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.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett is on track to be under center come Week 1 of the regular season and that transition will officially take place during the practices of the upcoming week. Head coach Kevin Stefanski announced Saturday that Brissett would supplant the suspended Deshaun Watson as the first-team signal caller, with under a month to go until the Browns meet the Panthers. The 29-year-old Brissett has started 37 games over six NFL seasons, doing so for three different teams. While his production has never leaped off the page from a fantasy perspective, his being under center is likely indicative of the heavy reliance that Cleveland will have on its star-studded rushing game. For the time being, Brissett is set for a six-game stint as the team's starting quarterback.
Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor is not on track to suit up for the team's preseason-opening contest vs. Buffalo on Saturday. Taylor, arguably the league's premier fantasy asset, has emerged as a star rusher, while head coach Frank Reich has attempted to keep his back in prime condition for the grind of a full season. There is little incentive for the Colts to utilize Taylor during the preseason, especially after he led the league in carries (332), rushing yards (1,811), rushing touchdowns (18) and yards from scrimmage (2,171) last year. Without him in the mix, those monitoring Indy's preseason reps can look to Nyheim Hines, Phillip Lindsay and Ty'Son Williams to see the vast majority of backfield carries. Taylor's next opportunity to suit up comes against Detroit next Saturday.
Cleveland Browns center Nick Harris (knee) is suspected to have endured a season-ending knee injury during Friday's preseason game against Jacksonville, per Adam Schefter of ESPN. Harris, who was carted off the field Friday night, was set to be the team's starting center, with his injury paving the way for Ethan Pocic to take over. A fifth-round selection by Cleveland in the 2020 NFL Draft out of Washington, knee and hamstring injuries had previously saddled Harris in his first two pro seasons. The 23-year-old started one game in both '20 and '21, appearing in 23 contests during that span. How much of the Browns' offense shakes out remains to be seen in the wake of Deshaun Watson's current six-game suspension, but Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt should remain focal points even with the o-line taking a sizable blow.
Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Wyatt Hubert announced his retirement from the NFL on Saturday, citing his "physical health" as the primary reason for him stepping away. Hubert was selected in the seventh round of the 2021 NFL Draft and sustained a torn pectoral muscle during the offseason, which prevented him from appearing in any game action during his rookie year. Hubert, a Kansas native, played collegiately for Kansas State, where he was a two-time First-team All-Big 12 selection. The Bengals defense remains a middle-of-the-pack unit for the upcoming '22 season.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has previously stated that he would like to suit up for preseason games, but during media availability Saturday, he confirmed that he's not sure if the team will have him under center before Week 1 of the regular season. Jackson saw his 2021 year come to an end due to an ankle injury, but the former MVP is preparing for another potentially electric season, despite some new faces around him on offense. Beyond Jackson on the depth chart is Tyler Huntley, who went 16-for-18 through the air in the team's preseason-opening victory. Keeping Jackson on the sidelines is largely a precaution to prevent against injury, but the signal caller has also been engaged in contract negotiations with the franchise, which have not yet resulted in a long-term agreement.
Baltimore Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins (knee) has been held out of practice Saturday as the team continues to exercise caution in reinserting him to the mix. Head coach John Harbaugh recently admitted that Dobbins isn't a surefire option for the team out of the backfield in Week 1 as he makes his way back from a torn ACL that knocked him out for the entire 2021 campaign. The expectation is for Dobbins to rejoin practice Monday. Fellow running back Gus Edwards (knee) is also a question mark for Week 1, but Dobbins would be the bell cow of the Baltimore backfield if cleared. After compiling 805 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground as a rookie in '21, Dobbins would be a strong RB2 option in most fantasy formats, even coming off the injury. For now, Mike Davis, Nate McCrary and Justice Hill figure to all factor prominently into the Ravens' rushing game plans.
The Trey Lance Era has officially arrived in San Francisco ahead of the 2022 season. Lance utilized the first two drives of the team's preseason opener against the Packers on Friday to showcase his dual threat abilities, finishing 4-for-5 through the air for 92 yards and a touchdown, while also adding a seven-yard rush to his total. All in all, it was two drives with Lance under center, two scores (one field goal, one touchdown). While Lance did make two starts last year while Jimmy Garoppolo was injured, the third overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft holds the keys to the offense now. His rushing ability on top of his deft deep ball touch makes him a tantalizing QB1 option in redraft formats, while his age and upside make him a potential cornerstone of keepers formats. His next preseason action comes next Saturday vs. Minnesota.
The Carolina Panthers made waves when they announced Baker Mayfield as the team's starting quarterback for Saturday's preseason opener against Washington, and then did so again when it was announced Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore would be inactive for the contest. McCaffrey has been bothered by myriad injuries over the past few seasons, lending to the Panthers attempting to keep him fresh heading into Week 1 of the regular season. Moore's absence is also likely a byproduct of Carolina attempting to keep key playmakers healthy for the season ahead, even though fewer reps alongside Mayfield may make some fantasy managers trepidatious about the wideout's ceiling entering 2022. The duo's next chance to suit up comes Friday vs. the Patriots.
New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson is set to be sidelined for the next 2-4 weeks by a bone bruise and meniscus tear in his right knee, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. Wilson left Friday's preseason contest against the Eagles due to the injury and was in significant pain prior to his departure. Initially, there were concerns that Wilson may be facing a long-term absence, but the team remains optimistic that their 23-year-old signal caller will be back in the fold soon. Joe Flacco and Mike White remain the team's top two internal candidates to start under center if Wilson isn't cleared by Week 1, with Flacco having sizable intrigue due to the matchup with Baltimore, a franchise he led to a Super Bowl in 2012.
Dynasty | Rookie running back Jerome Ford scored once as a rusher and again as a receiver in his first action of the pre-season. Dynasty Analysis: Ford rushed for 57 yards on 10 carries, though a majority of his yardage came from 41-yard scamper. He also reeled in 4-of-5 as a receiver, scoring another touchdown. Found as DLF's rookie RB13, Ford hasn't gone unnoticed by the dynasty community even as the team's projected third back behind starters Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. In fact, with Chubb's name starting to percolate as a "sell now" asset and Hunt possibly not in the team's long term plans, Ford could rise quickly under the right circumstances. With an NFL profile, Jerome Ford is a well-valued acquisition target for patient dynasty coaches.
Jets quarterback Zach Wilson exited the team's first preseason game following a non-contact knee injury. Word is he has a bone bruise and meniscus tear and is expected to miss 2-4 weeks. Wilson will undergo arthroscopic surgery to address and correct the injury. The Jets consider this fortunate news.
Dynasty | Packers quarterback Jordan Love had an up-and-down game in the team's first preseason action. Dynasty Analysis: Head coach Matt LeFleur removed Love from blame on two of the three interceptions citing multiple factors but, regardless, Love's performance was inconsistent at best. The third-year quarterback also threw two touchdowns, including one to surging rookie receiver Romeo Doubs, and amassed 176 passing yards in the loss. It's Love's first preseason action on his way to what is expected to be very few snaps in 2022. Unranked on DLF, Jordan Love is no better than a free agent stash in deep-roster formats.
Dynasty | Packers rookie receiver Romeo Doubs secured his first touchdown in the Packers first preseason contest vs. the 49ers. Dynasty Analysis: Doubs totaled 45 yards on 3-of-7 receiving, including the first touchdown of his career. This wouldn't normally be news noteworthy but given that Doubs is a candidate as the fastest rising rookie of 2022, the performance is certain to keep social media buzzing. Doubs, DLF's WR102, continues to see uplift in his dynasty value and will be one to watch as the preseason continues to unfold.
Dynasty | 49ers quarterback Trey Lance was solid in limited snaps in the team's first action of the preseason Dynasty Analysis: Lance totaled 92 yards on 4-of-5 passing, highlighted by a 76 yard touchdown to rookie Danny Gray in the first quarter. Other than that, Lance's performance was nondescript but was generally a positive first game. Lance will continue to be a hot item to watch as the preseason unfolds and is found as DLF's QB8, showing that the dynasty community holds high expectations for the second-year player.
Dynasty | Flacons rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder was solid in his first preseason action Dynasty Analysis: It was a good first performance for the rookie who was often off-target on his way to 103 yards and two touchdowns on 10-of-22 passing. At the same time, he was interception free and also displayed mobility, rushing for 59 yards on six attempts. Marcus Mariota is entrenched as the starter but all eyes remain on Ridder and it will be no surprise to see the rookie see time under-center if the team gets off to a slow start to begin the season. Ridder is listed as DLF's QB30, displaying that Mariota is only believed to be a short-term placeholder.
Dynasty | 49ers sophomore running back Elijah Mitchell is nursing a hamstring injury and likely won't see action in the preseason Dynasty Analysis: It's yet another new injury for Mitchell who carries high expectations from the dynasty community. At the same time, Mitchell has shown less durability than desired and his RB22 status won't rise until he shows he can remain off the trainer's table. Following knee surgery earlier this year, the hope was for Mitchell to build momentum into the regular season, but now the hamstring injury fuels further concern about the team's deployment of a true RBBC approach. Mitchell has fine upside should he handle the lion's share of the touches but the team has a deep stable of runners and appears ready to use them all.
San Francisco 49ers running back Elijah Mitchell (hamstring) is expected to miss the entire preseason. Mitchell has been limited during training camp while he recovers from knee surgery. This hamstring issue is a new problem that will probably sideline him until Week 1. Fantasy managers could see Mitchell limited to begin the season, but this shouldn't be a long term problem. Trey Sermon, Tyrion Davis-Price, and Jeff Wilson Jr. will split up the reps until Mitchell is back on the field.
Cincinnati Bengals kicker Evan McPherson doesn't appear to have lost a step heading into the 2022 campaign. The fifth-round kicker had a surprising breakout campaign last season. Now, there is more pressure on McPherson with everyone watching as he has become one of the more reliable kickers in the game. On Friday, McPherson connected on all three of his field goal attempts in the preseason loss to the Arizona Cardinals. His long on the day was a 58-yarder, so he appears to be in mid-season form. It looks like McPherson is going to be one of the better kicking options in fantasy leagues once again.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield will make the start under center during Saturday's preseason matchup against the Washington Commanders. It sounds like Mayfield will play the first series before Sam Darnold takes over. The two of them have been splitting up the reps during training camp. Right now, it appears Mayfield has the edge over Darnold, but things can quickly change. Fantasy managers shouldn't be too interested in who wins this competition. Whoever it is will likely be a low-end QB2 most weeks anyway. It's tough to imagine either quarterback taking the next step and becoming a star this season.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jake Browning completed 13-of-24 passes for 190 yards and gained 14 rushing yards on four carries in Friday's preseason 36-23 loss against the Arizona Cardinals. He saw extended action on Friday after a concussion knocked Brandon Allen out of the game. The 26-year-old averaged 7.9 yards per attempt but didn't lead the Bengals offense to their first touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter. If Allen misses any regular season games, Browning could be Cincinnati's top backup quarterback to Joe Burrow.