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.
Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff said that wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is his go-to receiver. "I'm looking for him when things break down, and I'm looking for him when we need a play. Right now, he's that guy," Goff said. In his rookie year in 2021, St. Brown emerged as the Lions best receiver, catching 90 of his 119 targets for 912 yards and five touchdowns in 17 games (nine starts). The 22-year-old should remain a big part of Detroit's offense this year, but there will be some more competition for targets, namely DJ Chark, who has looked good in training camp. Rookie first-rounder Jameson Williams (knee), might not be ready for the start of the year, but he'll eventually have a role as well. St. Brown should still have big games, but he might not be the target hog he was in 2021. Target him as a WR3 in fantasy football drafts.
Dynasty | There have been no substantial talks between the Vikings and Alexander Mattison in terms of a contract extension. Dynasty Analysis: Mattison has always fared very well as the backup to Dalvin Cook, but it seems Minnesota is unwilling to pay two different running backs big contracts. While Mattison wouldn't cost nearly as much as Cook, it would be easy to argue he'd be a better value. Regardless, it looks like Mattison may end up as a free agent at the end of the season and he'd be in line for a nice value increase should that come to fruition.
Dynasty | Damien Harris could be traded ahead of roster cuts, according to Sports Illustrated. Dynasty Analysis: Any ticket out of New England would be good for Harris, who is stuck in Patriot purgatory, sharing a backfield with the likes of Rhamondre Stevenson, James White, Ty Montgomery, Pierre Strong, JJ Taylor, and Kevin Harris. There's simply no way the Pats can keep everyone in this group and it appears they've soured on Harris, our RB32. If Harris stays, expect his value to dip even further. Dynasty managers should be hoping for a deal.
Free-agent cornerback Deandre Baker worked out for the Cardinals on Wednesday. Baker was selected in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Giants and finished his rookie year with 61 total tackles (48 solo) and eight passes defensed. However, after he was charged with four counts of armed robbery in May 2020, New York opted to part ways with him. The charges were eventually dropped, and he went on to appear in 10 games for the Chiefs over the last two seasons before being released in August of 2022. Nonetheless, Baker has proven he has more than enough to play at the professional level. Yet, even if he ends up signing with the Cardinals, he may not receive enough playing time to become a viable IDP fantasy option.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Julio Jones has already established a rapport with Tom Brady. During Wednesday's joint practice session with the Miami Dolphins, the duo continued to look in sync, with Brady connecting with Jones on a well-placed deep ball. Fantasy managers were undoubtedly let down by the veteran wideout over the last few years. However, with arguably the greatest signal-caller ever targeting Jones throughout the season, he should have more than enough chances to get back on track, despite guys like Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, and Leonard Fournette looking to stay involved.
New England Patriots running back Damien Harris is rumored to be on the block. The Pats are reportedly taking calls, and it comes after the 25-year-old finished the 2021-22 campaign with 929 yards and 15 touchdowns off 202 attempts. If Harris does remain in New England, he's expected to share touches with Rhamondre Stevenson, which won't do his fantasy outlook any favors. However, if the Alabama alum gets traded, Stevenson's fantasy value should increase significantly, especially with James White (hip) still on the shelf.
Free-agent wide receiver Chris Lacy inked a deal with the Raiders on Wednesday. Lacy was introduced to the NFL after the Patriots signed him in 2018. After being waived, he went on to suit up for the Lions, where he appeared in eight unproductive games over two seasons. Since then, he has made stops in Dallas and Chicago. Nonetheless, it's unknown if the 26-year-old will be on the roster come Week 1. However, even if he is, he isn't expected to do much to benefit fantasy managers.
The Saints released running back Malcolm Brown on Wednesday, only a few weeks after inking a contract with the team. The 29-year-old played his first six years in the league with the Rams, finishing with 11 touchdowns during that span. However, after signing a one-year deal with Miami last offseason, he went on to play just seven games for the Dolphins before landing on injured reserve. Brown is a capable runner, so he may draw interest from other teams throughout the NFL. Still, even if he signs with another club this season, he's not expected to receive enough touches to make any noise on the fantasy end.
Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson isn't expected to play during the preseason opener versus Dallas. "I don't think so," responded head coach Nathaniel Hackett when asked if the multi-time Pro Bowler would suit up on Saturday. Considering Wilson has been in the league since 2012, Broncos fans may not see him on the field until Week 1 for the Monday Night Football showdown against his former team, the Seattle Seahawks. Josh Johnson and Brett Rypien are currently listed behind Wilson on the depth chart, so they'll likely get more than enough work to warrant DFS consideration.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Matt Ryan will start during Saturday's preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills. The veteran, who was traded by the Atlanta Falcons in March, could see up to a quarter of action, according to head coach Frank Reich, giving him more than enough upside in DFS formats. It will also offer fantasy managers a glimpse at how Ryan captains the Colts' offense.
Philadelphia Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni said the plan is for quarterback Jalen Hurts and the starters to play one or two offensive series in the preseason opener on Friday night against the New York Jets. The Eagles will be without left tackles Jason Kelce (elbow) and Jordan Mailata (concussion), but Hurts will play anyway. Second-year receiver DeVonta Smith (groin) is unlikely to play after missing his fifth straight training camp practice on Wednesday. There remain concerns about whether Hurts can improve as a passer, but the Eagles are expected to pass more with No. 1 wideout A.J. Brown now in town, and Hurts has top-five fantasy upside at the position after finishing the 2021 season as the QB10.
The Philadelphia Eagles signed former North Texas running back Deandre Torrey after his workout on Wednesday, according to a source. Torrey will be added to a running back room in training camp that already includes Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott, Jason Huntley and rookie Kennedy Brooks. In his final season in college, Torrey had 1,329 scrimmage yards and 14 total touchdowns, but his size (5-foot-7, 195 pounds) likely led to him being passed up in this year's NFL draft. He'll simply hope to impress the rest of camp in order to win a spot on the team's practice squad entering the regular season.
Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor confirmed on Wednesday that quarterback Joe Burrow (appendix) won't play in the team's preseason opener on Friday against the Arizona Cardinals. Burrow remains without a timetable to return to training camp after undergoing an appendectomy on July 26. However, he was seen making some light throws at practice on Monday. It wouldn't be a surprise if the 25-year-old didn't suit up at all in the preseason, but he is fully expected to be ready for Week 1 of the regular season. After leading a talented Bengals offense all the way to the Super Bowl in just his second NFL season, Burrow will be a strong QB1 target in fantasy football.
Indianapolis Colts offensive tackles Matt Pryor and Bernhard Raimann are battling for the starting left tackle job this summer after the team moved on from veteran Eric Fisher. Neither player is an ideal candidate for the left tackle spot, as Pryor has never been a full-time left tackle and Raimann is a rookie. Pryor is getting the first-team repetitions and has held up fine, while Raimann is off to a slow start in training camp. Pror isn't as agile as Raimann, but at 6-foot-7, 332 pounds, he has power. The offensive line has been a strength of the Colts in recent years, but the left tackle spot could be an issue for this offense and quarterback Matt Ryan.
Green Bay Packers rookie second-round wide receiver Christian Watson (knee) continues to be sidelined at training camp as he recovers from offseason knee surgery. With Watson sidelined, rookie fourth-rounder Romeo Doubs has really stepped up in practices and has impressed quarterback Aaron Rodgers will consistent "wow" plays. The Packers are hoping to get Watson back on the field next week, but he's missing crucial repetitions to gain chemistry with Rodgers, who is notorious for being hard on rookie pass-catchers. The 23-year-old still has time to get ready before the start of the regular season, but all the time missed so far makes it more likely that he won't be a consistent producer early in the 2022 season.
The Chicago Bears removed linebacker Roquan Smith from the Physically Unable to Perform list on Wednesday. Smith has requested a trade and is holding in during training camp due to contractual issues, and he's not expected to begin practicing despite coming off the PUP list. It remains to be seen if the Bears trade him or give him a long-term contract extension before the 2022 regular season. Either way, the 25-year-old will be in play as the first linebacker off the board in IDP fantasy drafts. In 17 games for the Bears last year, he had a career-high 163 tackles (95 solo), three sacks, 12 tackles for loss, four QB hits, an interception returned for a touchdown and three passes defensed to finish as the No. 4 fantasy linebacker.
New England Patriots second-year quarterback Mac Jones and the offense continue to struggle in training camp this summer. The defense has far outplayed the offense so far in camp, and The Athletic's Chad Graff thinks it's fair to be worried about the offense heading into the 2022 season. ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss thinks it wouldn't be a surprise if Jones doesn't play in the preseason opener on Thursday night against the New York Giants based on practices this week. The Patriots are replacing offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who held the position for the last decade. It's still early, but neither the running game nor the passing game has gotten going. It's not great news for the fantasy stock of anyone in this offense, including Jones, who should be viewed as a low-end QB2 in 2022.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson is scheduled to start the team's preseason opener on Friday night against the Jacksonville Jaguars, along with most of the rest of the starters, as long as he isn't suspended indefinitely by then. The NFL has appealed Watson's six-game suspended, which was handed down by Sue L. Robinson, and they are pushing for a season-long suspension for violating the league's personal-conduct policy. The 26-year-old wouldn't be allowed to practice during training camp or play in preseason games if he's given a year-long ban. Watson has been accused of sexual misconduct by 30 massage therapists during appointments in 2019 and 2020, when he was with the Houston Texans. At the very least, Watson will be suspended for six games in 2022, making him more of a low-end QB2 target in fantasy drafts.
Indianapolis Colts running back Nyheim Hines has been hyped up all offseason as the Colts look to get him more involved in the passing attack in 2022. According to ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler, Indy expects at least 60 receptions from Hines. The 25-year-old has caught 63 passes in a season twice, including his rookie year in 2018. His total of 40 catches for 310 yards and one touchdown were all career-lows, but the addition of quarterback Matt Ryan should change that. Jonathan Taylor will remain the team's bell-cow back on early downs for good reason, but the Colts will use Hines plenty as a pass-catcher, making him an intriguing RB3/4 with upside in point-per-reception fantasy leagues. For what it's worth, head coach Frank Reich recommends picking up Hines in fantasy drafts.
Denver Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett said that running back Melvin Gordon III (foot) is dealing with a foot injury that the team is managing. As a result, he didn't take part in training camp practice on Wednesday. Gordon's injury doesn't seem very serious at all, so it shouldn't be anything to worry about with the team's first preseason game coming this Saturday. The 29-year-old re-signed with Denver this offseason, to the disappointment of Javonte Williams backers, and the new coaching staff is expected to once again use the two backs in tandem in 2022. Williams is the more explosive back and should be considered the 1A in this backfield, but Gordon remains a thorn in his side. At best, Gordon will be an RB3/flex and handcuff for those that roster Williams.