Agent’s Take: The Economic Impact of Deshaun Watson’s 11-Game Suspension

The NFL and NFLPA reached a settlement on Thursday regarding Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson’s discipline for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Watson has been suspended unpaid for Cleveland’s first 11 games of the regular season and will be fined $5 million. He must also undergo a mandatory evaluation by behavioral experts and follow their treatment plan.

The settlement is the final solution to the disciplinary process, which ends the NFL’s appeal against the six-game suspension without a fine imposed on Sue L. Robinson, who was jointly appointed by the NFL and the NFLPA. Watson. Robinson found Watson to be in violation of engaging in sexual assault, conduct that poses a real threat to the safety and well-being of another person, and conduct that undermines or jeopardizes the integrity of the NFL in her 16-page ruling. The settlement prohibits the NFLPA from pursuing legal remedies through the federal court system.

Prior to the settlement, the NFL had filed for an indefinite suspension that allowed Watson to seek reinstatement after a year from Peter C. Harvey, who had been selected by Commissioner Roger Goodell to hear the appeal. The 11-game ban is the longest ban ever imposed under the Personal Conduct Policy for Sexual Misconduct. What is unknown is whether Robinson’s mandate that Watson’s massage therapy be limited to team-approved massage therapists for the rest of his career will continue. Watson’s sentence is in line with what the NFL sought in settlement talks that took place before Robinson’s decision. The NFLPA rejected the NFL’s reported offer of a 12-game suspension and a $10 million fine.

Watson’s suspension will take effect August 30, when the final roster of 53 players for NFL teams will take place. Under the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, Watson may return to team facilities during the second half of a suspension and participate in restricted activities on terms similar to those of players suspended under the NFL’s performance-enhancing substances policy. On October 10, the day after the Browns’ Week 5 game against the Chargers, his permitted activities include attending team meetings, training individually with the Browns’ strength and conditioning coach, and individual meetings with Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski, offensive coordinator. Alex Van Pelt and quarterbacks coach Drew Petzing and receive treatment/rehabilitation from the Browns’ medical staff and trainers. Watson can train during the last two weeks of the suspension from November 14. The suspension will be lifted on November 28. Watson will be eligible to play in the Browns’ Week 13 game against the Texans, Watson’s former team, on December 4. His return will be in week 13 instead of week 12 because Cleveland has a farewell in week 9.

Many of the other NFL teams believe that the $230 million fully guaranteed, five-year contract that Watson signed in March as part of his trade from the Texans was structured in a way designed to mitigate the financial impact of minimize the suspension. Without salary, the basic salary is with suspension. Watson received a $44.965 million signing bonus and his 2022 base salary is $1,035 million, his base salary for the league in the deal. He loses $632,500 (or 11/18th of his $1,035 million base salary for 2022) because he earns $57,500 each of the 18 weeks in the regular season.

The Browns will receive $632,500 of the 2022 limit relief from base salary that Watson will not earn because of the suspension. Presumably, the $57,500 of the Week 9 bye will be treated as suspensions under the NFL’s substance abuse policy. It should be paid in equal installments for the remainder of the season after Watson has served his suspension. Watson’s contract has no effect with his 11-game suspension. His contract years will expire as intended, meaning his contract will expire after the 2026 season. His salary cap numbers from 2023 through 2026 each remain at $54.993 million ($46 million base salary and $8.993 million in prorated signing bonus).

Had it not been for a settlement whereby Harvey gave Watson the one-year suspension, the NFL would have demanded his contract. In essence, Watson’s contract would have been frozen and resumed tolling in 2023. His contract year of 2022 would have become his contract year of 2023 and additional years in the contract would also have been pushed back one year. Instead of Watson’s contract expiring after the 2026 season, it would have ended after 2027. Although the contract would have been delayed for a year, the $8.993 million-per-year signing bonus would have remained intact from 2022 to 2026.

None of Watson’s $44,935 million signing bonus is compromised, thanks to the language in the contract. Watson’s salary guarantees do not expire either. Contract warranties are usually void for an exhaustive list of standard errors by a player. Upon annulment, the player would still have the opportunity to earn the salary that is no longer guaranteed on a non-guaranteed basis.

The relevant language about Watson’s signing bonus is as follows:

“… a suspension by the NFL solely in connection with matters notified to Club in writing pursuant to Section 42 that result in the Player being unavailable to Club for games only during the NFL League years of 2022 or 2023, does not expose the Player to forfeiture of the Signing Bonus.”

Without this language, the Browns would have been entitled to ask Watson for an eighteenth of the $8.993 million in signing bonus attributed to the 2022 salary cap for each week of the 18-week regular season missed with the 11-year suspension. matches. The Browns would have had the opportunity to recapture $5,495,722 (or 11/18ths of $8,993 million) from Watson.

The relevant language ensuring that Watson’s warranties do not become invalid is set out below:

“…it does not constitute a failure or refusal to practice or play with the Club and the Player shall not be in default if: … (iii) the Player is suspended solely in connection with matters made in writing to the Club disclosed pursuant to Section 42, resulting in the player being unavailable to Club for matches only during the NFL League years of 2022 or 2023.”

The language is important because it prevents the Browns from potentially getting out of the contract without huge cap consequences due to pre-trade known misconduct. In other words, the Browns can’t end the deal over allegations stemming from the suspension of the personal conduct policy. Practically speaking, during the first part of the contract, the Browns would not have if possible after giving up 2022, 2023 and 2024 first round picks, a 2022 fourth round pick, a 2023 third round pick and a 2024 fourth round pick to get Watson and a pick in the sixth round of 2024.

The suspension carries with it a 17-month ordeal that will not be easily forgotten. Watson, who Thursday still maintains his innocence, despite Robinson calling his behavior predatory and having been judged “more outrageous than ever before by the NFL,” is overwhelmingly considered disappointing. Last week’s apology sounds hollow and seems like something he did specifically to reach a settlement.


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