CLEVELAND — When will Deshaun Watson take his first snap under center for the Cleveland Browns?
That, at the end of the day, could be up to the NFL. Watson's disciplinary hearing ended last week, and Disciplinary Officer Sue L. Robinson will determine whether or not the 26-year-old violated the league's personal conduct policy in relation to multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against him.
If Robinson believes Watson did indeed break the rules, she will then recommend a punishment, but the final verdict on such a sentence will rest with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The league has reportedly been pushing for Watson to sit out at least a year, but according to NFL insider Aditi Kinkhabwala, his new team does not anticipate that will be the case.
"I really think that the Browns believe, in their hearts of hearts, that the suspension is not going to be a year-long suspension, and it's not going to be 10 games," Kinkhabwala told "The PM Team w/Poni & Mueller" Friday on 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh. "They just ultimately feel—and I'm not saying ... that this is just a case of someone being 'promiscuous'—but I think within the Browns organization, they feel that ... someone cannot be suspended for a season for perhaps being a little looser than you would like, that there's got to be something more."
Kinkhabwala is referring to the league apparently offering no evidence of "force or coercion" from Watson towards the women, a revelation that came to light when the hearing concluded. Kinkhabwala actually went a step further, saying in the interview that the NFL couldn't even prove "implied force or implied coercion" during Watson's various encounters with several massage therapists.
"I think this is why this case is so unbelievably gray," she explained. "If you are not offering any evidence of force or violence or coercion—physical or implied—then what really happened?"
Two separate grand juries declined to file criminal charges against Watson for various accusations of sexual harassment and assault, paving the way for his eventual trade from the Houston Texans to the Browns. The three-time Pro Bowler was subsequently hit with as many as 24 civil lawsuits, although he has since agreed to settlements with all but four of the plaintiffs.
In its investigation of Watson, the league reportedly zeroed in on five of those cases to make its argument for a lengthy suspension. Briefs from both parties are due by Monday, with a final decision expected from Robinson shortly thereafter.
Should Watson indeed be forced to sit out the 2022 campaign, what would Cleveland do then? Veteran Jacoby Brissett is the current backup QB, but Kinkhabwala isn't fully ruling out another signal-caller with past postseason success.
"I think the Jimmy Garoppolo thing is really interesting to watch," she admitted. "I don't know that I love the idea that Jimmy Garoppolo is coming to Cleveland, but what if he gets cut [by the San Francisco 49ers] and he's available for a flier? What it he's available for almost no money?"