NFL appeals ruling that Deshaun Watson of Cleveland Browns should be suspended six games

BEREA, Ohio — The NFL appealed the six-game suspension for Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson on Wednesday, asking for a harsher sentence for violating the league’s personal conduct policy following Disciplinary Officer Sue L. Robinson’s decision Monday .

In a statement, the league said it notified the NFL Players Association that it would appeal and then filed its brief Wednesday afternoon.

The league said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will determine who hears the appeal. The CBA gives Goodell the option to review the appeal itself or to engage a designee to do so.

A source told ESPN that the league is asking for an indefinite suspension of at least a year (as previously sought), a fine (which Watson was not originally given by Robinson) and treatment that the star QB must undergo.

The union also had the right to appeal Robinson’s verdict, although it issued a statement Sunday night saying it “stands by its decision” and would not appeal regardless of the outcome, and urged the league to do the same agree.

The NFLPA has until Friday to file a written response to the NFL’s appeal. Sources told ESPN’s Jeff Darlington on Wednesday that the NFLPA is preparing to sue the NFL in federal court if it appeals Robinson’s decision.

Once the NFLPA files its response, Goodell will decide to hear the appeal himself or appoint an officer — a source told Darlington on Wednesday that he is yet to make a formal decision on who will do so — and a hearing date will follow.

Any appeal must be limited to arguments drawn from the evidence transcript of the three-day pre-Robinson hearing in late June and “without reference to any evidence or testimony not previously considered.” It is being processed “accelerated” under the NFL’s personal conduct policy, although NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said there was no timeline for Goodell or his designee to make a decision.

Whenever the decision is made, it is final and binding on all parties.

Watson was on the field when the news broke around 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday. A team official had to go onto the field and inform him of the NFL’s decision.

The Browns had no comment on the NFL’s decision Wednesday.

Robinson granted the six-game suspension Monday, writing in her 16-page report that “the NFL had its burden of proving, by preponderating the evidence, that Mr. Watson was involved in sexual assault (as defined by the NFL) against who involved four therapists identified in the report.”

Robinson also noted that Watson engaged in conduct that “posed a real threat to the safety and well-being of another person and conduct that undermines or threatens the integrity of the NFL.”

Robinson wrote that the NFL recommended that Watson be suspended for the entirety of the 2022 regular season and postseason.

Relying on precedent, Robinson attempted to distinguish between violent and nonviolent sexual behavior. Robinson concluded that Watson’s behavior “does not fall into the category of violent behavior that would require at least a six-game suspension”, which the league considers “by far the most commonly imposed discipline for domestic or gender-based violence and sexual conduct.” ” had determined.

Robinson also noted that Watson’s “predatory behavior” cast a “negative light on the league and its players.”

Watson has denied any wrongdoing and said he has no regrets about any of his actions during the massage sessions. Watson also said he was cooperating with the NFL’s investigation and “truthfully answered every question” put to him by league investigators.

“We respect Judge Robinson’s decision while also understanding and understanding that many individuals have been fired during this process,” Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam said in a statement Monday. “We know Deshaun regrets that this situation has caused much heartache and he will continue with the work required to show who he is on and off the field and we will continue to support him.”

However, Robinson wrote in her report that one of the complicating factors in determining Watson’s discipline was his “lack of expressed remorse”. She noted that mitigating factors included that he was a first-time offender and his “excellent reputation in his community prior to these events.”

Watson has been accused of sexual assault and other inappropriate behavior during massage sessions in civil lawsuits filed by 25 women. The encounters alleged in the lawsuits took place from March 2020 to March 2021 while Watson was a member of the Houston Texans.

One of the 25 lawsuits was dropped after a judge ruled in April 2021 that plaintiffs would have to amend their filings to disclose their names. In June, Watson settled 20 of the 24 lawsuits he faced. According to Tony Buzbee, the Houston attorney representing the women suing Watson, on Monday he agreed to settle three of the remaining four.

Buzbee told ESPN’s John Barr that Ashley Solis, the first woman to sue Watson and the first to go public with her name and story, had settled her case.

Last month, the Texans reached settlements with 30 women who have made or were willing to make claims against the organization for their alleged role in the allegations against Watson. Buzbee told ESPN that he had a press conference scheduled for Thursday afternoon and that several of his clients, including Solis, could speak.

In the days leading up to Robinson’s decision, the NFL and Watson’s side held further settlement talks, sources told ESPN’s Dan Graziano, but neither side ever felt close to an agreement.

According to sources, the most Watson’s side were willing to offer was a suspension in the six- to eight-game range. The best the league was willing to offer was a 12-game suspension and a substantial fine — on the order of $8 million, sources said. In the absence of an additional fine, Watson is expected to miss six of his $57,500 game checks in 2022, for a total loss of $345,000 from his $1.035 million base salary.

Watson’s contract with the Browns guarantees him a league-record $230 million, with base salary rising to $46 million in 2023 and a $44.965 million signing bonus.

Although two Texas grand juries earlier this year declined to seek criminal charges against Watson, the NFL has been investigating since 2021 whether he violated its personal conduct policy.

The league interviewed Watson for several days earlier this summer. NFL investigators also spoke to several of the women. Robinson noted in her report that the NFL claimed it interviewed 12 women who sued Watson, but Buzbee told ESPN’s First Take Tuesday that the league only interviewed 10 of his clients.

If the six-game suspension is upheld after the NFL’s appeal, Watson will be able to continue attending practices and games in the preseason. He is also allowed to return to the Browns to train in the second half of the Week 4 suspension, according to the CBA. He may not be with the team during the first half of the suspension.

The Browns traded for Watson in March, sending three first-round draft picks to the Texans. Cleveland then gave Watson a new five-year contract, the richest deal in NFL history for a player.

Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said at the start of training camp last week that Jacoby Brissett would become Cleveland’s starter in the event of Watson’s suspension. During the first week of camp, Watson took most of the snaps with the first-team offense.

On Monday, Stefanski said the Browns had a plan for how they would handle snaps going forward, “and we will stick to it again until more information becomes available.” Stefanski said Tuesday that he had read Robinson’s report, but he would not comment on the results, only saying that he would “respect” Robinson’s decision.

On Monday, Stefanski said he was comfortable with Watson as the Browns’ franchise quarterback, despite Robinson’s findings. “Deshaun said it: He works to be the best version of himself,” Stefanski said. “He said that publicly, he said that privately, and I believe that.”

Information from ESPN’s Adam Schefter was used in this report. NFL appeals ruling that Deshaun Watson of Cleveland Browns should be suspended six games

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