Rather than NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s appointee reaching his own decision on the ultimate penalty for Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, the league and the union reached a settlement agreement announced yesterday, raising his suspension from six to 11 games and requiring him to pay a $5 million fine.
The announcement was not met kindly by many, perhaps most, yet in effect, it acts as a penalty to the Browns organization. Had Watson been suspended for a full season, it would have resulted in his contract tolling, resetting it in 2023, meaning that he would still be under contract for five seasons, and his 2023 salary would still be for the league minimum.
Instead, he will have the opportunity to return in time to accrue a season of service—six games—even if he might not have the opportunity to actually play enough to have a significant impact on whether or not the Browns have a successful campaign. And then they will have to pay him his full amount originally scheduled for 2023, while only having him for four more years, this season largely being viewed as a write-off.
There is the caveat in that Watson’s return from suspension is actually still contingent upon his behavior. While it’s probably not nearly as stringent as a true ‘indefinite’ suspension would be, there are still measures that he must live up to before he can be reinstated, and failure to do so could result in further discipline.
As noted by Adam Schefter yesterday, Watson’s reinstatement is not automatic, but rather based upon his compliance with treatment and therapy strategies put in place for him through a third party, and he will also be subject to evaluation. “If he doesn’t comply, his reinstatement could be delayed, plus further discipline”, Schefter wrote.
It has also been noted that the league viewed his pre-game comments last week that were a rather half-hearted apology as a good sign, but he basically walked back his apology after the suspension was announced, maintaining complete innocence beyond putting himself in a position to face the accusations of which he was not guilty. He stated that he was apologizing to those “triggered” by the accusations while denying that there is any substance to any of them.
Tony Buzbee, who represents the women who were suing him (he has since settled with all but one of them) issued a strongly-worded response to the settlement agreement yesterday, blasting the NFL on the grounds that it sends the message to victims of sexual assault that if perpetrated by a powerful man, “keep your mouth shut and go away”.
Back in Cleveland, after inexplicably putting Watson in front of the microphone, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam wandered in front of one himself and made it clear under no uncertain terms that they would make exactly the same decision in acquiring the quarterback again today as they did the first time, and used Kareem Hunt as justification for giving the beleaguered quarterback an opportunity.
“We felt like we made an informed decision”, he claimed. “We strongly believe he deserves a second chance. We gave Kareem Hunt a second chance and that worked out pretty well”.