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All NFL Now Eyes on one Decision

As the dominos in the world of NFL quarterbacks have started to slow and as we start to dissect the subterfuge of draft messaging by every entity involved, NFL owners and decision makers all have one eye on the man in the high tower on Park Avenue, Commissioner Roger Goodell. What happens with Deshaun Watson now?

Never has there been more pressure applied, more scrutiny unleashed, or the spotlight shined brighter on a single move by a franchise who decided that winning games trumps any other message or priority. Damn the debate of right or wrong.

Just considering the optics from the court of public opinion, the Cleveland Browns now face an interesting situation. They have gone from a cute team with a nice underdog story to the villain, in a way. The guys wearing the black hats now live in Cleveland. They’ve put themselves among the most love/hate teams along with Duke basketball, Manchester United and the New York Yankees based on their perceived manipulation of the system to acquire Watson. However, the biggest card has yet to fall out of the deck for the Browns.

I don’t think most owners around the NFL approved of the “highest guaranteed in the history of the league” and fully transparent and in-your-face fashion that the Browns used to acquire their new star player. For many reasons, this deal seen as reckless by some, will not sit well with other team’s front offices and chatter is happening daily behind the scenes. Keep in mind that Watson, who has yet to lose a single dollar, missed an entire season, refusing to play for the Houston Texans, then was able to determine his next destination (because of the no trade clause) and signed a new fully-guaranteed $230M contract, still has 22 civil cases for sexual assault still pending against him.

Watson and his agent structured his new contract to protect himself from the amount of money he now stands to lose from an almost-certain suspension that is almost certain to come, regardless of the length of time he will miss. His 2022 salary was reduced to $1M to limit just this. Watson and his representatives “played” the Texans and the Browns played and the rest of the league in the process.

The Texans, at this point, don’t care. The Browns will take the high road and back their player, even if the narrative is comical. However, the rest of the league, led by most of the other owners, will be out to extract some pain from this situation. I think Commissioner Roger Goodell’s only option to satisfy his constituents will be by the length of Watson’s suspension.

Watson’s deal has cast a dark cloud on the NFL shield, including teams that were not even involved. Despite his legal issues, Watson now has a fully-guaranteed contract, the first of its kind at this financial level. Every team will now have to answer to that in future negotiations. In a league where players have always had to produce to get paid and clubs have had the upper hand, this part of Watson’s deal makes more owners restless than any other part of his situation. They see the danger in the precedent being set here. Pandora’s box has been opened.

The standard club response of “it’s against our club policy” will now get much more pushback from players and agents. Guarantees now have become a much bigger part of the discussion, when there is any competition for a player on the open market.

Goodell’s phone has no doubt been burning from his constituents, strongly urging him to do the right thing in regards to crafting a suspension that has both teeth and merit. His response, that should include some level of league office accountability (for not enacting any reserve list during the 2020 season) and is what everyone is waiting for. I could sure see a case being made for a full year suspension and one that includes a multi-million dollar fine of some structure that pushes back against the structure of his new contract.

It’s the only thing left that the NFL can control. This decision will get more closed-door discussion than 99% of other directives that have come from the league office, perhaps in history. I have no inside information and am not a lawyer but I come from the school of “gut feelings” and this whole movie is bad for the league’s optics. There are still a lot of unknowns and the “he said/she said” doesn’t do much towards settling our stomachs.

Maybe it’s just a bad look all the way around and we have to live with it? It feels like the NFL is losing control of what is right and wrong. I feel like the league’s response to all of Watson’s legal issues, and the shenanigans that transpired in his plight to find a new employer, will have major repercussions that will go beyond the game itself. I guess it’s a loss of faith in the system. I am not picking a side rather just reflecting on an uneasy feeling that this case has caused. I’m hopeful that the next shoe to drop is based on what is good for the game. All eyes are now on the ivory tower.

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Haslam just made Deshaun Watson the face of the NFL.

32 women with allegations against him, 22 open SA lawsuits. Think about that.

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