CLEVELAND — On Monday, former U.S. District Judge Sue L. Robinson issued a six-game suspension for Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, who she determined violated the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy.
The story regarding Watson's football fate, however, isn't over just yet.
Per the NFL's Collective Bargaining Agreement, both Watson and the league have three days after the ruling to file an appeal of Robinson's ruling, which would then be heard by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or a designee. Ahead of Monday's ruling, the NFLPA and Watson released a statement pledging not to appeal the decision while calling on the NFL not to either.
In a statement released after the ruling, the league said that it was still exploring its next potential steps. If the NFL does opt to appeal, however, the decision could come with consequences.
According to ESPN's Jeff Darlington, should the league appeal Robinson's ruling of a six-game suspension, Watson and the NFLPA would file a lawsuit. Such a move could result in a temporary restraining order, which would delay any punishment for Watson, potentially making him available to play at the start of the 2022 NFL season.
"I'm told if the NFL does appeal this, that Deshaun Watson's side will be filing suit against them to question the authority of Goodell to do so," Darlington said on ESPN's "Get Up" on Tuesday. "If that were to happen, we're talking about injunctions, all sorts of legal processes that ultimately could delay this suspension. So there's a bunch of complicated things out there. I'm not saying he wins or loses the case, but there's a bunch of scenarios right now that puts the Cleveland Browns when they're assessing what's going to happen with their quarterback into play in many different scenarios."
Should Watson ultimately file suit, it wouldn't be the first time the NFL found itself in such a scenario. In 2015, then-New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady filed a lawsuit against the league over the four-game suspension he received as a result of the 'Deflategate' scandal.
While the league's punishment was initially overturned, it was later reinstated following an appeal by the league. While he was initially scheduled to serve his suspension during the 2015 season, Brady was ultimately suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season instead.
As for Watson, the Clemson product's suspension comes as the result of multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, including harassment and assault, during his time with the Houston Texans. While the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback has been the subject of 25 lawsuits -- 23 of which he has since settled and 24th which has been dropped -- his disciplinary hearing with the league focused on the accusations of four women.
In her 16-page ruling, Robinson said that Watson violated the league's Personal Conduct Policy on three counts:
- Conduct that Qualifies as a Sexual Assault
- Conduct that Poses a Genuine Danger to the Safety and Well-Being of Another Person
- Conduct that Undermines, or Puts at Risk, the Integrity of the NFL
Robinson said that she arrived at her ruling of a six-game suspension with no fines based on the precedent set by punishments in previous cases and the structure of the league's CBA. And while she stated that she didn't believe that Watson's behavior qualified as "violent," she called his conduct "more egregious than any before reviewed by the NFL."