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NFL not expected to ‘back off’ position for year-long Deshaun Watson suspension

Matt Johnson

As former federal judge Sue Robinson weighs the evidence president to her in the Deshaun Watson case, the independent arbitrator is reportedly hoping the NFL and NFL Players Association settle before she makes a ruling. If that doesn’t happen, the NFL could be headed towards an ugly legal battle.

Watson is being represented by the NFLPA in front of Robinson, who is set to make a ruling on whether or not he violated the personal conduct policy. Accused by more than two dozen women of sexual misconduct, the Cleveland Browns quarterback settled all but four civil suits against him.

As part of the new collective bargaining agreement, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell no longer has unilateral authority over punishment for violations of the league’s personal conduct policy. Watson is the first player to go through the appeals process. which only came after failed settlement negotiations between the two sides.

Related: ‘Growing sentiment’ Deshaun Watson plans in 2022

Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports noted this week that Sue Robinson is believed to be holding off on making a ruling in an effort to buy more time for the NFL and NFLPA to reach a settlement. As of now, though, it seems unlikely to happen.

Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated wrote on Monday that he doesn’t expect a settlement to happen. The primary reason is his belief that the league won’t back off its insistence on Watson serving a one-year suspension and the NFLPA won’t agree to that.

“The NFL, of course, is well aware that the public is going to judge the viability of Watson’s punishment by the number of games he misses. Because of that, I don’t see the league backing off its position on the quarterback missing all of the 2022 season. Likewise, based on precedent, and Watson’s own direction, I don’t see the NFLPA or Watson’s camp backing down, either. Which would mean Sue L. Robinson will have to rule, and then the league will have to make a decision on whether or not to change her penalty.”

Albert Breer on potential settlement between NFL, Deshaun Watson

Once Robinson makes a ruling, then the NFL faces its first pivotal decision. If the independent arbitrator rules there is only enough evidence for Watson to serve a four-game suspension, the league can appeal the decision to Goodell. At that point, the NFL commissioner could impose a one-year ban.

Related: Deshaun Watson to file federal appeal if NFL issues one-year ban

If that happens, though, the NFLPA intends to challenge that ruling with the defense that NFL owners received no punishment for their off-field misconduct. Watson’s defense would also argue that a grand jury declined to indict him on criminal charges and a former federal judge ruled against a one-year suspension.

It’s precisely the legal battle and dramatic storyline the NFL doesn’t want to experience. Watson’s appeal would also mean he could play until a ruling is made in his federal appeal. All of that would seemingly make a settlement more appealing for the NFL, but the public backlash to Watson receiving a shorter suspension than Calvin Ridley might compel the league to fight this to the end.