BEREA, Ohio (AP) — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he feels the league needed to keep pushing for a year-long suspension for Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson because of his “egregious” and “predatory behavior” toward women.
Speaking at the owners’ meetings Tuesday in Bloomington, Minnesota, Goodell addressed the league’s decision to appeal a six-game suspension given to Watson by Sue L. Robinson, a former federal judge appointed by the NFL and NFL Players Association as an independent league disciplinary officer.
Robinson found Watson violated the league’s conduct policy after he was accused by two dozen women of sexual assault or harassment while he played for Houston. Watson has settled 23 of the 24 lawsuits filed by the women, though he has denied any wrongdoing.
The league has been seeking an indefinite suspension and fine for Watson, and felt Robinson’s six-game ban wasn’t enough. Goodell cited the collective bargaining agreement for empowering the league to seek further discipline.
“Either party could certainly challenge and appeal that and that was something that we felt was our right to do as well as NFLPA,” Goodell said. “So we decided it was the right thing to do.”
Watson’s fate now rests with Peter C. Harvey, a former New Jersey attorney general handpicked by Goodell to handle the appeal. Harvey has previously worked as an arbiter in league cases.
Goodell said the league is pushing for a full-year penalty for Watson because of the evidence against the 26-year-old, who was accused of being sexually inappropriate with the women during massage therapy sessions while with the Texans in 2020 and 2021.
In her 16-page ruling, Robinson concluded Watson violated the league’s personal conduct policy with his behavior, using both “egregious” and “predatory” to describe his actions
Goodell was asked why the league is seeking a harsher punishment.
“Because we’ve seen the evidence,” he said. “She (Robinson) was very clear about the evidence. She reinforced the evidence, that there was multiple violations here and they were egregious, and that it was predatory behavior.
“Those were always things we felt was really important for us to address and in a way that’s responsible.”
Goodell doesn’t have a sense of when Harvey will issue a decision. There’s no specific deadline for Harvey, but the appeal policy requires that it be “expedited.”
There also remains the possibility the sides could reach a settlement.
While attending the meetings in Minnesota, Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam had little to say about the ongoing appeal.
“We’ll respect and honor the process,” he told reporters
Meanwhile, Watson’s playing status for the Browns’ exhibition opener is unknown.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski didn’t reveal whether Watson will play in Friday’s game in Jacksonville. Stefanski said the team has a plan but he won’t make it public until he tells his players.
“We have a framework for how we are going to handle this preseason,” he said. “As you know, you always reserve the right to change your mind based on how practice goes and those type of things, but we are pretty confident in the plan we have.”
Stefanski said Watson will make the trip to Florida. The three-time Pro Bowler has not played since 2020. He sat out last season after demanding a trade and before the allegations came to light.
Cleveland’s plan has been to start Jacoby Brissett while Watson serves his suspension. But now that it’s possible that it will encompass most, if not all of the season, there’s a chance the team could look outside for another quarterback.
Josh Rosen and Josh Dobbs are also on Cleveland’s roster and are expected to get the bulk of the playing time during the exhibition season.
AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell contributed to this report.