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.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Khalil Shakir was able to make some noise during Saturday's preseason matchup against the Indianapolis Colts. The rookie wideout hauled in all five of his targets for 92 yards in the victory. Earlier this offseason, the Bills mentioned Shakir was doing extremely well during training camp. He was a fifth-round pick, but could very well play above his draft status. Sadly for Shakir, the Bills do have plenty of depth at wide receiver. At the end of the day, he'll likely be the 4th or 5th option, assuming the Bills can stay healthy. He could be worth stashing in dynasty formats, but Shakir probably won't be someone worth looking at right away. Although, the Bills will find a way to get him involved, assuming he continues playing this well.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins saw significant action during Saturday's preseason matchup against the Indianapolis Colts. The 23-year-old saw a team-high 11 targets during the victory over Indy. Hodgins managed to haul in nine receptions for 77 yards, which is a solid day for him. The former sixth-round pick is currently buried on the depth chart. However, Hodgins could very well move himself up quickly, assuming he continues to play like this. Regardless, it's highly unlikely that Hodgins finds himself with regular playing time in Buffalo. At the moment, he can be ignored in fantasy formats, but could have value down the line.
Indianapolis Colts running back Nyheim Hines saw plenty of action during Saturday's preseason matchup against the Buffalo Bills. The 25-year-old rushed eight times for 26 yards and hauled in two receptions for an additional 13 yards. The reps were there for Hines, but he failed to make much of an impact in this one. Fellow running back Phillip Lindsay rushed for 24 yards on five carries during this game. The two of them are competing for the backup role behind Jonathan Taylor. The expectation is that Lindsay will get the ground work, while Hines does the pass catching. That being said, fantasy managers in PPR leagues are better off with Hines over Lindsay right now.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Cedrick Wilson hauled in all three of his targets for a total of 29 receiving yards during Saturday's preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Lured away from Dallas in the past free agency period, Wilson, 26, caught 45 passes for 602 yards and four touchdowns in 2022. He also had value in the rushing attack and on special teams. His versatility propelled him to a WR46 finish last season, but he likely won't see similar results this coming year in a new offense.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Sam Ehlinger put together a fairly solid performance during Saturday's preseason matchup against the Buffalo Bills. The 23-year-old completed 10-of-11 passing attempts for 88 yards and two touchdowns in the loss. Earlier this offseason, there were some rumors that Ehlinger could be the starter for the Colts. Those reports are now long gone with Matt Ryan in town. It appears Ehlinger will be battling with Nick Foles for the backup gig in Indy. Neither player is expected to be relevant in fantasy leagues with Ryan healthy.
Miami Dolphins running back Myles Gaskin rushed four times for 27 yards during Saturday's preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His first carry came on the final play of the first half, and then he toted the rock thrice more at the start of the third quarter. Gaskin could be losing a grasp on his role in the offense after the new coaching staff brought in Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert, and Sony Michel this past offseason. One could argue that his production has been decreasing ever since he totaled just 612 rushing yards, 234 receiving yards, and seven total touchdowns last season. Without a clear role or guaranteed roster spot, Gaskin should be avoided in most fantasy drafts.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. hauled in three of four targets for 55 yards and a touchdown during Saturday's preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Originally drafted by the Raiders in 2020, Bowden was dealt to the Dolphins before he could even play a snap in Las Vegas. He caught 28 passes for 211 yards as a rookie but missed all of last season due to injury. Assuming he continues to play well in training camp and the preseason, Bowden could be fighting for the fourth-string role in Miami. It's also possible that he's traded again before rosters trim down.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mohamed Sanu turned three targets into three catches for 39 yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday. The 32-year-old has bounced around with many teams in his career, including the Falcons, Patriots, and 49ers. Signed by Miami less than three weeks ago, Sanu will look to use his veteran presence to compete for a roster spot. Through eight games last year, he totaled 15 catches and 177 yards. Regardless of whether he makes the team or not, Sanu won't see enough playing time to deem him fantasy relevant in 2022.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Skylar Thompson took every offensive snap during Saturday's preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He ultimately completed 20 of 28 passes for 218 yards and one touchdown. The 25-year-old also scampered for 25 yards on the ground. Thompson is listed third on Miami's depth chart behind Tua Tagovailoa and Teddy Bridgewater, and it should stay that way unless the seventh-round pick out of Kansas State goes absolutely insane throughout the remainder of training camp and preseason games.
Kansas City Chiefs WR Justin Watson caught five passes on six targets for 45 yards and a touchdown in a 19-14 preseason loss to the Chicago Bears Saturday, Aug. 13.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett completed 13 of 15 passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns in a 32-25 preseason win over the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday. Pickett looked good in the first preseason game of his career, playing the entire second half and throwing a game-winning touchdown with 12 seconds left on the clock. The first-round rookie also tacked on 16 rushing yards on three carries in the contest. Pickett will open the season behind expected starter Mitch Trubisky but he is likely to see some playing time in 2022 unless Trubisky puts together a dominant season under center for Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver George Pickens caught three of his five targets for 43 yards and a touchdown in a 32-25 preseason win over the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday. Pickens found the end zone on a 26-yard catch near the end of the first quarter of play. The rookie out of the University of Georgia has reportedly been starring during Steelers training camp and he showed why against Seattle on Saturday evening. Based on the early reviews, Pickens is becoming an interesting name in redraft leagues and especially in dynasty.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Giovani Bernard (ankle) won't return to the preseason game against the Miami Dolphins Saturday, Aug. 13, after suffering an ankle injury.
Pittsburgh Steelers SS Karl Joseph (ankle) exited the preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks Saturday, Aug. 13, with a right ankle injury and will not return.
Pittsburgh Steelers CB Ahkello Witherspoon (shoulder) exited the preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks with a shoulder injury Saturday, Aug. 13, and is questionable to return.
Carolina Panthers QBs Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold both worked with the first-team offense Saturday, Aug. 13, against the Washington Commanders. Mayfield completed 4-of-7 passes for 45 yards, and Darnold completed 2-of-3 passes for 16 yards and a touchdown.
Fantasy Spin: Mayfield got the start, but Darnold was the one with the touchdown pass to WR Rashard Higgins. This competition is likely just heating up, but Mayfield appears to have the slight lead. He should be viewed as a QB2.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mitch Trubisky completed four of seven passes for 63 yards and a touchdown in his team's Saturday preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks. Trubisky connected with wideout Gunner Olszewski for a 13-yard score in the first quarter while adding a four-yard run. He played on Pittsburgh's first two offensive drives before taking a seat for the rest of the evening. Trubisky has the inside track on the starting quarterback job in Pittsburgh, although his grip on the job isn't going to be very firm with first-round pick Kenny Pickett waiting in the wings. Fantasy gamers should treat Trubisky as a high-end QB3 in fantasy drafts for the upcoming season.
Baltimore Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins (knee) is expected to return to practice on Monday, head coach John Harbaugh relayed to James Palmer of NFL Network. Dobbins was recently activated from the PUP list but has yet to take the field for an official practice session as the team continues to exercise caution. Dobbins missed all of 2021 with a torn ACL but, as of now, is expected to suit up come Week 1 of his age-23 season. The Ohio State product impressed as a rookie in 2020, totaling 805 rushing yards, 120 receiving yards, and nine touchdowns. He should be viewed as a mid-to-low RB2 option ahead of upcoming fantasy drafts.
Pittsburgh Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett could replace the starting quarterback (most likely Mitchell Trubisky, but possibly Mason Rudolph) in the first half of the season, according to Mark Kaboly of The Athletic. Kaboly identified Week 4 against the Jets as a good target date for Pickett's debut since the Steelers will have extra practice coming off the Thursday night game and the Jets aren't an entirely scary opponent. He also sees Week 10 as a natural possibility since the Steelers have a Week 9 bye. "Pickett will eventually get his chance," Kaboly writes. "Over the past decade, first-round quarterbacks have almost always started a game during their rookie years." Pickett can be left on waivers in most redraft leagues for now, though he has significant appeal in dynasty formats.