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Note: This story contains accounts of sexual assault. If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or at https://www.rainn.org
As summer continues to keep rolling along the Cleveland Browns, their newly-acquired quarterback Deshaun Watson as well as the NFL are all awaiting any news on a potential punishment for the quarterback. For those who may not know, Watson has been accused by numerous women of sexual misconduct or sexual assault during massage appointments. According to Jenny Vrentas of the New York Times, Watson met with at least 66 women for massage appointments over a period of 17 months from 2019 to 2021.
Watson has settled 20 of 24 civil suits accusing him of sexual assault and sexual misconduct, and two Texas grand juries declined to indict him this spring. An NFL investigation into the matter is nearing its conclusion, and a ruling from independent arbitrator Sue L. Robinson is expected before the Browns begin training camp on July 27. Watson’s three-day hearing with Robinson, the NFL’s and NFL Players Association’s appointed disciplinary officer, concluded June 30. Post-hearing briefs were reportedly due last week, which means a resolution could theoretically come anytime after those briefs are received and reviewed.
If Robinson finds that Watson did not violate the league’s personal-conduct policy, the quarterback will receive no suspension, which seems improbable at this point. If Robinson rules that Watson did violate the league’s personal-conduct policy, which feels like an almost certainty, she can issue a suspension of whatever length she sees fit. If Watson, the Browns or the NFL don’t agree with the duration of the suspension Robinson hands down, any one of them will be free to appeal. In that instance, the case would be heard by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell or someone Goodell appoints.
According to Pro Football Talk, Robinson is expected to hand down a punishment between two to eight games. Watson is facing discipline for 20-plus civil suits involving sexual harassment from massage therapy appointments, although the NFL is focusing on four of the cases.
"Whether the league would appeal such an outcome," Mike Florio wrote. "And whether Commissioner Roger Goodell or his designee would impose a dramatically longer ban, remains to be seen.
"The case presented by the NFL ultimately focused on four alleged violations; the fifth (based on media reports and not an interview of the accuser) is not part of the decision-making process. Judge Robinson, after considering the evidence presented to her and making specific findings of fact, will apply the terms of the Personal Conduct Policy to the facts and determine whether and to what extent Watson should be punished."
Soon after, Florio went on to say that a key part of the lower-than-expected punishment is normal due to language in the CBA which holds owners to a higher standard compared to players.
"One of the strongest arguments on Watson’s behalf comes from the plain language of the policy," Florio wrote. "'Ownership and club or league management have traditionally been held to a higher standard and will be subject to more significant discipline.'
"At the hearing, the NFLPA focused on owners who either weren’t punished at all or whose punishments require a player like Watson to receive a lesser sanction. Since the hearing, the Texans have settled 30 claims against them specifically for their alleged role in Watson’s alleged sexual misconduct."
A suspension between two and eight games would be significantly less of a punishment than the indefinite suspension lasting no less than one year that the NFL has been reportedly seeking (and something Right Down Euclid has long agreed with). Watson's camp was reportedly ready to sue the NFL if it handed down a year-long suspension. With the latest news on the suspension window, we may not even get to that point if Goodell honors a lower initial punishment.
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The Cleveland Browns signed Jacoby Brissett to not only act as Deshaun Watson's primary backup. He also can hold things over when Watson is inevitably suspended for his conduct off the field. Photo credit: Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images
But, with the reported deadline for a decision coming in about a week's time, what exactly is next for both Watson and the Browns? If it's on the lesser side of things, then Cleveland will be just fine with Jacoby Brissett under center. To open up the season, the Browns are on the road against the Carolina Panthers, at home against the New York Jets, host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football and then head back on the road to play the Atlanta Falcons. After that, they play the Los Angeles Chargers at home before things get a tad more difficult.
The first four teams Cleveland plays aren't expected to be good and depending on the length of Watson's suspension, the Browns could be undefeated if he returns under center sooner instead of later. That could be opportune for Cleveland as they play the Baltimore Ravens and the defending AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals at the tail end of their first eight games. Both games will be key divisional matchups as well as litmus tests on whether or not they're legitimate contenders this year.
If it's on the other end of the spectrum for Watson, then this season will likely be moot. If that happens, according to Cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot, the Browns are exploring options to bring in a veteran quarterback with the expectation Watson will miss time. Perhaps they make a trade for San Francisco's Jimmy Garoppolo. Cleveland could also sign veteran Cam Newton to a deal to backup and support Brissett if an extended suspension does occur.
While an extended Watson suspension does make it harder to believe in them this upcoming season, it's not the endgame either. The Browns didn't invest him and make him one of the highest-paid players ever just for this season. They did it for the long haul as well and will have to find a way to navigate these unprecedented circumstances ahead of them.
While he should be suspended indefinitely for what he did, there is an end in sight for Watson and his new team. When the length of the suspension is decided, it will have a clear impact on how things will go for Cleveland this season. If it's shorter, the playoffs and a possible Super Bowl berth seem reasonable. But, if it's longer, then there's always next year, right?
Featured image credit: Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images
Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Did you enjoy this edition of Right Down Euclid? You can get it in your inbox two to three times a week by subscribing here. All it takes is either your Facebook account or email address!
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