Many, this website included, assumed the NFL’s decision to appeal Deshaun Watson’s suspension would potentially keep him on the field. That the NFLPA would inevitably file a lawsuit in response to whatever revised punishment commissioner Roger Goodell (or his designee) handed down, which could lead to some sort of court-mandated freeze on the ban. It wouldn’t last forever, but it would hold long enough for, say, Watson to play against the Jets in Week 2.
Not the case, according to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, who has a law degree:
This experience has caused many to assume that, if the NFL Players Association files a lawsuit on behalf of Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson after (as expected) the NFL dramatically increases the six-game suspension … Watson will be available for the regular-season opener at Carolina, and all other games until his case is resolved. That’s unlikely to happen [here].
Florio outlines two main reasons: One, if the NFLPA does not appeal the suspension itself, the initial six-game ruling by disciplinary officer Judge Sue L. Robinson becomes baked in. The union already said it wouldn’t appeal, remember, as part of a pre-ruling stunt to try to force the NFL to abandon its collectively-bargained right to appeal. The second is that if the NFL beats any NFLPA lawsuit by filing first in the Southern District of New York, its past legal wins over Tom Brady and Ezekiel Elliott likely clear the path for a quick win over Watson without any losses in the early going. Plus, Florio writes, judges tend to avoid these situations.
Remember, judges like it when private parties create their own system for resolving disputes. Judges, who aren’t paid by the hour or by the case, prefer not to get involved. The NFL and NFLPA have created a system for imposing and resolving discipline under the Personal Conduct Policy. Barring evidence that the NFL in some significant way deviated from the agreed-to terms, the case really should end with the NFL’s appeal ruling.
The NFL is right. Watson does deserve a significantly longer suspension. An indefinite ban of at least a year and a massive fine is the right move, although the NFL may not be able to do that now after clearly mishandling the initial approach.
If the modified discipline matches the original ask, a stronger case can be made in federal court that Goodell is “imposing his own brand of industrial justice” and therefore exceeding his authority as the arbitrator. One of the few grounds for vacatur left after Deflategate. https://t.co/Zw164qoFYm
— Daniel Wallach (@WALLACHLEGAL) August 4, 2022
That said, Goodell is certainly going to make sure it’s more than six games and it will be warranted. Will be interesting to see if the NFLPA changes its appeal tune to give it more of a chance to fight after that happens.
James Kratch can be reached at [email protected]