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NFL analysts suggests Deshaun Watson return may not happen until 2023

The immediate outlook for a Deshaun Watson return to the NFL doesn’t look promising. Months after facing more than 20 allegations of sexual assault and misconduct, there is no end in sight for the civil suits filed against the star quarterback.

Watson is currently facing 22 civil cases stemming from a number of different women accusing him of sexual misconduct and harassment in recent years. The 25-year-old’s attorney has suggested every claim is false and he intends to prove that in court.

Lawyers involved in the case discussed a settlement in May but talks broke down and there have been no recent signs of the two parties reconvening in the near future. Rusty Hardin, who represents Watson, most recently said he intends to prove his client’s innocence in court.

It’s an ordeal the National Football League is watching very closely. The NFL launched an investigation in March and Watson is also facing a criminal investigation. But with a deposition not set to begin until Feb. 22, 2022, some analysts believe this could prolong Watson’s absence from the field.

“If you look at the timeline on this, barring a drastic sea change, Deshaun Watson will not be playing in an NFL game until the very minimum 2023. That’s the earliest. How did I get to that point? He’s going to be put on the Commissioner’s Exempt List – that’s going to happen likely in the next month before training camp opens up.”

FOX Sports Radio’s Ben Maller on potential timeline for Deshaun Watson return

Ben Maller isn’t the only one who thinks this ordeal could stretch into 2022, keeping Watson sidelined for more than a year as he goes through a legal battle. NFL insider John Clayton echoed similar thinking with the situation.

“As has been reported, Watson won’t be deposed until Feb. 22, 2022. The court systems in Houston are so slow that the next step won’t happen until right after the Super Bowl. Maller projects that trials won’t start until May of 2022. Even though Watson could try to look to settle the cases, his attorney says that won’t happen. The cases could go through June and July of next year.”

NFL insider John Clayton (H/T Denver Fan)

The NFL can suspend a player without the legal process deciding discipline is warranted. However, the league likely won’t step in until it gains further clarity on Watson’s legal issues. Given the league hasn’t even interviewed him yet, which may not happen for months, this period of uncertainty could stretch deep into the fall.

A desire to get back on the field quickly would create an incentive for Watson to settle, but it would also leave uncertainty about whether or not he is innocent. If he wants to fight the civil suits, he almost certainly won’t be playing football in 2021.

Will Deshaun Watson get paid in 2021?

The first action the NFL will take should come in a few weeks. With training camp approaching and the inquiry still in the early stages, Deshaun Watson is headed for the Commissioner’s Exempt List.

Under NFL rules, Watson will not be allowed to be at the Texans’ facilities and he is banned from taking part in any team activities. However, given he demanded a trade in January, staying away from the Texans isn’t an issue.

Watson had the choice to opt-out of the 2021 NFL season, but he doesn’t need to. For as long as he is on the exempt list, he will still receive his salary for the upcoming season.

  • Deshaun Watson contract: $1054 million base salary in 2021, $5.4 million bonus

There was once increasing confidence that Watson would play this season for another NFL team. But it’s evident this saga isn’t close to a resolution, which means a suspension won’t even be handed down in the near future. Entering the summer, the odds are against Watson taking an NFL snap this year.

What should the Houston Texans do with Deshaun Watson?