The NFL now holds Deshaun Watson’s football future in its hands.
With independent disciplinary arbitrator Sue L. Robinson handing down a six-game suspension in Watson’s personal political conduct case on Monday, the spotlight now turns to the NFL, which must decide whether to appeal the punishment. The championship issued a statement on Monday saying he is “reviewing” the decision and “will decide on next steps.”
Barring a mutually agreed-upon extension between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, the league must either accept or file an appeal against the decision by Thursday afternoon. Under the rules of the latest collective bargaining agreement, it essentially gives the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell 72 hours to decide whether to appeal the final decision to the commissioner or his chosen representative.
As a source said Monday, the league could choose to focus on the determination that the conduct was, according to Robinson, “more egregious than any previous evaluation by the NFL.” The league could determine whether that warrants a longer suspension than a standard six-game domestic violence penalty. The source added that it’s possible the NFL will appeal Robinson’s decision and ultimately split the final decision with the one-year suspension the league originally sought, with 11 or 12 games with automatic reinstatement, instead of the full calendar year that was originally requested. would require Watson. request for reinstatement.
For now, the league has the flexibility to either accept Watson’s six-game suspension, or overturn it in favor of the NFL unilaterally determining the final punishment for the Cleveland Browns star.
If the NFL chooses to accept Robinson’s decision, Watson will sit out the first six games of the regular season and then rejoin the Browns on Monday, Oct. 17. However, if the league decides to overturn the suspension, it must appeal based on evidence that was already submitted to Robinson. As part of the process, the league must state in writing why it reached a different punitive conclusion using the same facts and testimony previously provided to Robinson by the NFL.
According to CBA guidelines:
“The appeal will be limited to arguments why, based on the evidence below, the amount of discipline, if any, should be modified. The Commissioner or his designee will issue a written decision that will constitute a full, final and complete resolution of the dispute and will be binding[.]”
In other words, the league can change the suspension to whatever it sees fit, as long as it explains why. But once the NFL decides, it is the final word on the Watson case — barring other potential litigation outside of the league’s court process.
Ultimately, if the NFL chooses to file such an appeal, it would take the position that Goodell or his chosen representative is a more “proper” justice of the law than Robinson — a former federal judge who reviewed arguments and exhibits in the case for a month before issuing its decision this week.
Under the new CBA guidelines, Goodell or his representative have the authority to add games to a suspension like Watson’s if a longer penalty is deemed appropriate. By focusing on the part of Robinson’s decision that referred to “extraordinary” conduct, the league could say that Robinson was right in its decision, but wrong in its standard of suspension.
Sources who have seen Robinson’s opinion believe the pattern of domestic violence was a consideration in her final decision on Watson, despite the NFL presenting cases that lacked violence or violence.
If the NFL files an objection, the NFLPA will then have two business days to respond — running into early next week — before either Goodell or his commissioner issues a final finding late next week.