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Get ready: Minimum one-year suspension for Deshaun Watson looms

The NFL vs. NFLPA battle is ongoing

NFL: Cleveland Browns OTA Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL is leaning towards suspending Browns QB Deshaun Watson for at least one year. According to a report by Aaron Wilson of Pro Football Network, his sources indicate that the league is looking to suspend Watson for the entire 2022 season, if not indefinitely. Wilson stated:

“Meanwhile, the Browns are awaiting a lengthy suspension for Watson. There is concern from the NFL Players Association that the league will look to suspend the former Clemson standout for the entire 2022 season, if not indefinitely, according to sources. Should that happen, the Browns are expected to go forward with Jacoby Brissett rather than try to reconcile with Mayfield.”

When asked, a person familiar with the NFL’s stance on the case indicated “significant would be the term.”

The NFLPA is already aligning itself to fight a lengthy suspension and is instead pushing for six or eight games.

Former U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson

Soon, the NFL will present its case to former U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson who is the disciplinary officer agreed upon by both the league and the player’s association. The NFL wishes to resolve this matter before training camps open. Robinson is currently an attorney who retired from the bench in 2017.

If Robinson brings forth a ruling that no violation of the personal conduct policy is evident, then the case would be completed without any appeals possible. If she rules that a violation of the policy has occurred with a penalty imposed, either side could appeal. But she alone will present a recommendation by what she believes the discipline will be. Any appeal judgment would then be conducted by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

The NFL’s investigation team was headed by Lisa Friel, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office former chief of sex crimes persecution unit. She is currently the league’s special counsel regarding investigations.

If Robinson’s recommendations are satisfactory to both sides, then that is what it will be.

The NFLPA will argue that Watson has no criminal charges to date although the NFL’s personal conduct policy does allow a player to receive disciplinary action regardless of charges.

Another stance the NFLPA will take is that several NFL owners have had similar issues and were not suspended by the league or any action regarding their clubs.

It is assumed that the NFL might use Major League Baseball’s actions on Trevor Bauer in which he received two full seasons. An additional avenue were the actions of dual six game suspensions that were levied down for both Ben Roethlisberger and Ezekiel Elliott as a possible barometer.

Understand this is the first case under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), so a precedent is assured. It is a different process than before.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter recently appeared on ESPN Houston and stated:

“The league, which is very image perception conscience, that is something they are going to be very thorough on. Would that have been the case 12 years ago? I don’t know about that. The league is validated by how they go about this and the decision they make on Deshaun Watson. My understanding is that the league does want a lengthy suspension. Lengthy.”

The NFLPA’s job is to fight that. And it can lean on what has happened before with other cases and attempt to apply that disciplinary action, but each case is different and the circumstances are contrasting.

The problem for Watson seems to be that if the suspension is too light, the NFL would be criticized at every level.

Then what?

Baker Mayfield remains a Cleveland Brown. Journeyman Jacoby Brissett was hired as Watson’s backup. Josh Dobbs was signed as the backup to the backup.

Needless to say, if Watson receives a full year suspension, Mayfield would be the better answer than Brissett. Mayfield is an NFL-caliber starting quarterback whereas Brissett is simply a fill-in.


That may be one reason why the club has not traded Mayfield yet. They are first wanting to see what Watson’s suspension will be, if any, then decide what to do next at the quarterback position including Mayfield’s involvement or a possible trade.

Syndication: Akron Beacon Journal Jeff Lange / USA TODAY NETWORK

Mayfield has publicly stated his tenure in Cleveland is done. However, if the Browns don’t trade him and need him to start, what happens then?

DBN staff writer Thomas Moore has this stance:

“If the Browns say ‘come to camp’ and Baker says ‘no’, then they can fine him under the CBA.”

Can the Browns make him inactive every game that he doesn’t show? If he does show but refuses to play, then what? Fines?

“I don’t think it will come to that. They will work something out between the two sides,” Moore continued. “They will avoid fines and the general silliness.”

What if Mayfield refuses to show up for practices and games, then is inactive each game, will he still collect game checks on his $18.838 million guaranteed contract?

“If he refuses? Then the Browns should have some options regarding fining him,” explained Moore. “Pretty sure teams don’t have to pay players if they refuse to show up or play.”

The answer to Watson’s looming suspension and Mayfield’s situation remain that he needs to be the starter in 2022. Think about it: if Mayfield is not traded and sits home instead of playing, other teams are going to take note of this and tag him as a non-team player. Plus, his final year as a Brown he was not very good although he played injured. Regardless, the ink on him will be a sub-par quarterback.

If Mayfield plays this year and finally becomes the stud quarterback he was drafted to be, not only will the Browns’ trade value for him increase next year, but his own stock will explode. The alternative is that Mayfield is looking at signing a one-year prove-it deal or be viewed strictly as somebody’s backup.

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Admittedly, this is a very unique situation. But if the coaching staff comes to the conclusion that going into the 2022 season that Mayfield is a much better option than Brissett as their year-long starter, then it is not a dart toss that the former starter is now the current starter. Besides, Mayfield is completely healthy.

When faced with playing and receiving game checks or sitting home while collecting fines and not being paid at all, Mayfield just might be forced to play.

And yes, trade talks to Seattle or Carolina still are reported in play, but with faced with Brissett or Mayfield being the full-time starter for the entire season, why would the Browns trade Mayfield at this juncture? His stock is currently very low, his salary is equally a bargain, and he might be the best option going forward.

Admittedly, Mayfield has expressed his distain for what he perceives as being disrespected by the organization, but when faced with making money and playing versus watching the NFL on his big screen, he will realize he has almost $19 million reasons to play.

The Brissett Experiment

When Andrew Luck abruptly retired from the Indianapolis Colts two weeks before their first game in 2019, Brissett was the backup quarterback.

Brissett was immediately penciled in as the answer for the Colts. After all, Indy had traded for Brissett and wanted him to wait in the wings and gain experience. At the time, the franchise had a playoff roster which had just gone 10-6-0 the previous season with a playoff win before losing in the divisional round.

The Colts began 5-2-0 including wins over Kansas City and Tennessee. Both losses were by seven points or less. In Week 7 in a 30-23 victory over the Houston Texans, Brissett passed for 326 yards with four touchdowns and was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week.


Editor’s note: Conversation regarding Brissett begins with DBN contributing writer Kristy Acuti at the 13:00 mark

From there, the season unraveled as Indy went 2-7-0 down the stretch including losses to lowly Jacksonville and Houston. In that stretch he passed for just 172.7 yards per game. Part of Brissett’s issues was a slight knee injury he suffered in Week 10 against Miami. The remainder of the year, he just wasn’t the same elusive, running quarterback which he relied on those skills during the first half.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

After finishing 7-9-0, the Colts decided to go in a different direction. Regulated back to the backup position the following year, Indianapolis brought in veteran Phillip Rivers to be their starter. After being a situational player, Brissett was not re-signed to which he then inked a one-year deal with Miami for the 2021 season.

Indianapolis truly wanted Brissett to be their new starting quarterback. Whether it was a nagging knee issue or not, their experiment lasted only one season. He proved he was great out of the gate, but would falter when it counted the most.


So, whether it is Mayfield or Brissett under center for the Browns this year, which guy is actually better? A side-by-side comparison is in order.

Baker Mayfield (6’-1”, 215 pounds)

Age: 27

Career Starts: 59

Career Attempts: 1,924

Career Completions: 1,185

Career Completion Ratio: 61.6%

Career Passing Touchdowns: 92

Career Interceptions: 56

Career Passing Yards: 14,125

Career Rushing Attempts: 158

Career Rushing Yards: 571

Career Rushing Touchdowns: 5

Career Sacks: 134

Career Fumbles: 27

Fourth Quarter Comebacks: 6

Career QBR: 51.55

Jacoby Brissett (6’-4”, 235 pounds)

Age: 29

Career Starts: 37

Career Attempts: 1,208

Career Completions: 727

Career Completion Ratio: 60.2%

Career Passing Touchdowns: 36

Career Interceptions: 17

Career Passing Yards: 7,742

Career Rushing Attempts: 178

Career Rushing Yards: 653

Career Rushing Touchdowns: 13

Career Sacks: 106

Career Fumbles: 24

Fourth Quarter Comebacks: 2

Career QBR: 50.32