CLEVELAND — On Wednesday, the NFL announced that it was appealing the six-game suspension that the league and NFL Players Association (NFLPA)'s jointly appointed disciplinary officer and former U.S. District Judge Sue L. Robinson gave Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson for violating the league's Personal Conduct Policy.
With that in mind, let's take a look at what's next for Watson as the league appeals the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback's suspension:
According to Article 46, Section V of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), after either side issues notice of an appeal, the other side has two business days to file a response. The CBA also notes that the appeal can only be made using the evidentiary record that was established during the disciplinary hearing and can only modify any discipline that had been issued as a result.
From there, the appeal will be heard by either NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or a designee, who will then issue "a written decision that will constitute full, final and complete disposition of the dispute and will be binding upon the player(s), Club(s) and the parties to this Agreement."
According to multiple reports, in making its appeal, the NFL is seeking an indefinite suspension lasting no less than the entirety of the 2022 season, a monetary fine and for Watson to undergo treatment. It also remains possible that the two sides could reach a settlement before a ruling on the appeal is issued.
While the CBA doesn't explicitly state a timeline for such appeals beyond the initial notice, the league's Personal Conduct Policy states that any such appeal shall be "processed on an expedited basis."
Earlier this week, ESPN's Jeff Darlington reported that should the NFL appeal Watson's suspension, the NFLPA would file a lawsuit on the quarterback's behalf. Such a lawsuit wouldn't be unprecedented, as both Tom Brady and Ezekiel Elliott have sued the league in federal court over their own respective suspensions.
But while Brady and Elliott were both initially successful in having their suspensions overturned, both of their suspensions were later reinstated on appeals. Watson and the NFLPA would likely argue that the league undermined Robinson by modifying her punishment, while the NFL would likely argue that the CBA gives it the authority to do so.
Another possible outcome of such a lawsuit is that an injunction or temporary restraining order could be issued, limiting the NFL's ability to immediately issue its punishment. But while some have taken that to mean that Watson would be available to play in Week 1 of the 2022 NFL season, NBC Sports and ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio has suggested that any potential injunction would be related to the Clemson product's availability in Week 7.
In her 16-page report issued earlier this week, Robinson ruled that Watson violated the league's Personal Conduct Policy on the following 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," in addition to ruling that he could only receive future massages from team-employed massage therapists.
While last month’s disciplinary hearing focused on just four specific cases, Watson has been sued by 25 women alleging sexual misconduct, including harassment and assault, during his time with the Houston Texans. The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback has since settled 23 of his lawsuits, with a 24th having been dropped.
Two Texas grand juries have declined to indict Watson on criminal charges as a result of the accusations. The 26-year-old has publicly maintained his innocence throughout the process.
Last month the Texans, reached settlements with 30 women regarding allegations that they enabled the star quarterback's behavior during his time with the team. In a statement, the Texans said they admitted no guilt in making the settlements.