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Law

Deshaun Watson Decision Could Come After Browns Start Camp

  • The retired federal judge serving as the disciplinary officer has no set deadline to render a decision.
  • The NFLPA is likely to file a lawsuit in federal court if Watson receives a one-year suspension, per one report.
Watson Decision
Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports

A dozen days before the Cleveland Browns open training camp, quarterback Deshaun Watson and much of the football world still awaits the decision by retired U.S. district court judge Sue L. Robinson. 

The three-day hearing, during which the NFL argued for an indefinite suspension for the many claims of sexual misconduct leveld against Watson, concluded June 30. 

The collective bargaining agreement doesn’t mandate a deadline for rulings on alleged violations of the personal conduct policy, although the CBA states a decision should be rendered by the disciplinary officer “as soon as practicable.”

There are a few possibilities why Robinson is taking her time. 

  • This is the first major test of the new system since the current CBA was ratified before the 2020 season. A disciplinary officer like Robinson gets to make the initial ruling on a punishment — not NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. 
  • This case is complex. While Watson was sued by 24 women (and settled with all but four), two grand juries chose not prosecute him. Watson has denied all the allegations. 
  • While anyone under the NFL’s personal conduct policy can be punished without an arrest or conviction, Robinson determines the credibility of the accusers. 
  • There’s also a downside to rushing a decision before players report to training camp. 

Ray Rice was suspended two games at the start of Baltimore Ravens training camp in July 2014. TMZ released the elevator video of Rice’s assault on his now-wife in early September, leading the Ravens to suspend Rice indefinitely and then cut him.

The NFL developed a new domestic violence policy with a baseline six-game suspension — a direct result of its handling of the Rice case — and has worked to improve its investigative efforts. 

Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson reported Monday that a decision on Watson could come after the Browns open training camp on July 30. The NFLPA is also likely to head to federal court if Watson is suspended for the entire 2022 season, according to Robinson.

Goodell vs. The Courts

The new disciplinary system pushed for by the NFLPA was supposed to make a court challenge less likely. 

Even under the old system, where Goodell made the initial and final determination on punishments for Tom Brady (Deflategate) and Ezekiel Elliott (domestic violence allegations), the federal court system ultimately upheld Goodell’s authority. 

There’s one wrinkle that could give Watson a sliver of hope in the federal courts. While Goodell doesn’t have the initial say, he still has the final one. If he isn’t happy with Robinson’s decision, he could tack on more games to a suspension. 

But since that authority was agreed to by the NFL Players Association, that would be a long shot. 

“If Judge Robinson imposes any discipline at all — even just one game — and Roger Goodell increases it on appeal to an indefinite suspension of at least one year, a federal court lawsuit would still be an uphill battle,” said Dan Wallach, a sports legal analyst and co-host of the “Conduct Detrimental” podcast.

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