Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was suspended six games on Monday for violating Article 46 of the collective bargaining agreement. A source confirmed the suspension length to Sportico. The suspension reflects accusations of sexual misconduct and infliction of emotional distress brought by multiple women who, in lawsuits, allege that Watson engaged in illegal acts while seeking massage therapy services. Retired federal Judge Sue Robinson, serving as a neutral disciplinary officer under the NFL’s new disciplinary procedures, handed down Watson’s suspension.
The NFL had reportedly sought a suspension of at least one season plus an indefinite period thereafter. Watson’s camp reportedly argued no suspension was warranted.
In March, a grand jury in Texas declined to indict Watson; three months later, he settled 20 of the 24 lawsuits. Prior to Robinson’s ruling on Monday, the accusers’ attorney, Tony Buzbee, announced settlements in three of the remaining four cases. Robinson’s assessment did not hinge on Watson’s criminal and civil matters. Her objective was to apply a workplace policy and determine if Watson engaged in conduct detrimental to the league—a lower threshold than one found in court—and, if so, assign an appropriate punishment.
Watson can appeal the suspension, as can the NFL in hopes of a longer suspension. Late Sunday, represenatives for Watson and the NFLPA issued a statement saying, “Regardless of [Robinson’s] decision, Deshaun and the NFLPA will stand by her ruling and we call on the NFL to do the same.” In other words, Watson’s camp pledges not to appeal. The NFL has not responded in kind.
An appeal would be heard by commissioner Roger Goodell, unless he designates another person to hear it. After the appeal is decided, Watson could sue the NFL drawing on labor law and arbitration law. Specifically, he would petition a federal judge to vacate the appeal decision, the same demand that Ezekiel Elliott, Tom Brady and Adrian Peterson unsuccessfully sought in their suspension-related lawsuits.
If the suspension remains unchanged, Watson, who the Browns signed to a record-breaking contract worth $230 million guaranteed in March, will incur a financial penalty mitigated by the structure of his contract. Watson’s deal includes a $45 million signing bonus and a 2022 base salary of “only” $1.04 million. Suspended players lose the applicable proportion of their base salary but not their signing bonuses, which means Watson will lose approximately $57,500 for each of the six suspended games, for a total of about $345,00 forfeited earnings. Had the suspension occurred in 2023, when Watson’s base pay will jump to $46 million, he would have stood to lose $2.56 million for each suspended game.
With Watson likely sidelined for a sizable portion of the 2022 season, the Browns are expected to start Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. Brissett, 29, has started 37 games in his NFL career, most of them with the Indianapolis Colts. Last month, the Browns dealt former starting QB Baker Mayfield to the Carolina Panthers.
With assistance from Scott Soshnick.
(This story has been updated in the headline.)