Saturday, July 2, 2022

Deshaun Watson suspension watch: A look at other major NFL discipline over the last 15 years

All eyes are on the NFL as it reportedly prepares to finalize its investigation of Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, the most polarizing player of the 2022 offseason. Watson has proclaimed his innocence in the face of 24 — and reportedly soon to be 26 — civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault and misconduct during his Texans career. And his new team, which committed a record $230 million to the QB as part of its blockbuster acquisition of him this year, has publicly defended him. But all signs point to the league suspending Watson for at least part of 2022, if not the entire season, while enforcing its personal conduct policy.

Players do not have to be criminally charged in order to violate the policy, and Watson falls in that camp: two different Texas grand juries have declined to indict the QB this offseason, even while more women have accused the former first-round draft pick of being a “serial predator” and the New York Times has reported Watson used at least 66 private massage therapists over a 17-month span during his time in Houston — dozens of which now allege he violated them.

But is there a precedent for a potential Watson suspension? Not a perfect one, by any means; rarely has a player of his stature, at his position, faced such a high volume of accusations and yet also been free of criminal charges. The NFL‘s history of player discipline also lacks a distinct pattern, especially since new standards were only implemented in 2014 in response to the infamous Ray Rice case, when the league unsuccessfully attempted to enact a second, indefinite suspension on the ex-Ravens running back once video surfaced of the player’s assault, which had previously been punished with a mere two-game ban.

Still, if you’re looking for a potential baseline suspension for Watson, it might not hurt to review the bans issued to starters or other players with notable roles over the last 15 years, since the league’s biggest updates to the personal conduct policy in 2007:

Note: Suspensions for violations of the NFL’s personal conduct policy differ from suspensions for in-game rules violations, such as unnecessary roughness or fighting; as well as team-imposed suspensions and bans related to the integrity of the game (i.e. Calvin Ridley’s 2022 ban for gambling, or Tom Brady’s 2018 suspension for his alleged role in Deflategate).

2021

RB Derrius Guice

Free agent (Washington)

6

Assault, battery (charges dropped)

2020

WR Antonio Brown

Free agent

8

Burglary, battery charges
2019 RB Kareem Hunt Browns 8 Assault incident (no charges)

2019 DT Jarran Reed Seahawks 6 Alleged assault (no charges)
2019 OG Richie Incognito Raiders 2 Disorderly conduct charge
2018 LB Mychal Kendricks Seahawks 8 Insider trading charges
2018 QB Jameis Winston Buccaneers 3 Alleged sexual assault (no charges)
2018 DE Dante Fowler Jr. Jaguars 1 Simple battery charge
2018 CB Jimmy Smith Ravens 4 Alleged domestic violence (no charges)
2018 LB Nigel Bradham Eagles 1 Alleged assault (no charges)
2017 RB Ezekiel Elliott Cowboys 6 Alleged assault, domestic violence (no charges)
2017 K Josh Brown Free agent 6 Domestic violence (charges dropped)
2017 CB Adam “Pacman” Jones Bengals 1 Assault (charges reduced)
2016 DL Sheldon Richardson Jets 1 Speeding charge

2016 K Josh Brown Giants 1 Domestic violence (charges dropped)
2015 S T.J. Ward Broncos 1 Assault (charges reduced)
2015 OLB Aldon Smith Raiders Indefinite (reinstated 2020) DUI, hit-and-run, vandalism charges
2015 DE Greg Hardy Cowboys 4 (reduced from 10) Assault (charges dropped)
2014 DE Aldon Smith 49ers 9 Weapons charges, other incidents
2014 LB Daryl Washington Cardinals Indefinite (reinstated 2017) Aggravated assault charges, drug use
2014 RB Adrian Peterson Vikings Indefinite (reinstated 2015) Misdemeanor child abuse charges
2014 RB Ray Rice Ravens 2 Aggravated assault (charges dropped)
2010 QB Ben Roethlisberger Steelers 4 (reduced from 6) Alleged sexual assault (no charges)
2010 WR Vincent Jackson Chargers 3 DUI charges
2010 CB Aqib Talib Buccaneers

1 Assault charge
2009 RB Marshawn Lynch Bills 3 Weapons charge

2008 CB Adam “Pacman” Jones Cowboys 4 Alleged altercation (no charges)
2008 OT Bryant McKinnie Vikings 4 Aggravated battery charges
2008 WR Brandon Marshall Broncos 1 (reduced from 3) Alleged domestic violence, DUI (no charges)
2007 QB Michael Vick Falcons Indefinite (reinstated 2009, after 2 games) Felony dogfighting charges
2007 DT Tank Johnson Bears 8 Weapons charges
2007 WR Chris Henry Bengals 8 Weapons charges, other incidents
2007 CB Adam “Pacman” Jones Titans 16 Alleged assault (reduced charges)

So what’s the takeaway? Only the NFL can answer that properly, because the NFL is still investigating Watson and, theoretically, has a better understanding of the QB’s conduct, having spoken with the new Browns signal-caller and reviewed accusations made against him. Previous incidents of alleged sexual assault or misconduct involving QBs has produced relatively mild suspensions (see: Ben Roethlisberger and Jameis Winston drawing a combined seven-game ban), but with Watson, the difference is there are literally two dozen different women alleging a pattern of abuse. Roethlisberger and Winston, it should be noted, also avoided formal charges relating to their respective cases.

It seems reasonable, especially in light of The Washington Post‘s Friday report that the NFL is likely to seek at least a one-year ban for Watson, to assume the QB will be suspended for most of the 2022 season, his first in Cleveland. Watson hasn’t made any indication one way or another regarding his plans regarding a potential suspension appeal, but his contract with the Browns is specifically structured so as to avoid major financial losses due to a suspension in 2022.

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