CLEVELAND — The NFL's disciplinary hearing for Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has been accused by more than 20 women of sexual misconduct, is set to begin on Tuesday.
What follows is everything you need to know about the hearing, which will determine whether Watson will be suspended -- and if so, for how long -- during the 2022 NFL season.
Under the NFL's most recent collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which was agreed to in 2020, punishment is determined by a Disciplinary Officer, which is jointly appointed by the league and the NFL Players' Association (NFLPA). Former U.S. District Judge Sue L. Robinson is serving in that role for Watson's process.
After the NFL conducts its investigation into a player who potentially violated one of the league's policies, it recommends a punishment to the Disciplinary Office. After the Disciplinary Office reviews evidence from both sides -- which in Watson's case, will include an evidentiary hearing -- it issues its own determination on what the player's punishment should be.
Should Robinson issue a punishment for Watson, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (or a designee acting on his behalf) has the authority to modify the punishment, including the ability to increase or reduce a potential suspension. Should Watson disagree with Robinson's initial ruling on a punishment, he can make an appeal, which would then be heard by Goodell or his designee.
In the event that Robinson issues no punishment, however, the decision will stand as final.
What the NFL is recommending
According to multiple reports, the NFL has recommended an indefinite suspension for Watson lasting no shorter than one full season.
“That is very serious,” 3News' Jim Donovan explained on Monday. “If that goes, that would mean he would basically be out of the league, banished from playing, and then allowed to apply for reinstatement but only after the season, probably next winter.”
The case against Watson
Watson's hearing with the league comes after 24 women filed lawsuits against the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback, accusing him of sexual misconduct including harassment and assault during his time with the Houston Texans. Last week, Watson reached settlements with 20 of the 24 women -- who are primarily massage therapists in the Houston area -- with the four remaining civil suits still ongoing.
Heading into this week's hearing, the NFL and Watson reportedly discussed a potential negotiated punishment, although the two sides were unable to reach an agreement on a number of games for the Browns quarterback to be suspended. It's worth noting that the NFL has yet to reach this point of the disciplinary process with a player since the new CBA went into effect two years ago.
Speaking to the "Between the Lines" podcast last month, Watson's attorney, Rusty Hardin, discussed his client's case. In doing so, the Houston-based lawyer noted that two Texas grand juries have declined to indict Watson on criminal charges based on the accusations and while admittedly unlikely, he believes that the league should issue no punishment against his client.
"I've always assumed, all the publicity and everything, it's going to be very hard for the NFL to have the courage to do what I think should be done, which is no finding," Hardin said. "That all remains to be seen sometime this summer."
According to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, it is also believed that Watson's team will argue that while Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones have each faced allegations of sexual misconduct, none of them has received a punishment as significant as the one that Watson is facing. As noted by Florio, this defense could open the door for Watson's defense team to explore the NFL's handling of its owners, who the league's Personal Conduct Policy says should be held to a higher standard.