Fri Jul 1 7:23pm ET
By ROB MAADDI
AP Pro Football Writer
Now that Deshaun Watson's disciplinary hearing has concluded, the best solution for the NFL and the quarterback's legal team is to reach a settlement before retired judge Sue Robinson issues a decision.
Watson was accused of sexual misconduct by 24 women and has settled 20 of the civil lawsuits. Two separate Texas grand juries declined to indict Watson on criminal complaints stemming from the allegations.
A settlement between the NFL and Watson would avoid an appeal that undermines the collectively bargained process with a disciplinary officer and prevents a potential federal court case. The longer the process drags on, the uglier it can get for the league and the QB.
The NFL is insisting on a suspension of at least one year and Watson's team has argued there is no basis for that punishment, four people with knowledge of the case, including two who were present during the hearings, told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because details of the three-day proceedings were not publicly released.
Holding firm leaves little wiggle room for a settlement agreement and both sides are sticking to their strong positions.
Robinson, a former U.S. District Judge who was jointly appointed by the league and the NFL Players' Association, will decide whether Watson violated the NFL's personal conduct policy and whether to impose discipline - and most importantly, how severe. Both sides believe she will impose a suspension. The question is how many games and whether either side would appeal her decision, putting it back in NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's hands.
When a person familiar with Watson's defense team was asked what would be an acceptable suspension, the person told the AP: ''Our goal is to get him back on the field this year.''
A 6-8 game suspension would fulfill that goal and allow Watson to play for the Cleveland Browns in 2022. So would 10 games, for that matter.
But then the next question is what's acceptable for the NFL. The league is well aware of public perception. Fallout from its decision in the Ray Rice case in 2014 (in which the league increased its suspension only after video of Rice hitting his fiance emerged) led the NFL to vow it would levy harsher penalties in cases involving violence and sexual assault against women.
A person familiar with the hearing told the AP the league believes it presented sufficient evidence to warrant keeping Watson off the field this season. The person said the league's investigation determined Watson committed multiple violations of the personal conduct policy.
If Robinson doesn't impose a suspension suitable to the NFL, the league still has the power to do so on its own. Per terms of Article 46 in the collective bargaining agreement, Goodell or his designee ''will issue a written decision that will constitute full, final and complete disposition of the dispute,'' if either side appeals.
However, Watson's team could try to challenge a Goodell ruling in federal court.
That's another reason a settlement is the best way to resolve the dispute.
But it's unclear how many games the NFL would view as an acceptable number. The league can continue to insist on a one-year suspension but that's an obstacle to a mutually beneficial settlement.
There are varying opinions within the NFL.
Some league staffers didn't want Watson on the field for OTAs and minicamp after the Browns acquired him in a blockbuster trade with Houston. They want him to express remorse in his actions and willingly seek counseling before it's mandated through the disciplinary process.
But Goodell didn't exercise his right to place Watson on the Commissioner's Exempt list because the league typically uses that designation to prevent players from suiting up for games.
With the NFL and Watson's legal team on opposite ends of the suspension spectrum, and seemingly far apart in any private negotiations, a settlement may not be an option.
In which case, Robinson will make the first call - which may not be the final verdict.
Dallas Cowboys CB Jourdan Lewis (hamstring) will miss the rest of the preseason because of a hamstring injury. The team hopes he will be ready for the start of the regular season.
New England Patriots wide receiver Kendrick Bourne won't suit up for Friday's second preseason matchup against the Carolina Panthers. The 27-year-old has already been kicked out of one practice for fighting. Also, Bourne has been seen running with the second-team offense during practice. Now, he's inactive for this contest, which isn't a good look for Bourne. Last season, he finished with 55 receptions, 800 receiving yards, and five touchdowns in 17 games. The Patriots haven't done much to upgrade at wideout this offseason. The assumption is that Bourne would still have a significant role, but possibly he has fallen on the depth chart.
Cincinnati Bengals defensive back Cam Taylor-Britt underwent core muscle surgery and will miss the rest of training camp, according to head coach Zac Taylor. It's uncertain if Taylor-Britt will be ready by the beginning of the regular season. Before going down, the rookie corner was competing for a backup spot on the roster. The Bengals selected Taylor-Britt in the second round, so they expect big things from him. He could very well get a decent amount of playing time once he's healthy. The loss of Taylor-Britt won't make a huge impact because of was projected as a backup, but it still hurts.
New York Giants wide receiver Robert Foster (hamstring) has been placed on the injured reserve. The 28-year-old went down in practice and it appears his season is over before it begins. Foster hasn't taken a snap since he played in four games with the Washington Commanders in 2020. He was mainly rotational depth and a special teams player. That being said, the loss of Foster won't mean much for the Giants at wideout. Keelan Doss was expected to get released, but will remain with the team after the injury to Foster. Doss doesn't bring much to the table and is buried at his position, so he can be ignored in fantasy leagues.
The Baltimore Ravens have signed wide receiver Demarcus Robinson to a one-year deal. The 27-year-old was recently cut by the Las Vegas Raiders. Before that, he spent the beginning of his NFL career with the Kansas City Chiefs. He has made a fairly minimal impact by failing to reach 500 receiving yards in any of his six professional seasons. Luckily for Robinson, the Ravens don't have a ton of depth at wideout. He'll likely compete for the No. 4 spot with Tylan Wallace. Possibly, Robinson could have deep league appeal, but can be ignored in most fantasy formats.
Seattle Seahawks QB Geno Smith (knee) suffered a bruised knee during the second preseason game, but head coach Pete Carroll said Smith could have continued playing in the game despite the injury.
Fantasy Spin: It seems like Smith is dealing with a minor injury and may not miss any practice time. He is still considered the favorite for the starting job but can be avoided in most fantasy leagues.
Free-agent WR Demarcus Robinson (Raiders) reportedly agreed to terms on an undisclosed contract with the Baltimore Ravens on Friday, Aug. 19.
Updating a previous report, Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Tom Brady (personal) will return to the team at some point after the team's upcoming preseason game against the Tennessee Titans, according to head coach Todd Bowles. Bowles told reporters Friday, Aug. 19, that he knows Brady exactly when Brady will return to the team following his pre-planned personal absence. 'Do I look worried? I'm not worried, so I don't know why anyone else would be worried. I know exactly when Tom is coming back, and I've consistently said it would be sometime after the Titans game (on Saturday),' Bowles said Friday.
Fantasy Spin: It is only natural that people would wonder about Brady's whereabouts given how much he likes to prepare, but fantasy managers should only care about this story if the 45-year-old is still away from the team at this point next week. Until then, fantasy managers should not hesitate to draft him as a low-end QB1 again with top-five upside in what should once again be a dynamic passing attack.
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp won't play in the team's second preseason game on Friday night against the Houston Texans. Along with Kupp, most of the Rams starters will watch from the sidelines to avoid injury. The 29-year-old made his first Pro Bowl and was named a first-team All-Pro during a special 2021 regular season in which he led the league in catches (145), receiving yards (1,947), touchdowns (16) and yards per game (114.5) in 17 games. It earned him the WR1 title in fantasy, and he'll be a top-three wideout early in upcoming fantasy drafts, even with some questions surrounding quarterback Matthew Stafford's (elbow) health.
Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski is sticking with his plan not to play quarterback Jacoby Brissett in the second preseason game this Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. Deshaun Watson, who has been suspended for 11 games, won't play in either of the team's final two preseason games, so Joshua Dobbs and Josh Rosen will see action this weekend. The 29-year-old Brissett will serve as the Browns' starting QB until Watson is eligible to return in December, and Cleveland will be hoping he can simply manage the offense and keep them competitive in 2022. Already a run-first offense, the Browns will most certainly rely on their ground game as much as they can, making Brissett a low-end QB2 in superflex fantasy formats.
New England Patriots wide receiver Nelson Agholor has been very consistent dating back to organized team activities in the spring, and it seems like he's in a good place as far as grasping the offense and earning quarterback Mac Jones' confidence. Agholor disappointed in his first year with the Pats in 2021, catching only 37 of his 64 targets for 473 yards and three touchdowns in 15 games. There have been reports that he's a trade candidate and he's in a crowded receiving corps alongside Jakobi Meyers, DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne and rookie Tyquan Thornton. However, with a better grasp of the offense in 2022 and with more chemistry with Jones, Agholor could bounce back. Still, he'll probably go undrafted in most standard-sized fantasy leagues.
Cleveland Browns DE Myles Garrett (personal) practiced for the first time all week Friday, Aug. 19, after missing the team's previous four sessions to tend to an ill family member.
Philadelphia Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni said he's not going to get into the extent of running back Miles Sanders' hamstring injury, adding that Sanders has tightness and soreness and that the team is being "precautious with him." Sanders missed another training camp practice on Friday, but it sounds as though this isn't a long-term injury that will cause him to miss the start of the regular season. It's unlikely that the 25-year-old will play this Sunday in the second preseason game against the Cleveland Browns. Sanders had a career-high 5.5 yards per carry in 12 games in 2021, but he failed to find the end zone and will need to hold off Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott in Philly's backfield. Sanders' fantasy stock continues to fall as more of an RB3/flex.
According to Dallas Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones, quarterback Dak Prescott is having the best training camp of his career this summer. "Velocity, his accuracy, the whole thing. Obviously, as the quarterbacks get older, they get better. The good ones do. They get better every year. There's no question in my mind, I think he's had his best training camp he's ever had," Jones said. It's good to hear, but fantasy managers probably aren't considering Prescott an elite QB1 this year with Amari Cooper now in Cleveland and with the Cowboys lacking experienced depth behind No. 1 wideout CeeDee Lamb. But Michael Gallup (knee) will return eventually, and Prescott is still a top-10 fantasy signal-caller.
Indianapolis Colts rookie tight end Jelani Woods looked hesitant early on in training camp and was dropping passes, but he's slowly made progress and the Colts are counting on him to be the third tight end behind starters Mo Alie-Cox and Kylen Granson now that fellow rookie Andrew Ogletree (knee) is done for the season. Indy is throwing a lot at Woods now and will narrow his role during the regular season. He has made strides as a blocker and probably had the best day catching passes on Thursday. The 23-year-old has a massive frame and could be a mismatch down the field, and although he might make an impact here and there in his rookie season, he'll only be an option in the latter rounds of rookie-only fantasy drafts.
No player has flashed more often in Indianapolis Colts training camp than wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. this summer, and the third-year pass-catcher looks primed to break out and build off his 1,000-yard season in 2021. The Detroit Lions didn't have an answer for him all week in two joint practices. With quarterback Matt Ryan under center in 2022, the Colts offense will evolve to more parts of the field, which will help Pittman become a more dynamic weapon. Pittman is unlikely to play in the second preseason game against Detroit, but he's becoming more and more attractive as a fantasy receiver with WR1 upside this season. As of right now, the Colts receiver pecking order appears to be Pittman, rookie Alec Pierce, Parris Campbell and Ashton Dulin.
The Athletic's Zak Keefer gets the sense that the Indianapolis Colts kicking job is Rodrigo Blankenship's to lose in training camp. Jake Verity missed an extra point in the preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills, which is close to a death knell in a kicking competition. Blankenship went 5-for-5 and hit a 55-yarder in Wednesday's practice, while Verity went 4-for-5 and badly missed his 55-yard attempt. Barring a collapse, Blankenship will be the team's Week 1 kicker. The 25-year-old played in only five games in 2021 due to a hip injury. With Indianapolis' offense looking to have a higher ceiling with quarterback Matt Ryan under center, Blankenship is worth a look as a low-end kicking option in fantasy leagues.
Philadelphia Eagles running back Boston Scott (head) has returned to the practice field. The 27-year-old missed over a week of practice due to a concussion. Luckily, he is back on the field and competing in practice. Last season, Scott finished for 373 yards with a career-high seven touchdowns through 16 games with the Eagles. Despite that, he'll probably end up as the third string behind Kenneth Gainwell and Miles Sanders. Honestly, this seems like a frustrating situation all around. The Eagles could very well use a committee approach in the backfield. Scott might only have deep league value, but that could quickly change with an injury.
Carolina Panthers quarterback P.J. Walker has been named the starter for the second preseason matchup against the New England Patriots. This is an odd move with Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield battling it out for the starting gig. The Panthers are reportedly playing their second and third string players against New England. The organization has not named a starter for Week 1 yet. The expectation is that it will be Mayfield against his former team. Walker will likely fall into the third string role for Carolina, but might still see some snaps. Regardless, it's tough to imagine him having fantasy value with Darnold and Mayfield healthy.
New York Jets quarterback Joe Flacco has reportedly been on fire during training camp, according to Zack Rosenblatt. The veteran quarterback completed 10 straight passes during 11-on-11 practice. Overall, Flacco finished the day 14-of-17 with four touchdowns, all of them came in the red zone. It's uncertain if Zach Wilson (knee) will be ready in time for Week 1. That being said, the Jets will likely start the season with Flacco under center. Honestly, Flacco might be a better fantasy option than Wilson, but fantasy managers shouldn't get too excited. The 37-year-old is probably only worth a look in superflex leagues.