Perhaps the most significant development in Deshaun Watson’s situation since Monday was no development at all. In particular, the failure of Watson’s team to respond to the 24th lawsuit could ultimately have significant consequences for Watson with the league and/or team.
Attorney Rusty Hardin issued a statement Monday, noting that he was unable to respond to the 24th lawsuit because “our legal team has not had time to investigate this new filing and its name to date.” didn’t hear.”
There is an important difference between not hearing their name and being unaware of their potential claims. The initial phase of Watson’s civil case was marked by a delicate and complicated guessing game as to who the plaintiffs were, since she initially sued under the pseudonym Jane Doe. Efforts to identify potential plaintiffs may have included an individual, whose name Watson did not know or remember, who would eventually make the claims set out in writing in the lawsuit filed Monday. Hardin’s testimony says only that they hadn’t heard the person’s name as of Monday; It’s possible that through aggressive questioning of their own customer, they knew there was a 24th interaction that could have resulted in a claim.
This is important for several reasons. First, if this individual, whose name was previously unknown to Watson’s legal team, now files a criminal complaint, the allegations could be presented to another grand jury. And the graphic details contained in the 24th Complaint, if repeated before a grand jury and accepted by the grand jury, could result in an indictment. (Although I have tried not to repeat the graphic details, Plaintiff 24 alleges that after she tried to get Plaintiff to touch his penis and she asked, “Where should I put it?” he ejaculated — and “some of his ejaculate got on the plaintiff’s chest and face.”)
Second, if Watson is eventually suspended for the conduct alleged in the 24th lawsuit, the Browns may be able to void and withdraw his warranties from him and potentially recover a significant portion of his signing bonus.
As explained in early April, having received a full copy of Watson’s contract, the contract exempts from standard nullification of the guarantee a suspension imposed by the league “solely in relation to matters referred to the club under paragraph 42 and the like.” were notified in writing. A suspension will result in the player being unavailable to the club for games during the 2022 or 2023 NFL League years only.
In clause 42 of the Agreement, “Watson represents and warrants (except as notified to the Club in writing) as at the date of this Agreement that (i) the Player has not been charged, charged, convicted or required not to charge any crimes and/or misdemeanors in connection with fraud or moral wrongdoing, (ii) the player has not engaged in any conduct that would expose him or her to a charge, indictment or conviction for such wrongdoing, and (iii) there are no circumstances that preclude the continued availability of the player would prevent the club for the duration of this contract.”
The written disclosure was not attached to the contract. A source with knowledge of the document told us in April that it was a “fair assumption” that it related to the 22 pending civil lawsuits.
The question now is whether it was written broadly enough to include people who had not previously come forward with a lawsuit, criminal complaint, or other public statement. For example, the plaintiff who sued last week was known to Watson’s camp because she conducted a podcast interview last August. Based on Hardin’s testimony, they did not know the name of the person who filed the 24th lawsuit as of Monday.
Aside from the question of whether plaintiff 24’s claims could potentially extend beyond the wording of the standard language exception in Watson’s contract, the basic reality is that Watson could ultimately be suspended sometime after 2022 and 2023. With no clear indication of when the NFL will take action against Watson, with literally two dozen lawsuits that will work their way through the legal system (with Aug. 1-March 1 out of bounds for any of the trials), if the league either all Deferring punishments until cases are closed (unlikely) or imposing a provisional suspension now, leaving the door open to another suspension based on the outcomes of the cases (a reasonable middle ground), Watson could still face a suspension in 2024 or beyond will.
Then there’s the still non-negligible possibility that the NFL will change position on paid leave. Although Commissioner Roger Goodell took paid leave off the table at the end of March, recent developments could bring it back into play. When we asked the league that very specific question on Monday – a question the commissioner voluntarily answered in March – the league had no comment.
So we’ll see how it all develops. But for the first time since the spate of lawsuits was filed in 2021, a case will unfold involving a person whose name was previously unknown to Watson’s camp. That could (won’t, but could) create potentially big problems for Watson, in a number of ways.