February 27, 2024

A settlement has been reached between the NFL Players Association and the NFL regarding Deshaun Watson’s suspension. Watson was sitting with a six-game suspension and no fine. The NFL wanted at least a full season and a heavy fine. The deal landed at eleven games and a $5 million dollar fine, which will require Watson to dip into that $44 million bonus he received when he came to Cleveland. Our long nightmare may finally be over. May? Yes, more on that shortly.

What takeaways do I have from this sordid tale?

The NFL managed to save face and stay out of court, a combination they’ve had trouble doing in recent player discipline issues. With the largest fine ever assessed to a player and the nice optics of it going to charity, they established what former Judge Robinson said they lacked, precedent. Any player who puts themself in a similar situation now has been forewarned. I can’t think of a previous situation, though, that I can compare to this one and I pray we never encounter one in the future. Expect a formal policy for non-violent behavior from the NFL in the coming months.

BTW, how about Watson’s return being scheduled for Houston, where this whole mess happened and was partially enabled by the Texans? That December 4th game was scheduled for regional TV coverage at 1:00 on CBS, which has the doubleheader that week. Their key 4:25 game is Kansas City at Cincinnati – hard to dislodge that from a national window. The Sunday night game is Indianapolis at Dallas – you don’t see the Cowboys get bumped very often but this might be the time. How many extra eyeballs will tune to that game? A LOT! I’m sure the timing of it is a coincidence (wink, wink).

The Cleveland Browns took a big hit by losing their quarterback for at least eleven games. At least? Yes, yes, patience. This was probably at the high end of what they hoped for, but at least they should get Watson back for the final six games (three of them within the division) and possibly make a late run for the playoffs. Not a total loss for them either.

Owner Jimmy Haslem embodied the approach the team has taken all along in today’s press conference. In the middle of questions about Watson’s behavior, Haslem jumped in and said, “It’s important to remember Deshaun Watson is 26 years old and he’s a hell of an NFL quarterback.” That’s it, the entire thought process in a nutshell and one that would be shared by most, probably all, of the other NFL teams.

What do the Browns do about the quarterback position now? Do they burn up their cap space and trade for Jimmy Garoppolo? Not for eleven games and with a passable quarterback, Jacoby Brissett, already on the roster. The running game and defense might be good enough to keep their playoff hopes alive into December and I don’t think the gain they would get from Garoppolo would be anywhere near the cost.

So how should the fans approach this season? Disappointed, angry? Sure, I totally get that. Reduced expectations? Fans can talk themselves into high expectations not based on reality and if that’s where you’re heading, then enjoy the trip. Next year, be thinking about next year. While you’re at it, can we tone down the “everyone hates us, it’s us against the world” rhetoric? It’s really boring. No one should judge your fandom, but I think your team, like others that feature players with major off-the-field issues, is fair game.

Finally, what do we make of Deshaun Watson? He made big news last week when he put forth an apology to the women who made the complaints about inappropriate sexual behavior. During an interview for the Browns’ pre-game show, he said, “I’m truly sorry to all the women. My decisions I made…I would definitely like to have back.” Keep in mind, that the NFL’s appeal was still being considered at the time.

With the situation now settled, Watson reverted back to his original position in today’s press conference. “I’ll continue to stand on my innocence, just because you know settlements and things like that happen doesn’t mean that a person is guilty for anything,” That came after the team issued a statement in which he said, “I take accountability for the decisions I made.”  Seriously, the Browns need to stop having press conferences – it’s not a strength of the organization, at all.

Watson’s restatement of his innocence carries more weight because of a clause included in the settlement. This clause requires Watson to complete an evaluation and treatment of his issues (although he has stated he doesn’t have any). A third-party behavioral expert will recommend the plan and here’s the kicker, Watson must be compliant with the treatment plan or his reinstatement could be delayed.

That was a big win for the NFL which all along did not want an unconditional reinstatement and it will challenge what I have seen is Deshaun Watson’s ability to say what he believes he needs to say in any situation with utmost and total sincerity. For example, his statements in the pre-game interview and in today’s press conference cannot both be true, yet they both sounded like they came from the heart.

There is one job I would not want and this is the counselor/behavioral expert that will have the determination of whether Watson is compliant with the treatment plan. If there is ANY delay in his reinstatement due to a determination of noncompliance, that individual will be receiving death threats because that’s what people do to others who do something they don’t like these days. It’s a tough world.

It’s always difficult to help someone who does not believe they need help, but even more challenging when the future of a team with a passionate fan base is riding on it.

We’ve previously seen Watson step up on the field with the Clemson Tigers and Houston Texans. Let’s hope he can step up to this, perhaps his greatest challenge, off the field and not let people down-most of all himself.

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