Editors’ 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.
The NFL is preparing to angle for an “indefinite suspension” against Deshaun Watson, according to the Wall Street Journal, meaning the Browns quarterback could face a significant financial blow if suspended.
Discussions have reportedly included the possibility of Watson’s contract with Cleveland being delayed a year if suspended the entire season. Shortly after the Harris County grand jury returned nine “no” bills on nine criminal complaints against the quarterback, Cleveland traded for Watson and signed him to a five-year contract worth a guaranteed $230 million. A clause built into the contract mandates Watson will lose only $55,556 for every game he’s suspended this season.According to WSJ, if delaying his contract went into effect, the first year of his deal would not be completely “wiped out.” Instead, 2023 would reportedly mark the start of his five years, which would delay when Watson could theoretically reach free agency if and when he would be reinstated, depending on the final punishment.
His hearing with Sue L. Robinson, the disciplinary officer appointed by the NFL and players association, is reportedly slated to begin Tuesday, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The NFL Players Association will “mobilize with an aggressive defense on Watson’s behalf,” which will reportedly include comparisons to the league’s handling of cases involving three prominent team owners—the Commanders’ Daniel Snyder, Patriots’ Robert Kraft and Cowboys’ Jerry Jones.
As for the league, an indefinite suspension would “give the NFL the flexibility to keep him out for longer based on a variety of factors, including whether more cases surface,” per WSJ. NFL officials have reportedly “zeroed in” on five specific women “whose cases they believe include the strongest evidence.” The league is reportedly pushing for the “indefinite suspension” to be no less than one year.
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The reported angling mirrors what The Washington Post recently reported. A source close to Watson’s side told The Post that the NFL will “probably” go with a one-season suspension. However, a different source close to the league’s side said to be “careful” about a specific suspension length, but that the ruling will be “significant.”
The league and NFLPA have held settlement talks, but they reportedly have not amounted to much. The door is reportedly still open for these talks to be revisited throughout the hearing process. According to multiple reports, there is anticipation that an outcome could come during the week of July 4.
Watson faced two dozen civil lawsuits, each detailing graphic accounts of sexual harassment and sexual assault that occurred during massage therapy sessions. The accounts range from Watson allegedly refusing to cover his genitals to the quarterback “touching [a plaintiff] with his penis and trying to force her to perform oral sex on him.” The latest detailed that Watson masturbated and ejaculated on the plaintiff without her consent. It was expected that more could be on the horizon.
The quarterback has denied all allegations against him, and two Texas grand juries declined to indict him on criminal charges. Watson has agreed to settle 20 of the 24 civil lawsuits. Tony Buzbee, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, announced the news Tuesday. He said that the terms and amounts agreed to are confidential and “we won’t comment further on the settlements or those cases.”
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