The NFL insisted on an indefinite suspension while Deshaun Watson’s legal team argued there’s no basis for that punishment as both sides presented their cases in front of a retired judge in Delaware on Tuesday, two people in attendance told the Associated Press.
The hearing will continue on Wednesday and Watson is scheduled to be there for the duration, according to one person who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Former U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson, who was jointly appointed by the league and the NFL Players Association, will determine whether Watson violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy and whether to impose discipline.
Watson agreed to settle 20 of 24 civil lawsuits filed by massage therapists for sexual misconduct, but the league is seeking at least a one-year suspension, one of the people told the AP. Watson’s side, led by renowned attorneys Jeffrey Kessler and Rusty Hardin, wants the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback to play this season for Cleveland.
Two separate Texas grand juries declined to indict Watson on criminal complaints stemming from the allegations. Watson has denied any wrongdoing and vowed to clear his name.
This is the first hearing for Robinson, who was the first woman Chief Judge for the District of Delaware. Previously, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had the authority to impose discipline for violations of the personal conduct policy.
If either the union or league appeals Robinson’s decision, Goodell or his designee “will issue a written decision that will constitute full, final and complete disposition of the dispute,” per terms of Article 46 in the collective bargaining agreement.
That means Goodell could ultimately overrule Robinson’s decision and give Watson one year or even an indefinite suspension due to the potential for more cases.
The NFL has punished several players for violating the league’s personal conduct policy without criminal charges. In 2010, Ben Roethlisberger received a six-game suspension after being accused of sexual assault by two women. Goodell later reduced the suspension to four games. Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was banned six games in 2017 for domestic violence incidents.
On Monday, a woman who previously sued Watson filed a lawsuit against the Texans, alleging his former team provided him with resources to enable his actions and “turned a blind eye” to his behavior.
It’s unknown how long it will take Robinson to make a decision, but the Browns should know Watson’s availability before training camp. NFL discipline typically begins the week leading into the first regular-season game, so Watson would be eligible for camp unless a potential punishment stipulates otherwise. The Browns traded a slew of draft picks to acquire Watson and gave him a five-year, $230 million guaranteed contract in March.