Agent’s opinion: The economic ramifications of Deshaun Watson’s 11-game suspension


The NFL and the NFLPA reached a settlement Thursday regarding Browns strategist Deshaun Watson discipline for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Watson is suspended for Cleveland’s first 11 regular season games without pay and fined $5 million. He must also undergo a mandatory evaluation by behavioral experts and follow their treatment plan.

The settlement is the final resolution of the disciplinary process, ending the NFLThe appeal of the six-game suspension without fine that Sue L. Robinson, jointly appointed by the NFL and the NFLPA, had imposed on Watson. Robinson found Watson in violation by engaging in sexual assault, conduct that poses a real danger to another person’s safety and well-being, and conduct that impairs or endangers the integrity of the NFL. in its 16-page decision. The settlement prohibits the NFLPA from pursuing legal remedies through the federal court system.

Prior to the settlement, the NFL had requested an indefinite suspension where Watson could seek reinstatement after one year from Peter C. Harvey, who had been selected by Commissioner Roger Goodell to handle the appeal. The 11-game ban is the longest suspension ever imposed under the Personal Conduct Policy for sexual misconduct. What is unknown is whether Robinson’s mandate that Watson’s massage therapy be limited to team-approved massage therapists for the remainder of his career remains. Watson’s punishment is consistent with what the NFL was looking for in settlement talks that took place before Robinson’s decision. The NFLPA rejected the NFL’s offer of a 12-game suspension and a $10 million fine.

Watson’s suspension takes effect August 30 when the final roster reduction to 53 players takes place for NFL teams. Under the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, Watson will be allowed to return to team facilities and participate in limited activities during the second half of a suspension on similar terms as players suspended under the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances. On October 10, the day after the Browns’ Week 5 contest against the Chargers, his permitted activities will include attending team meetings, training one-on-one with Browns strength and conditioning coach, meeting one-on-one with Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt and quarterbacks coach Drew Petzing and Browns treatment/rehabilitation. medical staff and trainers. Watson will be able to train during the final two weeks of the suspension beginning Nov. 14. The suspension will be lifted on November 28. Watson will be eligible to play in the Browns’ Week 13 game against the TexasWatson’s former team on December 4. His return will be in Week 13 instead of Week 12 because Cleveland has a Week 9 bye.

Many other NFL teams believe the five-year, fully guaranteed, $230 million deal Watson signed in March as part of his trade with the Texans was structured to minimize the financial consequences of suspension. Unpaid refers to base pay with suspensions. Watson received a signing bonus of $44.965 million and his 2022 base salary is $1.035 million, his league minimum base salary in the deal. He loses $632,500 (or 11/18ths of his base salary of $1.035 million in 2022) since he earns $57,500 each of the 18 weeks of the regular season.

The Browns will receive $632,500 in relief from the 2022 base salary cap that Watson will not earn due to the suspension. Presumably, the $57,500 off Week 9 will be treated as suspensions under the NFL’s substance abuse policy. He is expected to be paid in equal installments over the remainder of the season after Watson serves his suspension. Watson’s contract does not count with his 11-game suspension. His contract years will run as scheduled, meaning his contract ends after the 2026 season. His salary caps from 2023 to 2026 will each remain at $54.993 million ($46 million base salary and $8.993 as a prorated signing bonus).

Had it not been for a settlement where Harvey granted Watson the one-year suspension the NFL was seeking, his contract would have taken a toll. Essentially, Watson’s contract would have been frozen and resumed in 2023 with toll. His 2022 contract year would have become his 2023 contract year and the additional years of the contract would also have been pushed back a year. Instead of Watson’s contract expiring after the 2026 season, it would have ended after 2027. 2026 would have remained intact.

None of Watson’s $44.935 million in signing bonuses are at risk, thanks to contract language. Watson’s salary guarantees will not be canceled either. Contractual warranties are generally void for an exhaustive list of player defects. In the event of cancellation, the player would still have the opportunity to earn the salary that is no longer guaranteed on a non-guaranteed basis.

The relevant language regarding Watson’s signing bonus is as follows:

“…a suspension by the NFL solely in connection with matters disclosed to the Club in writing pursuant to paragraph 42 which results in the Player’s unavailability to the Club solely for games during NFL League Years 2022 or 2023 shall not subject not the Player to forfeiture of the Signing Bonus.”

Without that language, the Browns would have been entitled to ask Watson for an eighteenth of the $8.993 million in signing bonuses awarded to the 2022 salary cap for each week of the 18-week regular season missed with the 11-week suspension. matches. The Browns reportedly had the option of recovering $5,495,722 (or 11/18ths of $8.993 million) from Watson.

The relevant language preventing Watson’s warranties from being voided is below:

“…this will not constitute a failure or refusal to train or play with the Club and the Player will not be in default if: … (iii) the Player is suspended solely in relation to matters communicated to the Club in writing pursuant to paragraph 42, resulting in the Player’s unavailability to the Club only for games in the 2022 or 2023 years of the NFL League.”

The language is important because it prevents the Browns from potentially exiting the contract without massive cap consequences due to known misconduct prior to the trade. In other words, the Browns can’t get out of the deal because of charges stemming from the suspension of the personal conduct policy. Practically speaking, the Browns would not have if possible at the start of the contract after giving up 2022, 2023 and 2024 first-round picks, a 2022 fourth-round pick, a 2023 third-round pick and a fourth-round pick. 2024 round. pick to get Watson and a sixth-round pick in 2024.

The suspension ends a 17-month ordeal that will not be easily forgotten. Watson’s continued assertion of innocence on Thursday despite Robinson calling his conduct predatory and “more egregious than any previously reviewed by the NFL” is overwhelmingly viewed as disappointing. Last week’s apology rings hollow and appears to be something he did specifically so a settlement could be reached.

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