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BRB GroupThink: Deshaun Watson’s Looming Suspension

The masthead gathers together and discusses Deshaun Watson’s possible suspension.

Cleveland Browns Introduce Quarterback Deshaun Watson Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images

Deshaun Watson is gone. He won’t face criminal charges, but he still has 22 civil suits pending. This week, footage of some of his desposition testimony leaked. The Houston Texans’ fanbase remains adamant that Watson will be suspended for a significant number of games in 2022. The Cleveland media has questioned the Browns’ decision to trade for Watson. Do you think Watson will be suspended for some portion of the 2022 season? If so, how many games?

This is the question I asked the masthead. These are our responses:

MATT WESTON:

The Texans’ fanbase lives in dream world, in a la-la land of their own creation. Bill O’Brien is a good head coach! With this defense, they can win a Super Bowl despite Brian Hoyer being under center! No, they aren’t wasting J.J. Watt’s prime by ignoring the quarterback position! All of those interceptions aren’t Brock Osweiler’s fault; he’s just learning the offense! Houston is correct to not go all in to build around Deshaun Watson’s rookie contract and should take a long-term team-building approach! Jadeveon Clowney is lazy and Houston had to trade him! Laremy Tunsil is an elite offensive tackle who is totally worth two first round picks and a second to fix this offensive line! Trading DeAndre Hopkins will spread out the offense so Watson doesn’t focus so much on one wide receiver! Eric Murray is good; it’s just that the contract isn’t! David Johnson just needs a place where he feels wanted and he’ll return to the form he found only once in his entire career! Jack Easterby isn’t that big of a problem! Houston is going to surprise a lot teams with their veteran talent in 2021! Deshaun Watson will be suspended for the entirety of the 2022 NFL season and maybe for his entire career!

Here’s the truth: Watson may be suspended, or he may not be, but if he is, it will be between two and six games, and the Cleveland Browns are going to be incredible. They’ll have a top five offense as Watson thrives playing in a play-action heavy scheme behind an elite offensive line, with great running backs and offensive personnel that Houston tried for years to put around Watson, but failed to do so. The Browns are going to be really good this year. The Houston Texans are going to be be bad again this year. The Texans didn’t get enough in return for Watson.

All this will come to fruition. By then, this fanbase will be trampled up in some other illusion.

MIKE BULLOCK:

I’m certainly no lawyer, nor do I pretend to understand how this seriously complex matter will play out. So, I have to go off what I’ve read online via great sources like Steph Stradley and not so great ones like random Twitter peeps. Rarely does the court of public opinion have all the facts; it often looks more like a torch and pitchfork mob of misunderstanding than a rational, fair, and balanced judgment. All that being said, Watson certainly looks more guilty than ever after the leaked deposition.

The last I saw, the civil cases appear headed to drag out into 2023. With that, I fully expect the NFL and Browns to enter a similar arrangement to what Houston did in 2021, making Watson a healthy scratch all season. Cleveland is on the hook for very little money in Watson’s mega-deal for the 2022 season, so sitting him all year won’t cost much and it allows Watson to learn the team, playbook, culture, etc. while the Haslams and others hope and pray time heals all wounds and the Dawg Pound starts to forget that their beloved team may have given the single biggest contract in NFL history to a serial sexual predator.

If these civil cases remain unresolved heading into Week One of the 2022 NFL season and Watson takes the field, the potential backlash from NFL fans is tidal wave-esque in scope. The risk versus reward here for Roger Goodell and his pals in New York does not tilt in Watson’s favor. Allegedly, there are numerous women’s rights groups planning massive protests at any and all NFL games featuring Watson. If Goodell & Co. thought they took it on the PR chin with Colin Kaepernick, wait until these women’s rights groups get hold of them. Don’t put it past these organizations to start running television ads, getting celebrity backing (unlike the anti-Kaepernick crowd), and immolating the Browns/Watson in the court of public opinion. Brushing off the poster child for NFL social justice is one thing; empowering an assault on wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters everywhere is quite another.

The leaked video didn’t do Watson any favors, either. Particularly the part where he’s asked about trying to make it look like he was in New York City when one of the massage incidents occurred. Was he trying to hide the session from his girlfriend? Was he trying to establish a legal alibi for wrongdoing that occurred? Was he just making a stupid-yet-innocent mistake? We may never know, but it sure looks shady and suspect.

L4BLITZER:

With no new criminal charges on the horizon, it would appear that the only thing that could stop Deshaun Watson from playing in the Dawg Pound in 2022 will be Goodell and the NFL. Watson will want to get out to the field. The Cleveland Browns want him on the field to try to actually win a Super Bowl, and to get people to not hound them for giving Watson a raise for all the baggage he is bringing. Yet the NFL is “still investigating,” and with the civil cases likely to drag out for some time, I am not so sure there will be any resolution on NFL discipline for some time. If there is one, I don’t see how the NFL can make it any less than six games. Unless the NFL goes for at least a full season’s worth of game, there will massive outrage.

Also, I don’t put it past the NFL to try to make the Browns and Watson pay for being so “smart” about the 2022 base salary part of his contract. Since the base salary is “only” $1 million, if Watson was to even miss the whole season, he is out just that money, not any other part of the $230M guaranteed to him. However, if the NFL decides to wait until the civil cases resolve and/or issue a judgment later in the season that would impact Watson past 2022 and into 2023, there will be greater financial pain, which Watson has not experienced to date as far as his NFL salary is concerned.

So, unless the NFL decides to step in, Watson will take the field in 2022. Watson staying off the field for Houston in 2021 was as much about his desire to never play for the Texans again as it was his legal issues. He will want to get back on the field, if for no other reason than to try to get some positive headlines. Of course, he will have no margin for error and receive no quarter for any mistakes (with justification for that). This means that barring any sort of NFL action, he will return to NRG Stadium to play for an opponent in 2022. The reception he will get is likely to be legendary, and not in a good way.

RETIRED VOLLEYBALL:

I’m going to go with six games. I think there will be an initial suspension for eight and then the obligatory appeal will drop it to six. I think the upshot is that the Browns will miss the NFL Playoffs next season. Jacoby Brissett will easily be the worst starting quarterback in that division for the games he will be at the helm.

Of course, when schedules come out, we could go through and predict wins and losses for each of those games, but I don’t see how a Brissett-led team goes any better than 3-3 through that stretch and it’s more likely they go 2-4. That should be enough to cost Cleveland the division. As much talent as the Browns have, I just don’t see winning as automatic for them. The Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens are also good teams when healthy, and if the Pittsburgh Steelers get someone other than Mitch Trubisky at quarterback, they could be good too.

KENNETH L:

Sounds like Watson won’t be put on the Commissioner’s Exempt list, which I was hoping was the punishment, considering the Browns’ contract for him was a direct circumvention of NFL policy and procedures. It’s weakness the NFL is displaying right now, and I honestly can’t believe this would occur for a non-quarterback.

If they aren’t doing the exempt list, I suspect the punishment will be much less than people expect. I could see six games being the punishment, and then it gets appealed and reduced to four. That seems like a win-win for the league. They go big, reduce, and still have their way. I can’t see an entire season or half a season for a punishment based on civil cases that haven’t been rsolved yet.

BIGFATDRUNK:

I’m going to also go six games.

I don’t think the NFL cares is the honest truth. Just don’t say the bad parts out loud, and everything will be fine. Nothing to see here. Deshaun who?