Will Deshaun Watson face NFL punishment? Multi-step process lies ahead.

Mike Jones
USA TODAY

After more than a year of monitoring the allegations, investigations and legal battles of Deshaun Watson while simultaneously conducting an investigation of its own, the NFL will advance the process that should clarify whether the quarterback will serve a suspension.  

Watson on Tuesday reached confidential settlements with all but four of the women who accused him of sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions. Prior to the settlements, it seemed the NFL would make a ruling on Watson’s future by early July. 

The settlements will have no impact on the severity of what kind of punishment Watson would or would not receive from the NFL, according to league VP of communications Brian McCarthy.

"Today's development has no impact on the collectively bargained disciplinary process," McCarthy said in a statement. 

It is still widely expected that Watson will receive some kind of punishment for violating the league's personal conduct policy. The Browns didn't immediately respond to requests for comment on Watson’s settlements.

Three people with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports that they expect the NFL will push for a one-year suspension. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on behalf of the NFL.

Watson was never arrested nor charged as two Texas grand juries declined to indict him. Their decisions not to indict mean they didn’t find enough evidence that a crime was committed. 

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson drops back to pass during minicamp.

Watson, 26, maintained that he never sexually assaulted or forced any of the women into sexual acts. He never played a game last season while at odds with the Houston Texans after he requested a trade following the 2020 season. Because of uncertainty over Watson's availability at the time, no team pulled the trigger on a trade. 

However, in March, after it was learned that Watson would not face criminal charges, Cleveland forked over three first-round picks, one third and two fourth-rounders. The Browns also signed Watson to a record-setting five-year, fully guaranteed $230 million contract.

The revelation of the league’s findings and recommendation will be the first of a multi-step process agreed upon between the NFL’s owners and players when they signed off on a new collective bargaining agreement in 2020. The next step involves the NFL forwarding all of the information gathered to the disciplinary officer, Sue L. Robinson, a former federal judge, who is jointly compensated by the NFL and NFLPA. 

At that point, it's expected that the NFL will make its recommendation of what it deems an adequate punishment. At the same time that the NFL makes its recommendation to Robinson, the NFLPA also is allowed to make a suggestion of its own. Two people with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports that the NFLPA would argue that Watson should not serve a suspension. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the situation.

Robinson could hold additional meetings or hearings to gather further information. Then she would come to her decision and announce it to the NFL, Watson and NFLPA. Both the NFL and NFLPA are allowed to appeal the punishment handed down by Robinson. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell or an individual of his choosing would preside over the appeals process.

Goodell, or the official he designates, would have the power to overturn, reduce, modify or increase the punishment.

It’s unclear how long Robinson’s decision or any ensuing appeals process would take. But the league, the NFLPA and Watson would try to get the matters resolved as quickly as possible so the Browns and Watson would know how to approach the 2022 regular season.