Barring the unforeseen, Deshaun Watson is going to be the Cleveland Browns’ quarterback for at least the next half of a decade. They are already paying him for that time one way or another. The most outstanding question from an outsider’s perspective at this point is just about what punishment he may receive.
Watson, who is facing 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct (some rising to assault), is expected to face a suspension for his issues, even though he has avoided criminal charges, which is the precedent the league has set for over a decade.
But we don’t know when that will occur. And there’s a fair chance that it won’t be this year. Reportedly, Watson’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, worked out an agreement ensuring that no cases will go to trial during the season, between August 1, 2022 and March 1, 2023, according to Adam Ferrise of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Tony Buzbee, representing the plaintiffs, said that he was hopeful to get at least one trial set for July, though there is a good chance that none of them are tried until next year. And it is possible that the NFL could wait out the process before disciplining him.
Last year, toward the beginning of this entire process, Watson and Hardin assembled a group of 18 massage therapists whom Watson had sought for services, all of whom vouched for him as a client. None of these 18, of course, are among the 22 suing him.
Watson also acknowledged that in at least some of the cases involving the 18 women who came to his defense, the massage led to a consensual sexual encounter. Because of that, this past week, a Harris County judge ruled that he must disclose any sexual history that he has had with those 18.
If there is an established pattern of turning message therapy appointments into sexual encounters, that would be a problem for his legal defense in the 22 civil lawsuits he is facing, as it would be hard to separate the idea that he wasn’t seeking at least the possibility of a sexual encounter when making these appointments—often by finding massage therapists through social media, such as Instagram.
Circling back, the bullet point from a football perspective is the fact that there won’t be any trials conducted in-season, and that it may be difficult to get a trial in before then. Consequently, if no cases are brought to trial, it may delay the league’s taking action in terms of disciplining Watson, which could result in him facing no suspension during the upcoming season.