The NFL, the NFL Players Association, and Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson reportedly were discussing the terms of a negotiated suspension under the Personal Conduct Policy. Those talks reportedly “fell apart.” It’s not believed that they’ll be put back together.
Per a league source, the current expectation is that the NFL will propose a suspension on Watson, and that the case will proceed to arbitration, with the Disciplinary Officer presiding. Commissioner Roger Goodell would then have final say over any appeal, filed by either side.
Multiple factors have made a negotiated resolution difficult to achieve. First, the league can’t afford to create the impression that it was too lenient with Watson. If the NFL, the NFLPA, and Watson reach an agreement on a suspension that would be regarded as acceptable to everyone, the end result could be viewed as insufficient by media and fans. To satisfy those who would criticize the league for being too soft, the league needs to propose a lengthy suspension. A settlement possibly could be reached after that. If that happens, the league will have still made a clear, strong statement of significant punishment on Watson.
Second, the union possibly will argue, under Article 46 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, that there can be only one punishment of Watson for the same conduct — even if he continues to be accused of sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions by previously unknown plaintiffs. This potentially will compel the league to impose an even longer suspension to account for the possibility of additional claims.
Although Article 46 could be interpreted to allow Watson to be disciplined for the cases that already have been filed and to punish him again for new cases that may emerge, the league may not want to assume the risk of a future suspension being scrapped due to a technicality. But waiting for all statutes of limitations to expire isn’t an acceptable alternative, especially if Watson resolves the other four pending lawsuits.
That said, a settlement as to the suspension could leave the door open for future punishment, if new claims emerge. This leads the league back to the original problem. Any settlement reached before the league proposes a suspension could create the impression that the league didn’t do enough — and it was the impression that the league didn’t due enough to Ray Rice that almost brought down the whole operation in 2014.
So perhaps the best chance for a settlement will come after the league proposes a lengthy suspension, with an agreement that the door will remain open if other lawsuits are filed in the future.