The NFL Appeals…for PR

I join most, if not all, of the readers of Cleveland Sports Talk in wanting the Deshaun Watson suspension saga to be over. There was hope after Mrs. Robinson’s ruling on Monday, but just when I thought we were out, the NFL pulled us back in.

The NFL has formally filed an appeal of Watson’s suspension, reportedly seeking more games and a fine, perhaps in the millions.

The right for either side to appeal this ruling is codified in the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the union. Just because you have a right to do something, however, does not make it the wise or desirable course of action.

The NFLPA, correctly sensing they were holding a winning hand, launched a preemptive strike before the ruling. They publicly stated neither they nor Watson would appeal regardless of the decision. I suspect they were hoping to shame the NFL into taking that same high road and accepting something less than they sought.

Seriously? I’m not sure what it takes to shame the NFL, but it’s more than that.

One thing I am sure of and I alluded to it in my last piece here, is that this is NOT about seeking justice. The NFL cares only about what is in the best interest of the NFL and maximizes its current and future revenue. This is the standard operating procedure for large corporations. Spinning public perception in your favor is an important component of revenue maximization.

In my estimation, the NFL is appealing not to seek “just” punishment for Deshaun Watson. Rather, they are motivated to do so because they perceive the PR benefit of the appeal is greater than accepting the six-game suspension. There may also be a secondary goal of sticking it to the Browns because of the large contract guarantee they gave Watson that has reset the quarterback market. Owners get very ugly when money is taken out of their pockets.

At this point, I come back to what Mrs. Robinson wrote in her conclusion, stating “The NFL may be a ‘forward-facing’ organization, but it is not necessarily a forward-looking one.” That approach often leads to bad unforeseen consequences and I expect that to be very much the case here.

Reports are already circulating about the NFLPA preparing to file suit against the NFL. Seems a bit early for that, yet inevitable. I’m not an attorney nor do I play one for Cleveland Sports Talk, but they really don’t seem to have anything to sue about until an appeal is heard and a harsher penalty is handed down. After that, however, I believe they would have plenty of grounds to file a lawsuit.

Robinson’s ruling clearly lays out the logic for a suit, which I expect would start with seeking an injunction. I would not see this enabling Watson to play Week 1. Rather, an injunction would prevent any suspension beyond the sixth game until the case is adjudicated.

Folks, I hate to write this as much as you’ll hate to read it, but this saga could easily stretch into 2023 and impact NEXT season in the unlikely event that the NFL wins.

There are some predictions that legal action here would begin a tsunami of revelations the NFL does not want to be revealed. That’s why they like to go before arbitrators and say out of courtrooms. Not clear if they will be able to avoid that this time and a trial could be toxic for the league.

The NFL and Commissioner Goodell will act like they are taking the high road with this appeal, but to me, this action seems like they are barreling toward a cliff in pure Wylie Coyote style.

I don’t feel bad for the Browns because they made the move for Watson knowing something like this could happen. Browns fans, however, did NOT sign up for this mess. There is no place to go where you can keep up with NFL and Browns news that you will not continue to be inundated with updates about this saga.

Browns fans need to buckle up, it looks like there are still lots of bumps in the road ahead.

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