CLEVELAND — We now know that Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson will be suspended for the first six games of the NFL season, and reactions have been pouring in from across the country.
One person sharing his thoughts is ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio, who has covered the Watson case extensively since the first allegations of sexual misconduct were levied against the then-Houston Texans signal-caller. In a conversation with 3News sports anchor and "Voice of the Browns" Jim Donovan, Florio confirmed he was "not surprised" by Judge Sue L. Robinson's ultimate decision based on information flowing from Watson's June disciplinary hearing, but that the key could be how the general public reacts to Monday's news.
"The PR side of this had been so much worse leading into the Deshaun Watson hearing," Florio said, adding not everyone may have been following some of the later developments as closely. "I think that's what the league's going to be monitoring during this three-day window that it has to decide whether to appeal the decision to the commissioner: How is the public reacting to the news that it's only a six-game suspension?"
In her official ruling, Robinson essentially accepted the NFL's findings that Watson committed acts of sexual assault against multiple massage therapists in the Houston area. However, because those acts were considered "non-violent" by the league's own standards, she felt she had no choice but to ban Watson for no more than six games, and that the NFL would have to give proper notice to the players' union should it want to update its policies.
The league had reportedly sought an indefinite suspension of at least a full season, and should it decide to appeal, it would be heard by either Commissioner Roger Goodell or whomever he appoints to act on his behalf. Essentially, the NFL could overrule Robinson's decided punishment and issue any penalty it deems fit based on the facts of the case, but Florio says it's not that simple.
"The NFL Players Association [could] then try to file a lawsuit aimed at overturning the commissioner's decision," he explained, although he also noted past suspended players such as Tom Brady and Ezekiel Elliot have not found success going that route. "This is far from over."
Multiple Texas grand juries declined to file criminal charges against Watson last March, paving the way for the Browns to acquire the QB from the Texans and sign him to a new contract worth a record $230 million guaranteed. Twenty-five different women also filed civil lawsuits against Watson, but one of them was later dropped and 23 have since been settled out of court, along with 30 other complaints against the Texans organization. Watson has denied all allegations of wrongdoing.
Since arriving in Cleveland, the reaction to Watson among fans has been mixed, with some recognizing his obvious talent and others condemning the team for brining him in. Florio acknowledged the "balancing act" fans have had to endure with this situation, and expressed disappointment at Watson for not settling the cases sooner in order to "put this behind him."
"It's an unexpected and unreasonable burden for Browns fans to carry," Florio told Donovan. "This isn't on the fans; this is on the Browns for doing the trade, it's on Deshaun Watson for not getting the cases resolved, and ultimately it's on Deshaun Watson for the behavior that created this whole mess."