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.
The NFL and NFL Players Association have been involved in active settlement negotiations over the past few days in the disciplinary matter for Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly. It's unknown if a compromise will be reached before NFL designee Peter C. Harvey issues a ruling on the league's appeal of Watson's six-game suspension levied by NFL disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson. Sources have expressed optimism that a deal will get worked out, likely because a potentially significant discipline is expected to be handed down by Harvey. "Harvey could drop the hammer on Watson," a source said. "That's why a settlement is a better outcome, even if it's more than six games and includes a multi-million dollar fine." Watson will be facing at least a six-game suspension and likely more, dropping his fantasy value significantly entering the 2022 season. Stay tuned for more.
Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers' soft-tissue injury isn't considered serious, according to a source. The Rams are taking a cautious approach by holding Akers out of training camp practices, but that's the extent of it. Darrell Henderson Jr. is also dealing with a soft-tissue injury at camp, and there is no timetable for either player's return to practice. Barring any setbacks, both Akers and Henderson should be fine for the start of the regular season, but fantasy managers should continue to monitor their progress. Akers, who returned from a torn Achilles late last season, will operate as LA's primary back when healthy in 2022, giving him RB2 appeal for fantasy managers. Until Akers and Henderson return, rookie Kyren Williams and Jake Funk will receive more repetitions in training camp.
The Cleveland Browns have claimed wide receiver Easop Winston Jr. off waivers from the New Orleans Saints. The 25-year-old was reportedly having a good camp with the Saints. Despite that, the team has decided to move on from the former Washington State Huskies wideout. The Browns are in need of another receiver with Jakeem Grant Sr. (Achilles) done for the season. Possibly, Winston makes the team as a special teams player. It's unlikely Winston gets significant snaps on offense unless multiple injuries happen. He can be ignored in fantasy formats right now.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Drew Lock has tested positive for COVID-19. That being said, Lock will sit out Thursday's preseason matchup against the Chicago Bears. This is bad timing considering Lock was named the starting quarterback for that game earlier in the day. Now, Geno Smith is expected to make the start and has a chance to distance himself in the quarterback competition. Regardless of who wins this battle, it's tough to imagine either quarterback having weekly fantasy value.
Seattle Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker III (hernia) was unavailable for Tuesday's practice. Head coach Pete Carroll mentioned that Walker is working through a hernia issue. It's unknown whether or not Walker is going to sit out Thursday's preseason matchup against the Chicago Bears. Right now, the organization is considering this injury minor, so fantasy managers shouldn't be too worried. The expectation is that he'll split up the carries with Rashaad Penny to begin the season.
Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Demarcus Robinson has been released by the organization. The 27-year-old spent his first six seasons in the league with the Kansas City Chiefs. He joined the Raiders this offseason and was reportedly in the mix for the WR3 job. Now, it sounds like the Raiders have decided to move in another direction without Robinson. There should be some potential suitors out there for Robinson. He did fairly well in limited playing time with the Chiefs. Despite that, it's unlikely he'll find a landing spot where he has weekly fantasy value.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Drew Lock is scheduled to make the start under center for Thursday's preseason game. Geno Smith started the first contest, so this appears to be a legitimate competition. Head coach Pete Carroll mentioned this was the plan all along for the two quarterbacks to compete during training camp. Lock has been lackluster during his first three seasons in the league. It's hard to imagine either quarterback having more value than a low-end QB2 most weeks.
Seattle Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny (groin) returned to the practice field on Tuesday. He missed the first preseason game and a few practices due to a minor groin issue, There's a chance that the 26-year-old does not suit up at all during the preseason. Despite that, Penny should still be safe to draft with him likely starting in Week 1. Although, Kenneth Walker III should see plenty of carries as well. These two should form a committee in the Seattle backfield, which could make their fantasy value difficult to analyze right away.
New England Patriots defensive back Malcolm Butler (undisclosed) has been placed on the injured reserve. The 32-year-old will see his season end before it even begins. Joejuan Williams (shoulder) will also be placed on the injured reserve, so the Patriots are out two defensive backs. Butler was attempting a comeback after not being in the league during the 2021 season. Honestly, Terrance Mitchell and Jack Jones were looking like better options than Butler anyway. This will somewhat hurt the Patriots secondary, but fantasy managers shouldn't be concerned about the Patriots defense declining without them.
New England Patriots CB Malcolm Butler (undisclosed) and CB Joejuan Williams (shoulder) were placed on the Reserve/Injured list Tuesday, Aug. 16. The team also waived P Jake Julien.
Las Vegas Raiders WR Demarcus Robinson and DT Vernon Butler were released Tuesday, Aug. 16.
New Orleans Saints QB Jameis Winston (foot) did not participate in practice Tuesday, Aug. 16, and is still considered day-to-day. Head coach Dennis Allen indicated Winston has a chance to practice Wednesday, Aug. 17.
Fantasy Spin: Winston will be the starting quarterback this season, so the team can be cautious with him. He has played well in the past and will have good receivers to work with in the passing game. He likely will be a No. 2 quarterback in fantasy leagues.
Miami Dolphins CB Byron Jones (Achilles) hopefully will be ready for Week 1, but he will not return to the field until he is completely healthy, according to head coach Mike McDaniel.
Cleveland Browns DT Sheldon Day was released Tuesday, Aug. 16. The team also waived/injured OT Elijah Nkansah (undisclosed).
Buffalo Bills LB Marquel Lee and CB Tim Harris were released Tuesday, Aug. 16.
New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley 'has looked the best he has in years,' according to ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan. Per Raanan, 'his workload will be huge ... as long as he is healthy.'
Fantasy Spin: Workload has rarely ever been a concern for Barkley when he has been active, but his ability to stay on the field has in recent years. With that said, Barkley is two years removed from his ACL injury and completely over last year's fluky ankle sprain, so he may be in his best spot to deliver for his fantasy managers since his rookie year - especially if Raanan ends up being correct about the strength of the Giants' offensive line is its run-blocking. Barkley has legitimate overall RB1 upside this season.
The San Francisco 49ers released defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche on Tuesday. Nkemdiche was only with the team for three weeks before being shown the door at training camp. The 27-year-old will try to latch on with another organization before the start of the regular season. Nkemdiche was originally a first-round selection by the Arizona Cardinals in 2016 out of the University of Mississippi. He played in nine games for the Seattle Seahawks last year, recording 15 tackles (seven solo) and a pass defensed. In his five-year NFL career, Nkemdiche has racked up 59 tackles (33 solo), 10 tackles for loss, 11 QB hits, 4.5 sacks, three passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery for a touchdown in 38 games (six starts).
The Tennessee Titans claimed defensive back Lonnie Johnson Jr. off waivers from the Kansas City Chiefs on Tuesday, according to a source. The Chiefs waived Johnson on Monday, but he'll quickly latch on with the Titans. Kansas City acquired the 26-year-old cornerback from the Houston Texans in May for a 2024 conditional seventh-round pick. The 26-year-old former second-round pick in 2019 had 55 tackles (38 solo), three interceptions and six passes defensed in 14 games (seven starts) in 2021 in his third year in Houston. Johnson will provide Tennessee with defensive back depth heading into the 2022 regular season.
New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson's arthroscopic knee surgery on Tuesday was deemed a success, according to a source. There were no surprises from the original diagnosis. The Jets won't put Wilson back on the field until he's 100 percent healthy. There was a chance that the 23-year-old needed a full meniscus repair, which could have kept him out for the entire season, but instead he only needed a meniscus trim. He could be back on the field in two to four weeks and be ready for the regular season, but fantasy managers shouldn't get their hopes up. San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo remains available in a trade, but the Jets don't appear intent on making a move. They have confidence that veteran Joe Flacco can fill in under center until Wilson is ready to return.