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.
New England Patriots wide receivers Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, DeVante Parker and rookie Tyquan Thornton have regularly been taking first-team repetitions in training camp. The Patriots think Thornton has earned first-team reps and they want to see how he responds to the increased workload, according to a team source. If Thornton proves himself, the Pats will have too many high-priced receivers, especially since they're mostly expected to use two tight-end sets. A source close to the situation expects one of the team's veteran receivers to be traded or released, and that source thinks Agholor is the prime candidate. He's been productive through two weeks with the offensive schematic changes, but he might be the odd-man out. The best-case scenario for Agholor in fantasy and real life might be a trade out of New England.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mitch Trubisky will start Saturday's preseason opener against the Seattle Seahawks, according to head coach Mike Tomlin. Although Trubisky hasn't really impressed all that much to this point in training camp practices, he remains the favorite to open the regular season as the starter under center for Pittsburgh. Mason Rudolph and rookie first-rounder Kenny Pickett will follow Trubisky in the first preseason game this weekend. The 27-year-old Trubisky will likely play only the first quarter against Seattle. While he'll open the year as the Week 1 starter, what happens after that remains to be seen, and he's unlikely to have a very long leash if he's not playing well early on.
Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel said he's "encouraged" by the idea of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa not playing in the team's preseason opener on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Although the Dolphins have a new coaching staff and new offense under McDaniel this year, it's still pretty typical for NFL teams to rest most of their starters early in the preseason. With a top-two duo of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle now at his disposal in the passing attack, Tagovailoa is expected to take a step forward in Year 3. There's certainly QB1 upside with a game-changing player like Hill now in the fold, but until he proves it, Tagovailoa will be drafted as a QB2 with upside in most fantasy football leagues.
Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich said that quarterback Matt Ryan will play the first quarter of the team's preseason opener on Saturday against the Buffalo Bills. A lot of NFL teams are resting their starters in the first week of preseason action, but the Colts want to see Ryan operate the offense heading into his first season with the team. The 37-year-old has been impressive and decisive so far in training camp practices, and he should be an upgrade over what Carson Wentz gave them in 2021. It's good news for all of the Colts offensive weapons, perhaps most notably running back Nyheim Hines, who the Colts want to get more involved in the short passing game. The Colts will remain a run-first squad with running back Jonathan Taylor around, but Ryan should be a steady QB2 presence for fantasy managers.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles said that quarterback Tom Brady won't be back with the team until after the preseason game against the Tennessee Titans, which is on Aug. 20. Brady wasn't at training camp practice on Thursday for personal, non-football reasons. The 45-year-old GOAT will miss some valuable time to gain chemistry with the likes of receivers Russell Gage and veteran Julio Jones, but he'll probably be just fine in the long run. In his absence, Blaine Gabbert, Kyle Trask and Ryan Griffin will get more work with the offense in practices and preseason games. Fantasy managers shouldn't be too concerned right now, as Brady is expected to be ready to go by Week 1 of the regular season.
Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott said that quarterback Josh Allen won't play in the team's preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday. Even with Ken Dorsey stepping in to replace Brian Daboll as the team's offensive coordinator in 2022, the Bills are comfortable sitting Allen out of the first preseason action. The 26-year-old finished as the QB1 in fantasy football last year by throwing for 4,407 yards, 36 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, adding 763 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 122 rushing attempts. As a result, he should be the first signal-caller to come off the board in the early rounds of your upcoming fantasy drafts.
New England Patriots running back James White announced his retirement from professional football on Thursday on his official Twitter account. White played in just three games in 2021 due to a hip injury that he was still attempting to come back from this summer. The 30-year-old former fourth-rounder will now hang up his cleats and will finish his eight-year career (all with the Patriots) with 381 catches (511 targets) for 3,278 yards and 25 touchdowns, adding 1,278 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on 319 carries in 95 games. With White out of the picture in 2022, it will mean bigger roles for Rhamondre Stevenson, Ty Montgomery and rookie Pierre Strong Jr.
Detroit Lions rookie first-round wide receiver Jameson Williams (knee) will miss Week 1 of the regular season. The Lions aren't putting a public timetable on Williams' return. 'We're going to be very smart with him," general manager Brad Holmes said. "He's in a good place right now." The 21-year-old tore his ACL last December in college, and he won't be ready for the start of the regular season. There's also a chance he'll miss up to the first four games of the season if he remains on the Non-Football Injury list to open Week 1. Williams will cost a pretty penny in dynasty/keeper leagues, but he'll be nothing more than a late-round flier in redraft formats in 2022. Amon-Ra St. Brown and DJ Chark will be Detroit's top two pass-catchers for much of the year.
Miami Dolphins running back Chase Edmonds looks like the favorite to lead the backfield this season, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. Edmonds has adapted well to the Dolphins' new offensive scheme, which is something that tailors well to his speed and explosiveness as a ball carrier. The backfield is crowded as of now, with Raheem Mostert, Sony Michel, as well as Myles Gaskin, who is on the roster bubble, in the mix. Still, Edmonds could return fantasy managers RB3/flex value as he should see a significant workload early on. If Mostert or Michel, who have missed their fair share of action in the past, miss any time this season, Edmonds could vault into RB2 territory.
Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard could have an increased role in his fourth season, as the team has made it known that they would like to get their dynamic playmaker more involved. The 25-year-old has been working in the offseason as a slot receiver, which would mean that he and Ezekiel Elliott could be on the field at the same time, something that we have not seen much of during his first three years with the team. With the Cowboy's wide receiver room more shallow than last season, it may be a necessity that Pollard takes on a bigger role in the passing game. "In the offseason, during the season, it's not going unnoticed. Guys are noticing the things that I can do with the ball to help the team, just knowing that I can contribute more and more to the team." As one of the most explosive weapons on the Dallas offense, a significant role as a receiver would mean some standalone value for Pollard as an RB3/ FLEX option. If his running mate misses any time, his fantasy value would skyrocket.
New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones and the rest of the first-team offense are not expected to play in Thursday's preseason opener against the New York Giants, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN. Brian Hoyer and rookie Bailey Zappe will get some playing time with Jones not suiting up, so the two will need to battle to earn the backup job behind the former Alabama collegiate star. Zappe has been impressive during his first training camp with the team and has a good opportunity to show what he can do in a game situation. The fourth-round pick out of Western Kentucky is likely the best option for any preseason DFS tournaments
Chicago Bears wide receiver N'Keal Harry (ankle) will undergo tightrope surgery on Thursday after suffering a high ankle sprain and is expected to be held out of action for eight weeks. The 24-year-old was looking for a fresh start in Chicago after being acquired from New England, as the former first-round pick couldn't live up to expectations with his former team. Harry played three seasons with the Patriots, racking up just 57 receptions for 598 yards and four touchdowns. With a thin wide receiver room in Chicago, Harry likely could have earned some playing time as the depth chart seems to be wide open behind Darnell Mooney locked in as the No. 1 option. When he returns to action, the newly-acquired wideout will be competing with Byron Pringle, Velus Jones Jr., and Equanimeous St. Brown for targets, which will keep him off the fantasy radar for now.
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.