CLEVELAND, Ohio — With Browns veterans reporting to training camp July 26, Deshaun Watson’s camp remains optimistic he’ll see the field in 2022.
The optimism stems, in part, from how the three-day hearing June 27-30 in front of disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson went. It could be wishful thinking on the part of Watson’s side, but the general consensus is that the NFL won’t get the indefinite suspension of at least 17 games with the chance to apply for reinstatement after the season that it wants, at least not from Robinson.
If she imposes any discipline, either side — the NFL or NFL Players Association — can appeal to NFL Commisioner Roger Goodell or a designee, and their word will be final. So even when Robinson issues her decision, the process might not be over. Goodell or the designee may overturn, reduce, modify or increase the discipline.
But there’s one school of thought that the NFL will abide by Robinson’s decision out of respect for the new process of a jointly-appointed disciplinary officer handing down the initial sanctions instead of Goodell. The Personal Conduct Policy was revised in 2020.
The NFL, for its part, has been mostly mum on handicapping the proceedings, and appears determined to let the process play out.
As for where things stand now, post-hearing briefs from both sides were due July 12, and Robinson is in the process of reviewing them before issuing her written decision. That process could stretch into next week — with the Browns taking the field July 27 for three days of practices closed to the public — and even spill into the first week of August.
The two sides can also settle at any point in the process, but it seems headed towards a ruling by Robinson, the retired federal judge. If the suspension is eight games or less, at least some in Watson’s camp would be inclined to be abide by it and not appeal.
In the meantime, Watson is in Cleveland working out at the Browns facility and preparing to play at some point this season.
Hardin denies potential federal suit
In regards to Monday’s report by Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports that he’s been told Watson’s ‘camp and the NFLPA have already made the decision to file a lawsuit against the league in federal court’ if Watson gets the year-long suspension, Watson’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, told cleveland.com he’s not aware of such a decision.
“I can only speak for my firm and we know nothing about it,’’ he said in a text response.
It doesn’t mean the NFLPA — led in this case by attorney Jeffrey Kessler — hasn’t made that decision, but Hardin isn’t part of it at this point.
Browns likely to add backup QB
If Watson is suspended for more than a couple of games, the Browns are set to sign another backup quarterback to serve as the No. 2 to Jacoby Brissett. Josh Dobbs is their current third-string quarterback, but the newcomer would presumably move ahead of him.
There aren’t many available free-agent quarterbacks, but the list includes Garrett Gilbert, who played for the Browns in 2019-20, and 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton.
Suh not on the radar
Reports the Browns are interested in five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh appear unfounded. The Browns have been linked to Suh, 35, at various points this offseason, but there doesn’t seem to be much interest.
If they decide to add a veteran defensive tackle, they might consider a familiar face in Sheldon Richardson, 31, who played for them in 2019-20 but returned to the Vikings last season rather than take a huge paycut from the Browns.
Richardson, the 55th best defensive tackle in the NFL last season according to Pro Football Focus, is good in the locker room and would be a strong mentor for a young player like fourth-round pick Perrion Winfrey. He also has a knack for keeping Myles Garrett motivated.
After the helmet incident in 2019, Richardson was instrumental in helping to patch things up between Garrett and Baker Mayfield after Mayfield said on national television that Garrett’s actions were inexcusable and “he hurt the team.”
The plan is for the Browns to see how their young tackles fare in training camp, and re-evaluate the room if necessary. They’re excited about Winfrey and third-year pro Jordan Elliott, and added quality depth with free agent Taven Bryan in the offseason. If they need more, they can always try to re-sign Richardson.
Seahawks didn’t pursue Mayfield
The Seahawks, although rumored to be interested in trading for Mayfield, did not engage with the Browns to any significant degree. They expressed some interest early on, but weren’t involved in the Mayfield sweepstakes and didn’t talk trade with the Browns. One source told cleveland.com they would’ve considered signing him if he was released, but they had no intentions of surrendering draft capital or paying a large portion of his $18.86 million salary.
Mayfield deal largely set in June
The Browns and Panthers had the parameters of the Mayfield trade in place since sometime in June, but it was a matter of Mayfield and the Panthers working through the salary structure and incentives for him to make back the $3.5 million in guaranteed money he surrendered.
ESPN’s Field Yates broke down how Mayfield can make some of the $3.5 million, and it’s not easy by any stretch. But Mayfield is betting on himself, and determined a chance to win a starting job in 2022 was worth the money.
The Browns, who picked up $10.5 million of Mayfield’s guaranteed $18.86 million salary, fared better in the deal than they would have during draft weekend. They received a conditional 2024 fifth-round pick that improves to a fourth if he plays 70% of the snaps. The Browns expect to face Mayfield in the opener Sept. 11 in Carolina.
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