If the NFL gets its way, Deshaun Watson won’t play in a meaningful football game until at least the start of the 2023 season. But preseason football games, at least for veteran QBs with wealthy contracts, don’t mean much. So that, along with the fact that Watson, the NFL and the league’s player union are still fighting over the length of his suspension opens the door to something that hasn’t happened since January 2021: Deshaun Watson taking a live snap in an NFL football game.
Watson is slated as the number-one QB on the Cleveland Browns’ depth chart headed into this week’s contest against the Jacksonville Jaguars, which means barring injury or a last-minute decision by his coaches, he’ll start the game. It’ll be the Browns’ first game of the 2022 exhibition schedule and more importantly, the first time fans will see Watson in a Browns. Unfortunately for Cleveland fans, the Browns are on the road, so unless they plan on flying to Duval County, they’ll have to watch the action on TV. The game starts at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
Watson won’t be on the field for long since coaches try to protect their starters from potential injury in games that won’t impact their season. But however long he’s out there will be longer than NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell likes. Watson, you may have heard, is already facing a six-game suspension handed down by an independent arbitrator, former federal judge Sue Robinson, over his conduct in a scandal where he’s alleged to have sexually harassed and assaulted 24 female massage therapists in Texas. Watson didn’t face criminal charges but he did settle 23 out of 24 lawsuits with his accusers. The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement with the union allows for a suspension even if charges weren’t filed.
But it also allows the league to appeal Robinson’s decision—which it has done— and have Goodell or a designee deliver the final punishment. Goodell, speaking publicly on the case for the first time since Robinson’s ruling on Tuesday, said after the announcement of the Denver Broncos’ new ownership that the league believes Watson should sit out for at least a season because of “multiple violations [of the NFL personal conduct policy] that were egregious, and it was predatory behavior.”
Having apparently learned a lesson about acting as judge, jury and executioner in player discipline cases in the past, Goodell gave himself some distance last week by tapping Peter C. Harvey, who was New Jersey’s first Black state attorney general, to hear the league’s appeal and make a final decision.
Watson’s camp and the NFLPA have promised they’ll sue in federal court if his punishment is increased.