Deshaun Watson’s six-game suspension is a win for the Browns, but the fan base is split
Quarterback Deshaun Watson will be suspended from six games this season — a win, said sports commentator Terry Pluto, for the Browns.
“I hope Watson realizes what an opportunity this is for him," Pluto said.
Retired federal judge Sue Robinson’s ruling earlier this week fell far short of the minimum one-year suspension the NFL wanted. The league has until Thursday to appeal the ruling. If it does appeal, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would make the final decision on punishment.
Pluto said the Browns assessed the risk of signing Watson despite sexual misconduct accusations from two dozen women massage therapists.
“They calculated all the history of NFL suspensions, either guys that faced felony criminal charges or gambling. So, Watson did not fit either category,” Pluto said. “Their hope was they would get him for maybe half a season and they have him for four-plus years after that. This probably was their ideal scenario. They'll never say it. They'll always say they respected the process, blah, blah, blah. But this is what they wanted to happen.”
The hearing before Robinson was a first for the NFL, under a new collective bargaining agreement. She was jointly appointed by the NFL and players association.
“In the past, the commissioner or the NFL would do what it wanted. In the latest labor deal, the NFL and the players union agreed that when there's a conduct penalty, they will have a federal judge or a retired federal judge, Sue Robinson, to hear the case. Then both sides, the NFL and the association, would present their case,” Pluto explained. “This case went on for three days in front of her. There were five women initially that the NFL were going to present as witnesses. One of them disappeared, either they didn't feel good about it or something. And then four more did speak.“
Then came a waiting game.
“Part of the reason it dragged on for almost a month after the hearing is they were hoping the two sides could settle on something, but they didn't,“ Pluto said.
"They'll always say they respected the process, blah, blah, blah. But this is what they wanted to happen."Terry Pluto
Pluto reiterated he was against the Browns signing Watson from the start.
“Watson's conduct, to me, just reading that stuff, it just churns your stomach. I still wish the Browns hadn't done this because I just think it's just so divisive," he said.
The Browns’ fan base has been “fractured,” Pluto said.
“My emails are divided. Some people say he hasn't been criminally indicted, let's play ball. Some people say even if he hasn’t been criminally indicted, ‘I've seen enough. I'm out.’ The Browns feeling is, and unfortunately it probably is going to be correct, is that most of those people who say they're out will come back in if they win.”
And he says the pressure to win with Watson will loom over the team.
“You got to be better than Baker Mayfield was in 2020 when they went to the playoffs and won a game. I mean, this is Super Bowl or bust, almost.”
And he says the team will work to make sure Watson stays on track.
“In [Watson's] contract, the Browns could not get out of it for anything that happened before he came to the team in March. But if there are more incidents after that, that massive record-breaking $230 million contract could be voided.“
Robinson's ruling does not include a fine, but it does stipulate that Watson must get all of his massage therapy through the team.
“That should be done anyway. And it in 99% of the cases, I think it is," Pluto said.
For Pluto, it's been a tough case to follow and write about.
"This has been a story that has bothered me from the beginning. It still does. And I think I'm not the only one who feels that way. But I also know as my job is that, if he's playing, I'm going to cover him, [and] I'm going to be as fair about it as I possibly can.”