — despite the massive public backlash the deal created.
For its part, the NFL was also able to set a stronger precedent than its past punishments for players accused of sexual assault. Former federal judge Sue L. Robinson initially recommended a six-game suspension, citing the NFL's past handling of cases.