An Open Letter To Deshaun Watson: Settle This Case

Deshaun Watson must do whatever it takes to get back on the field in 2022. He owes it to his team and his new city. (TheLandOnDemand)

Deshaun Watson must do whatever it takes to get back on the field in 2022. He owes it to his team and his new city. (TheLandOnDemand)

An open letter to Deshaun Watson: Settle this case

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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for and 850 ESPN Cleveland.

Hey Deshaun,

I know it might not feel like it right now, but you are one lucky guy.

You’re lucky Cleveland is crazy about football. How else to explain the love that fans have shown you at training camp despite the unsavory details of conduct attributed to you?

Sue L. Robinson, the former U.S. District judge and disciplinary officer in your NFL hearing on personal conduct policy violations, termed your conduct during massage sessions in the Houston area during the 15 months ending in winter of 2021 “predatory” and “more egregious than any before reviewed by the NFL.”

She concluded you committed “non-violent” sexual assault, posed a danger to the safety and well-being of others, and undermined the integrity of the NFL.

You’re lucky that the majority of Cleveland football fans apparently care more about your ability to play quarterback than the 24 or so women who felt victimized by your unwanted advances during massages. 

I haven’t seen a single sign of protest or disrespect at you at Browns training camp.

You’re lucky that Dee and Jimmy Haslam were so desperate to bring you here.

No team interested in you -- not Atlanta, not Carolina, not New Orleans -- was willing to go to the extreme extent as the Browns after two Houston-area grand juries failed to indict you on sexual assault and you became tradeable.

Whether it was to reward Cleveland fans’ undying loyalty to the Browns with their first-ever Super Bowl, or to advance the Haslams’ own business aspirations for a new stadium and a lucrative piece of future lakefront development, the Haslam family risked a lot to make you their quarterback.

You’re lucky they gave you a $230 million contract – the largest fully-guaranteed sum in NFL history. It caused a lot of blow-back from the other billionaire team owners – and league officials -- who fear their quarterbacks will want something similar.

You’re lucky that GM Andrew Berry or chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta or coach Kevin Stefanski didn’t talk the Haslams out of this outrageous deal. 

It came at the price of six future draft choices, including three No. 1s, to the Houston Texans – the organization you came to despise. Berry’s job in managing the salary cap and keeping the team competitive without its highest picks became so much tougher because of you.

They invested so much partly because of their belief in you being truthful when you said, “I have never assaulted, disrespected or harassed any woman in my life.” The Haslams said their daughter, Whitney, could have killed the deal. She didn't.

You are lucky they believed you. Robinson did not.

Because Robinson believed the testimony of four massage therapists in the hearing and not you, she recommended a suspension of six games for three violations of the NFL personal conduct policy. 

That was a paltry penalty, but you weren’t lucky enough for it to stand.

So now the NFL is appealing Robinson’s discipline decision. It’s common knowledge that the NFL wants to throw the book at you – an indefinite suspension with a minimum of one year. You would be banished from the Browns' facility under that penalty.

A loophole in the policy approved by the players union allows the appeal to be heard by Commissioner Roger Goodell or his designee. Goodell announced the appeal will be heard by former New Jersey attorney general Peter C. Harvey.

Harvey has expertise in sexual assault crimes and actually advised the NFL on the formation of its personal conduct policy. Harvey also has served as Goodell’s designee in other arbitrations, which did not go the players’ way.

So, Deshaun, you have no chance in this rigged Court of the NFL. You are looking at a minimum of a one-year suspension. 

That would penalize the Browns unduly, but would penalize you more. If you are suspended for the year, your five-year contract “tolls” to 2023, which means it is frozen and picks up when the NFL reinstates you. It means you basically lose a year of income in 2022, which you will never get back.

You can follow the example of Tom Brady and Ezekiel Elliott and sue the NFL in federal court and possibly get on the field in 2022 with a court injunction. But that would merely delay the inevitable. Brady and Elliott eventually could not overturn their suspensions because the NFL-friendly federal appeals court ruled the NFL process was collectively bargained with the players union and there was no reason for the government to intervene.

So what should you do, Deshaun?

My advice is to settle this case with the NFL. 

Reportedly, you were offered a settlement prior to Robinson’s ruling that called for a 12-game suspension and a fine of $8 million to $10 million. The deal included mandatory counseling to treat your “predatory” conduct. You and your legal team turned that down.

You need to take the initiative and renew talks for that deal.

You are not hurting for cash. Before your feelings soured on the Texans, they gave you a $27 million signing bonus in a new contract in September of 2020. After your demand to be traded, the Texans agreed to pay your salary of $10.54 million in 2021 without asking you to practice or play, so as to preserve you as a valuable trade chip. And then when you were traded to the Browns, the Haslams paid you a $45 million signing bonus.

That comes to over $80 million in cash on hand. 

If the NFL agrees to renew the settlement deal previously offered, you owe it to the Browns, to your new teammates, and to the Cleveland fans to do whatever it takes to make it happen.

Money should be no object for you to get on the field in 2022. Even if the suspension is through 12 games, you can make a difference in winning the AFC North division. 

The Browns were alive in the division race last year through the 15th game. It is reasonable to expect the Browns to be in the hunt again in December – even without you playing -- because this year’s roster is better than last year’s roster.

Do not fight this NFL appeal through the federal court system. You cannot win. You have used the Haslams' money to settle 23 of the 24 civil lawsuits against you. Now it's time to buy your way onto the field this season.

In March, you said you wanted to clear your name in this massage therapist scandal. There is only one way to do that now. It is not through the court system.

You have to get back on the field and throw touchdowns and lead the Browns to the playoffs and beyond.

You are so lucky that Cleveland is such a forgiving sports town.