• Loading stock data...
Friday, July 19, 2024
Join us this September for Tuned In Request to Attend
Law

Deshaun Watson’s Hearing Will Test NFL’s Reworked Disciplinary Protocol

  • A former federal judge will serve as arbitrator under terms of the current collective bargaining agreement.
  • Tom Brady and Ezekiel Elliott are among the players who challenged the old system in federal court.
Deshaun Watson
Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson’s hearing Tuesday will be the biggest test so far of the NFL’s revamped disciplinary system. 

Former U.S. district judge Sue L. Robinson — not Commissioner Roger Goodell — will be making the initial decision whether to suspend Watson, who settled 20 of 24 sexual misconduct lawsuits last week. 

The league’s new disciplinary system was negotiated as part of the current collective bargaining agreement worked out between the league and the NFL Players Association in 2020. 

The league reportedly is seeking at least a one-season ban. The NFLPA is expected to argue that Watson should avoid suspension altogether, even from the baseline six-game ban for “violations involving assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault.”

“Typically, you look back on prior precedent, but there is none,” said Dan Lust, a sports law attorney at Geragos & Geragos and New York Law School professor. “There are 20-plus accusers, which hasn’t happened before. Then you look at what this judge has [done in prior disciplinary NFL hearings] and there’s nothing. There’s also nothing with respect to this particular protocol.” 

Two grand juries in Texas chose not to indict Watson, although the personal conduct policy doesn’t require a charge or conviction to punish a player.

The NFL submitted its investigative report and recommendation to Robinson already as required by the CBA, a source with knowledge of the situation told Front Office Sports. 

Goodell, or somebody he could designate, would hear an appeal filed by the NFLPA once Robinson’s decision has been announced. That appeal would be heard before the start of the regular season, unless the NFL and NFLPA agree on an extension. 

“I think the new system will help Watson because it’s a departure from the normal standard, which traditionally has been league-friendly,” said Lust, who co-hosts the Conduct Detrimental podcast. “Anything different is probably a step in the right direction for Watson.”

The prior system — where Goodell was the sole arbiter of the personal conduct policy — had been challenged in federal court multiple times, most notably by Tom Brady (Deflategate) and Ezekiel Elliott (domestic violence allegations). While Brady’s lawsuit over his four-game ban and Elliott’s lawsuit after a six-game suspension delayed both players’ suspensions, the federal courts ultimately reaffirmed Goodell’s authority. 

Lust said there’s a good chance that Watson could head to federal court if Robinson metes out a lengthy suspension that is upheld by Goodell. 

One argument that Lust noted could work in Watson’s favor in court is his final season with the Houston Texans before he was traded in March to the Browns. Watson appeared on the inactive list each game, meaning he didn’t dress or play a single down while he received his full 2021 salary. 

“He was a healthy scratch in his physical prime for a full season,” Lust said. “If I was the PA or Watson’s lawyers, I would say [a one-year suspension] has the optics of a two-year suspension. The NFL could say they allowed him to play by not putting him on the exempt list, but the fact is Watson didn’t play.”

Linkedin
Whatsapp
Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied

What to Read

Pulling Back the Curtain on the NFL’s $25 Billion Revenue Dream

NFL teams received $402.3 million in payments from the league.
The Mississippi Department of Human Services on Monday sued retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre along with several other people and businesses to try to recover millions of misspent welfare dollars that were intended to help some of the poorest people in the U.S.

Judge in Mississippi Welfare Case Boots Brett Favre’s Lead Lawyer

The judge wrote he had a ‘pattern and practice of delicate deception.’
Apr 25, 2024; Detroit, MI, USA; NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell addresses the crowd during the 2024 NFL Draft at Campus Martius Park and Hart Plaza.

NFL Will Dip Its Toes in Private Equity by Year’s End

The league is likely to cap PE involvement in teams at 10%.
Sponsored

TopSpin 2K25 Brings the Legends of Tennis to Your Living Room

2K sports is reviving a classic with TopSpin 2K25.
podcast thumbnail mobile
Front Office Sports Today

‘EA Sports College Football 25’: It’s More Than a Game

0:00

Featured Today

Jan 7, 2024; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Calvin Ridley (0) reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans during the first half at Nissan Stadium.
July 14, 2024

Without Hard-Line Bans, Pro Athletes and Personnel Will Keep Betting on Sports

Penalties often aren’t stringent or consistent enough to deter banned behavior.
Oct 2, 2021; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; NFL commissioner Roger Goddell speaks during the Don Shula Celebration of Life at Hard Rock Stadium.
July 13, 2024

The NFL Is Confident It Can Overturn the Sunday Ticket Verdict

The league may have good reason to believe it can win.
July 8, 2024

NFLPA Report Cards Have Become the ‘Talk of the Locker Room’ Across..

NFLPA report cards have become the ‘talk of the locker room.’

Teenage Sprinting Prodigy Sues Gatorade After Positive Test

Issam Asinga alleges Gatorade gave him contaminated gummies.
Stadium with NFL logo at the mid-field line
July 10, 2024

‘Nonsensical’: NFL Blasts Massive Jury Award in Latest Sunday Ticket Case Filings

The league asked for a new trial and called the damages ‘indefensible.’
July 11, 2024

Criminal Charges Mean No Pay for Wander Franco

Franco had been receiving half of his $2 million base salary.
Sponsored

TopSpin 2K25 Brings the Legends of Tennis to Your Living Room

2K sports is reviving a classic with TopSpin 2K25.
July 9, 2024

$2 Million of Memorabilia Stolen in Dallas Baseball Card Heist

The thieves pulled off a sophisticated heist at the Dallas Card Show.
Former NFL quarterback Brett Favre watches from a suite in the third quarter of Super Bowl 56 between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022. The Rams came back in the final minutes of the game to win 23-20 on their home field. Super Bowl 56 Cincinnati Bengals Vs La Rams
July 9, 2024

‘Powerless’ Brett Favre Attempts to Revive Lawsuit Against Shannon Sharpe

Attorney argued Sharpe’s comment that Favre ‘stole’ welfare dollars isn’t protected speech.
July 2, 2024

Nev. Court Again Rules Gruden Suit Should Be Shunted To Secretive NFL Arbitration

Gruden says the NFL leaked emails to oust him as Raiders coach.