On the eve of the hearing before the Independent Disciplinary Officer, who will make the initial decision on what type of penalty Deshaun Watson will face, the NFL recommended that the quarterback serve at least a one-year indefinite suspension.
The league notified Sue L. Robinson, the former federal judge serving as disciplinary officer, to Watson and the NFL Players Association of its recommendation Monday night, a person with knowledge of the situation that was confirmed to USA TODAY Sports. The person spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized by any party to comment on the matter.
Following the conclusion of the hearing, which is scheduled to begin Tuesday and potentially last through Wednesday, Robinson – who is being jointly compensated by the league and players’ union – will review facts gathered during a year-long investigation into the league. She will also consider the arguments of NFL and NFL Players Association attorneys.
She will then announce her decision on what punishment, if any, Watson should receive.
If Robinson follows the NFL’s recommendation, Watson and the NFLPA are expected to appeal. However, the chances of winning such an appeal appear rather bleak, since under the terms of the collective agreement, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would either lead this process and make a final decision, or hire someone else to do it.
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The recommendation of an indefinite suspension of at least one year gives the NFL leeway to extend the punishment if more incriminating evidence comes to light during any of the four ongoing civil lawsuits against Watson or elsewhere. The NFL will also recommend certain conditions that Watson would need to meet in order for his reinstatement to be possible, the person said, confirming a Wall Street Journal report on the league’s plans.
The sexual misconduct allegations against Watson first surfaced last year after the quarterback expressed displeasure with the Houston Texans’ brass and requested a swap. Watson didn’t qualify for a single game last season while at odds with the Texans, who remained determined to secure handsome compensation for one of the game’s brightest stars.
Opposing teams were reluctant to meet those demands while unsure whether Watson would be prosecuted by Houston authorities. Two grand juries decided last spring against indicting the 26-year-old. However, 24 massage therapists whose services Watson had secured through social media interactions in recent years still filed civil lawsuits against him.
Shortly after the grand jury decisions, the Cleveland Browns acquired Watson in exchange for first-round picks, a third-round player, and two fourth-round players. The Browns also signed Watson to a record five-year contract with a full $230 million guarantee. The deal included a low base salary of just over $1 million for 2022 to help the quarterback avoid serious financial loss should he receive an extended suspension that year.
Last week, Watson – who claims he never assaulted any of the women or coerced them into non-consensual sexual acts – reached confidential financial settlements with 20 of the 24 women.
But that didn’t affect the NFL’s decision to recommend an indefinite suspension of at least a year.
NFL officials wanted to send a strong message that sexual misconduct will not be tolerated, so they called for harsh punishment. According to people familiar with the situation, NFL officials have expressed frustration with the Browns’ creative salary structure. This, combined with the high number of accusers and the wide scope of the allegations against Watson, contributed to the league’s decision to push for a ban of at least a year.
In preliminary talks with the league to reach an agreement, the NFL had told Watson’s camp that accepting a one-year suspension would not change the length of the sentence once more details were released. However, Watson rejected the suggestion of a year-long ban.