Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Why Deshaun Watson could be facing a year-long suspension, plus actual NFL football returns tonight

Welcome to the Thursday edition of the Pick Six newsletter!

Today is a special day because football is finally back. I repeat, football is finally back. This is not a drill, people. There is going to be actual NFL football on TV tonight and I don’t want to say I’ve been counting, but it’s been 172 days since the last time there was a game (Super Bowl LVI). OK, so I’ve been counting. 

Sure, the Hall of Fame game isn’t quite on the same scale as the Super Bowl, but it’s the Super Bowl of preseason games, so there’s a 100% chance I’ll be watching tonight on NBC. Since football is back, we’ll definitely be previewing the Hall of Fame game, plus we’ll be taking a close look at what the NFL’s appeal of Deshaun Watson’s punishment potentially means for the Browns quarterback. 

As always, here’s your weekly reminder to tell all your friends to sign up for the newsletter. All you have to do is click here and then share the link. Let’s get to the rundown. 

1. Today’s show: NFC North burning questions

For the past week on the podcast, we’ve been previewing each NFL division by asking several burning questions that each teams needs to answer before the start of the season.

For today’s episode, Will Brinson was joined by Tyler Sullivan and they put the NFC North on the hot seat. There are a lot of big questions in that division this year. In Minnesota, Vikings fans are wondering if Kevin O’Connell can make Kirk Cousins better. In Chicago, there are questions about whether Justin Fields can succeed with almost no supporting cast around him. 

One of the biggest questions in the NFC North though is: Who is going to be Aaron Rodgers‘ go-to target now that Davante Adams is gone? 

Sullivan and Brinson actually don’t see eye to eye on the answer to this question. 

“It’s Allen Lazard for me,” Sullivan said. 

As for Brinson? 

“I think it’s Aaron Jones,” Brinson said. “I think they’re going to run A.J. Dillon out of the backfield, line up Jones in the slot, get him the ball in space. I think he’s going to be the No. 1 target. Allen Lazard will be the No. 1 wide receiver, but Jones will be the No. 1 target.”

Sullivan didn’t hate that answer, but he decided to stick with Lazard. 

The two answered three questions about EACH team in the division and if you want to hear those answers, you’ll have to listen to the entire episode, which you can do by clicking here.  

2. Why Deshaun Watson could be staring at a year-long suspension after NFL appeals his punishment

The Deshaun Watson case took another turn on Wednesday when the NFL filed an appeal to his six-game suspension. The quarterback’s legal team will now have until Friday to respond to the appeal. 

If you read this newsletter daily, then you already know that we went over some of the appeal process earlier this week. However, we’ll do a quick refresher here while also including some new information. 

Here’s why the NFL’s appeal could lead to a lengthening of Watson’s suspension: 

  • Roger Goodell now becomes the de facto judge in the case. Although Judge Sue Robinson ordered the six-game suspension, Roger Goodell will now have final say in the case because he’s the one who oversees the appeal process. Now that the appeal has been filed, Goodell (or someone he designates) will get to make the final decision on whether Watson’s suspension should be lengthened. According to Pro Football Talk, Goodell won’t personally be handling the case, but the final decision will come from someone he appoints. The NFL filing an appeal in a case where the NFL is in charge of the appeal process makes it hard to imagine a scenario where the NFL doesn’t add a substantial amount of games to Watson’s suspension.
  • The NFL wants Watson out for at least a year. The NFL wanted Robinson to suspend Watson for at least one season and although that didn’t happen with Watson’s initial punishment, the NFL is still going to try to make it happen. CBS Sports NFL Insider Jonathan Jones has reported that the league filed the appeal because it’s seeking an indefinite suspension of at least one year.
  • How an appeal works. The league can only use the evidence that was presented in the original hearing. This is important, because even though Watson was facing a civil lawsuit from 24 different women, only four of those cases were taken into consideration by Robinson. The NFL presented a low number of cases at the hearing because the league believed that those four specific cases had the strongest evidence against Watson (The league actually presented five cases, but Robinson only took four of those into consideration). 
  • Why the NFL could win the appeal. The problem for Watson is that Robinson essentially agreed with everything the NFL argued during the hearing. In her 16-page ruling, Robinson wrote that Watson’s conduct violated three provisions of the NFL’s personal conduct policy “by engaging in: (1) sexual assault; (2) conduct that poses a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another person; and (3) conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity of the NFL.”
  • Why Robinson only suspended Watson for six games. If Watson was essentially found guilty on all charges, you might be wondering why his suspension was only six games and that’s due to precedent. Robinson noted in her ruling that the longest punishment ever given to a person who commits a “non-violent” sexual assault is just three games. Robinson didn’t feel there was precedent to suspend Watson for an entire season, so she gave him six games, which she felt was justified since it doubled the number of the previous record for longest suspension. 
  • Why the NFL will now have a strong argument to lengthen Watson’s suspension. Although Robinson stuck to precedent when handing out her punishment, the NFL can point out that this is an unprecedented case that deserves an unprecedented punishment. The league could also point out that the three-game suspension — the previous longest for a non-violent sexual assault — was given to Jameis Winston, who was only facing accusations from one woman. Watson is facing accusations from 24 women. Although the NFL can only use four of those accusations in the appeal — since they only used four in the original hearing — that’s still four times the accusations that Winston was facing, so a suspension that’s four times longer than Winston’s could easily be justified. 
  • The suspension offer that Watson turned down. Watson wouldn’t have to worry about the possibility of being suspended for a year if he would have accepted the NFL’s final settlement offer. According to ESPN.com, the NFL put a 12-game suspension on the table (along with an $8 million to $10 million fine) as its final settlement offer, but Watson shot that down. 

At this point, it feels like the best-case scenario for Watson is now a 12-game suspension. If Watson’s suspension does get extended, there’s a very real chance that this case will end up in federal court. If that happens, the odds still won’t be in Watson’s favor. If someone is punished through a collectively bargained process — the NFLPA approved giving Goodell final say in an appeal — then you’ll rarely see a court overturn that. 

3. Hall of Fame game preview: Raiders vs. Jaguars 

Since most starters won’t be playing tonight, we’re not going to do a full preview of the game, but it is the first NFL action of the 2022 season, so we have to give you something.

Here are a few things to watch out for tonight:  

  • Storyline to watch for the Raiders: Josh McDaniels’ first game as Raiders coach. Not only is this McDaniels’ first game as coach of the Raiders, but this is a homecoming game for him that’s basically being played in his own backyard. McDaniels went to Canton McKinley high school and he actually played his high school games in the same stadium where he’ll be coaching in tonight. NFL coaches don’t usually get too excited about preseason games, but I have to think McDaniels is excited about this one. 
  • Storyline to watch for the Jaguars: Kicking competition (Elliott Fry vs. Ryan Santoso). The kicking competition in Jacksonville got off to such an ugly start that that one kicker got cut before the first week of training camp was over. That was Andrew Mevis and he got dumped after a train wreck of a day at camp where he missed a field goal so badly, that he hit a bystander in the head (And that bystander was former Cowboys coach Dave Campo). The Hall of Fame game is mostly going to be backups, but when it comes to kickers, there are no backups. With Fry and Santoso, you’re getting two guys who are both fighting to win the job. We won’t see anyone win the job tonight, but we could see someone lose it. If one kicker goes 0-for-3 and hits an innocent bystander with a kick, that might be enough for the Jags to give the job to the other guy. 
  • Player you will be keeping an eye on for the Raiders: Jarrett Stidham. We don’t usually see too much offense in the Hall of Fame game because we usually have a backup QB starting and they generally aren’t that great, but this is a unique situation. The likely starter for the Raiders is Stidham, who spent three seasons with McDaniels in New England. Stidham knows the offense inside and out. I think McDaniels will be more than comfortable letting Stidham sling the ball around, which means we might actually see a few points scored in this game (Hall of Fame games are almost never high-scoring).  
  • Player you will be keeping an eye on for the Jaguars: Travon Walker. We know Trevor Lawrence won’t be playing, but there is one No. 1 overall pick who might be on the field tonight and that’s Walker. The Jaguars surprised a lot of people when they made him the top pick in April and I won’t be surprised if he plays a few snaps in tonight’s game. By all accounts, Walker is having a decent training camp so far, and now we’ll see if that translates to success in an actual game. If he does get on the field, he’ll be facing mostly backup offensive linemen, so we could see him make a big play or two. 

Breech’s pick: Raiders 20-13 over Jaguars (Raiders cover -2.5). Not only is this a homecoming game for McDaniels, but he’s got a quarterback starting tonight who knows his system inside and out. When it comes to preseason football, I always pick the team with the better quarterback and the better roster, and in this case, the Raiders are better in both categories. 

If you want to watch tonight’s game, it will be kicking off at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. One other reason to watch is that you’ll get to see NBC debut its new announcing duo of Mike Tirico and Cris Collinsworth. Tirico is replacing Al Michaels, who didn’t get his contract renewed after it expired following Super Bowl LVI. 

4. Presenting the NFL’s 2022 Survivor Squad

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For the third straight year, Jared Dubin is giving us his Survivor Squad. If you don’t have any idea what a survivor squad is, don’t worry, I didn’t either until about five minutes ago. Basically, the goal is to make an All-Star team of NFL players, but with one huge catch: You can only use one player from each team.

The Chiefs might be the best team in the AFC, but you can’t put both Patrick Mahomes AND Travis Kelce on the Survivor Squad because Kansas City is only allowed to have one player on the team. Also, any player who made the roster last year is not allowed to make the roster this year (Dubin implemented that rule so that he wouldn’t be including the same players every year). 

With that in mind, let’s check out the offensive players on Dubin’s survivor squad: 

QB: Josh Allen, Bills

RB: Jonathan Taylor, Colts

WR: Davante Adams, Raiders

WR: Justin Jefferson, Vikings

Slot: Cooper Kupp, Rams

TE: Travis Kelce, Chiefs

TE: Cole Kmet, Bears

LT: Rashawn Slater, Chargers

LG: Joel Bitonio, Browns

C: Frank Ragnow, Lions

RG: Alex Cappa, Bengals

RT: Tristan Wirfs, Buccaneers

Flex: Deebo Samuel, 49ers

If you want to see the defensive starters and the coaching staff from the survivor squad, be sure to click here.  

5. Must-see rookies who you’ll definitely want to watch in the preseason  

With preseason football kicking off tonight, we thought now would be a perfect time to unveil our list of rookies who you’re definitely going to want to watch at some point over the next few weeks. 

This list was put together by CBSSports.com’s Josh Edwards, who is one of our NFL Draft gurus here, so he knows a thing or two about rookies. With that in mind, let’s check out some of the players on his list of must-see rookies: 

  • WR Skyy Moore, Chiefs. Tyreek Hill finished the 2021 season with 111 receptions for 1,239 yards and nine touchdowns and those numbers will be hard to replace. Although it’s unrealistic to expect Moore to match those numbers, he could eat into them significantly. Speed and route-running ability are the traits that stick out when discussing the Central Michigan wide receiver.”
  • WR George Pickens, Steelers. “Few teams have thrived at picking wide receivers quite like the AFC North franchise. The national champion has a high ceiling and has been flashing that potential early in training camp.”
  • DB Jalen Pitre, Texans. “Pitre flies around the football field making plays. The Baylor product was ranked No. 23 overall on my personal big board, so there is faith in his abilities. The only concern is whether or not the Texans’ front seven is going to be able to create enough pressure for the back end to capitalize on the ball in the air.”

If you want to check out the full list of rookies to watch, then be sure to click here.  

6. Rapid-fire roundup: Cowboys sign Pro Bowl linebacker

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Minnesota Vikings

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It’s been a wild 24 hours in the NFL, and since it’s nearly impossible to keep track of everything that happened, I went ahead and put together a roundup for you. 

  • Anthony Barr lands with Cowboys. The Cowboys made a major defensive upgrade on Wednesday by adding the former Vikings linebacker. According to ESPN.com, Barr signed a one-year deal worth up to $3 million. The 30-year-old has been to four Pro Bowls in his career, but only played in 11 games last season due to a knee injury. 
  • Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy doesn’t sound happy with the current play of his kickers. It’s too bad Barr can’t kick, because that seems to be where the Cowboys need some serious help right now. The team is currently having a kicking competition between Jonathan Garibay and Lirim Hajrullahu and McCarthy doesn’t sound happy with either guy right now. “At some point they got to start getting comfortable and making kicks more consistently,” McCarthy told the media this week. “That is just stating the facts. At the end of the day, the rope is here. Someone has to grab it.”
  • Marquise Brown arrested for criminal speeding. The Cardinals new receiver has been charged with criminal speeding after an incident where police caught him going nearly double the speed limit. According to Arizona Sports, Brown was arrested after he was caught doing 126 mph on a road that had a speed limit of 65 mph. Brown has a court date scheduled for Aug. 23. 

  • Tom Brady won’t play against Dolphins. The Dolphins were hit with a major punishment this week for tampering with Tom Brady over the past three years. Although they didn’t land him, they were going to play against him next week, but now, that won’t be happening. Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles announced this week that Brady definitely won’t be playing against Miami. 

  • Tua Tagovailoa says Dolphins are all-in with him. Tua doesn’t seem too phased by the fact that the Dolphins tried to replace him with Tom Brady this offseason. The Dolphins QB believes the team now has his back, “I think the team’s all-in with me and all the guys that we have now,” Tagovailoa said Wednesday. If Tua struggles this season, I’m guessing they won’t be all-in on him for long.  

  • Bears are going to play their starters in their preseason opener. Most teams bench their starters in the preseason opener, but not the Bears. New coach Matt Eberflus said Wednesday that he expects most starters to play in Chicago’s opening preseason game against the Chiefs.

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