The NFL Players Association has already threatened legal action against the NFL if the league increases Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson‘s suspension for violating the personal conduct policy. While a federal appeal could stretch the saga for months, it might not change Watson’s availability.
When quarterback Tom Brady and running back Ezekiel Elliott challenged suspensions the NFL handed down to them through federal lawsuits, they were granted a stay that allowed them to play. It would seemingly set a precedent for Watson if his suspension is increased by the NFL.
However, that might not be the case. After former federal judge Sue L. Robinson issued a six-game ban, the players’ union accepted the ruling. While they have the right to file a federal lawsuit if the NFL’s appeal results in much stronger consequences, it might not result in Watson playing in Week 1.
According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the NFLPA would need to issue an appeal on Thursday before the original six-game ban becomes official. This is an unprecedented case because the players’ union accepted the original ruling, whereas Brady and Elliott fought their immediate suspension.
There is some time for this to happen, especially since it was reported Wednesday afternoon that the NFL is appealing Robinson’s ruling. However, a tight deadline makes it more difficult for the necessary paperwork to be filed in time.
Because of the NFLPA’s original acceptance, Watson’s six-game ban would remain in place. As a result, quarterback Jacoby Brissett would take over as the starter for the first six games. There’s also another factor that might play a role.
As Florio notes, a court order clearing an NFL player to play amid a legal battle over a suspension isn’t a foregone conclusion. Numerous factors will be considered, including the allegations against Watson and whether or not a ruling would come down in his favor.
If the likeliest outcome unfolds, the NFLPA will be fighting the league office in federal court as Watson serves his original six-game suspension. Only after he misses the first six games would he then potentially have a path to playing until a final resolution is reached in his case.
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All of it means this saga that started before the 2021 NFL season will now stretch deep into the 2022 season and there will be significant ramifications for all involved when it’s finally over.