The Browns did Deshaun Watson a solid when they placed his 2022 salary at just over $1 million with the expectations that he would be facing between a 4-6 game suspension.
That has all changed.
It was announced that none of the pending civil suits filed by 22 women, mostly massage therapists, will be tried this off-season. The timeline now is set for March 2023 according to Adam Ferrise of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Ferrise explained that the attorneys who are in charge of the civil cases have agreed that none of the hearings will be conducted between August 1, 2022 and March 1, 2023.
So, where does that place Watson as far as the 2022 season?
The NFL has already begun its investigation into the entire situation starting with the 10 criminal cases that have been squelched and now on to the pending civil suits.
What is at stake is the civil suits are completely separate from the NFL’s investigation. The NFL’s probe is ongoing and without any timeline - nor has Cleveland been given one.
Basically, Watson is a member of the Browns and will participate fully in the off-season programs which begin April 19. He can then start his preparation as the Browns starting quarterback as though he will open the pre-season in mid-August and then the regular season opener.
One thing is for certain: the NFL will be very thorough in its investigation and will not announce its intentions too hastily.
There have been questions as to whether Deshaun could be placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List which would allow him paid leave while not counting against the roster. Since the two grand juries have already released all findings without any charges, this would make sense. But at the recent owner’s meetings. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell addressed that aspect on March 29 and stated Deshaun’s placement on the Exempt List is unlikely.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell very clear here—it’ll likely be a suspension/fine or nothing for Deshaun Watson. Commissioner’s exempt list not in play. pic.twitter.com/vSMlcuWhQU— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 29, 2022
The only thing that is finalized at this point is the lack of criminal findings against Deshaun.
What this essentially means is that Deshaun is clear to play this year, or he may be suspended at any juncture, or he may be fined at some point. Basically, nobody knows what the NFL is thinking.
The assumption is that the NFL will wait until the civil suits have run its course. This would make the most sense in the vein that if Deshaun is cleared of those as well. To date, he is not guilty of anything, nor has he ever been arrested nor convicted of anything. The NFL certainly does not wish to punish its players for being accused with any type of closure.
Then there is this: two of the women suing Deshaun have amended their civil suits. They both have added claims of negligence and gross negligence according to a report by Brent Schrotenboer of USA Today Sports.
The reason for the new filings is so the pending suits may widen the discoverable evidence they can obtain before trial and to add another way to recover damages in their suits.
Tony Buzbee, the attorney for all 22 women, stated this after the amendments:
“Deshaun Watson has denied he acted intentionally; we believe strongly that we will prove he did. We have also added a claim for negligence allowing a jury to assess liability for unreasonable and imprudent conduct as well. This claim is just another through which the jury can assess liability and damages against him. We will likely add this claim for most of the cases, although perhaps not all.”
Throughout this entire process including his Browns press conference, Deshaun has professed his innocence regarding all allegations against him.
It is a certainty that if he is found liable for any one of the 22 civil suits, he will definitely face a suspension and/or a fine.
Browns GM Andrew Berry has stated:
“Our investigation into Watson is a five-month odyssey and information that we were able to amass and the reference work, and obviously working through due process and the legal process, that got us comfortable pursuing the trade for Deshaun.”
According to court filings, when the civil suits do begin next March, there will be 22 separate hearings instead of one huge court case. That means this process will certainly go on well into the 2023 season. If one of the 22 cases goes to trial every week that equals six months. And certainly the judicial process is a lot slower than that.
It is actually shocking that Buzbee has agreed to let this whole thing play out next year instead of adding more pressure on Deshaun now. All of these proceedings will be tried in the State of Texas. What a huge distraction it would become learning a new offense and then constantly having to go north and south continually.
Apparently, there is something that Buzbee received in return for placing these suits on the back burner.
Cleveland signed Deshaun to a $230 million contract. The news that the civil suits will be tried during the off-season is good news per say. However, for Deshaun, the Browns placed his 2022 salary at $1.035 million with the anticipation that he would not play some games this year and the financial hit would be at a minimum.
His 2023 salary is for $46 million. This is realistically when, or if, any suspensions will be served.
One thing for certain: this entire process will linger with the Cleveland Browns for a few years to come. This dark cloud cannot be placed on the Browns and their fans and just keep going.
Which is a much bigger ouch.