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Watson Will Face Discipline If Found He Violated NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy

Editors note: This story contains accounts of sexual assault. If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or at

Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke with the media on Tuesday during the annual owners meeting and addressed Deshaun Watson’s playing status. 

The former Texans quarterback was recently traded to the Browns in a blockbuster five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed deal, a record-setting contract that became the largest guaranteed contract in league history. The quarterback still faces 22 active civil lawsuits that allege sexual harassment and assault during massage therapy sessions—and he is still being investigated by the NFL to see if he violated the league’s personal conduct policies. 

Though a possible suspension or fine looms, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that “there’s no timetable” for a decision on Watson’s discipline if he is found to have violated the policies. 

“We’ve been very clear with every club, whether the criminal matter gets resolved or not, that the personal conduct policy is very important to us,” Goodell said, per The MMQB‘s Albert Breer. “They understand that’s something we’re going to pursue.”

The commissioner also said that Watson’s punishment would come in the form of discipline—such as a suspension or a fine—and he would not land on the commissioner’s exempt list, per Breer. 

“We’ve been very clear over the last year that the civil cases were at play over the last year, the only thing that has changed is the criminal element that has been at least resolved,” Goodell said. “And that was an important element in the context of the commissioner’s exemption that we have discussed with our player’s association. So, if the criminal had proceeded, that would’ve more likely triggered a commissioner’s exempt. I think at this point the civil cases in it of itself would not do that. If there is a violation of the personal conduct policy, that may trigger something. But it would more likely trigger some type of discipline in some fashion.”  

According to the NFL’s 2020 personal conduct policy, for players to land on the exempt list, they must be formally charged with “a crime of violence, meaning that he is accused … of having engaged in a sexual assault by force or against a person who was incapable of giving consent, or having engaged in other conduct that poses a genuine danger to the safety or well-being of another person.”

A player can also land on the exempt list if the commissioner, through an investigation, believes a player may have violated any of the conduct identified above. The commissioner “can act where the circumstance and evidence warrant doing so.”

In October, Goodell said that the league doesn’t “feel we have that necessary information to place [Watson] on the exempt list.” 

The commissioner’s latest comments come in the midst of a yearlong saga that has enveloped the league. The NFL’s investigation into Watson began on March 18, 2021, when there were seven civil lawsuits filed against the quarterback. By August, investigators had interviewed 10 of the 22 plaintiffs represented by Tony Buzbee, with the 11th scheduled. 

Watson also faced 10 criminal complaints. On March 11, a Harris County grand jury returned nine “no” bills on nine criminal complaints against the Texans quarterback. A Harris County prosecutor said that the decision concluded criminal proceedings against him in that county. Watson faced one criminal complaint in Brazoria County, and another grand jury decided Thursday there was not enough evidence to charge him. 

Civil proceedings into the 22 active civil complaints against Watson are still ongoing, with his deposition beginning the same day the Harris County grand jury convened. The quarterback is accused of sexual misconduct and assault, with accounts from massage therapists varying in detail. The lawsuits describe accounts that range from the quarterback’s refusing to cover his genitals to “touching [a plaintiff] with his penis and trying to force her to perform oral sex on him.”

Though he invoked his Fifth Amendment right on March 11, he testified under oath days later. According to footage obtained by FOX8, an attorney asked Watson during his deposition about driving 30 minutes out of town and bringing his own towel to massage sessions. Watson was asked if he thought that was “weird.”

“It is what it is,” Watson replied.

On March 18, the Browns surprisingly won the Watson sweepstakes. Cleveland built into his contract that for every game he is suspended, the quarterback will only lose $55,556. His base salary is just $1 million in 2022, per’s Ian Rapoport. 

If Watson had stayed in Houston, he would have lost $1.94 million for every game he were suspended. 

“Any transaction would have no effect on the NFL’s ongoing and comprehensive investigations of the serious allegations against Deshaun Watson,” NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said in a statement to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. “Nor would it affect his status under the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the Personal Conduct Policy. If the league’s investigation determines that Watson violated the Personal Conduct Policy, discipline may be imposed pursuant to the policy and the CBA.”

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