The Cleveland Browns may soon have clarity with regard to Deshaun Watson’s status for the 2022 season as the quarterback’s disciplinary hearing was slated to begin on Tuesday. NFL and NFLPA’s jointly appointed disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson will conduct the hearing. Following Robinson’s ruling, both the NFL and NFLPA have the option to appeal. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell can either rule on the appeal, or he can call on in an independent ruler.
On the eve of this hearing, the NFL informed Robinson of its recommendation for an indefinite suspension for Watson of at least a year, according to USA TODAY Sports. The league also informed Watson and the NFL Players Association of its recommendation.
Watson faced 24 civil lawsuits that accused him of sexual misconduct during massage sessions during his time with the Houston Texans. He has since settled on 20 of those suits. Watson, who has denied any wrongdoing, was not indicted on criminal charges by two Texas grand juries earlier this offseason.
If Robinson follows the NFL’s recommendation and hands down the year-long ban, Watson and the NFLPA will likely appeal the ruling. However, with Goodell owning the power to rule on the appeal, it seems unlikely that any major alterations to the suspension would actually occur during that process. The indefinite piece to this recommendation also gives the NFL some wiggle room to increase the punishment on Watson if more information regarding this issues comes to light.
If suspended, the league would likely determine that Watson violated the league’s code of conduct policy. The NFL introduced the policy in 2007 in an attempt to improve off-field player behavior. One of the most notable suspensions involved current Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott served a six-game suspension in 2017 despite the NFL’s lead investigator in the case reportedly recommending that no suspension take place. With Elliott sidelined, the Cowboys missed the playoffs a year after going 13-3.
If Watson is suspended for the first six games, he would miss road games at Carolina and Atlanta and home games against the Jets, Steelers, Chargers and Patriots. His first game back would be against the Ravens in Baltimore in Week 7. His first home game as the Browns quarterback would take place the following weekend against the defending AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals.
During Watson’s introductory press conference in Cleveland, Browns GM Andrew Berry fielded questions about a possible suspension involving his new quarterback. Berry said that the team has and would continue to have open communication with the NFL. Berry added that Watson’s salary — which includes a $1 million base salary for the 2022 season — is not to protect the team from a possible suspension but to give them flexibility moving forward. The Browns signed Watson to a five-year, fully guaranteed $230 million deal after his acquisition.
The Browns have several options in place in the event that Watson is suspended. The team signed veterans Jacoby Brissett and Joshua Dobbs this offseason. Cleveland also still has Baker Mayfield, who remains under contract despite publicly requesting a trade.