Agent take: The economic ramifications of Deshaun Watson’s 11-game suspension

The NFL and the NFLPA reached an agreement Thursday in connection with the discipline of Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Watson is suspended for the first 11 games of the Cleveland regular season without pay and fined $5 million. He must also undergo a mandatory evaluation by behavioral experts and follow his treatment plan.

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

Before the deal, the NFL had been seeking an indefinite suspension in which Watson could request the reinstatement after one year of Peter C. Harvey, who had been selected by commissioner Roger Goodell to handle the appeal. The 11-game ban is the longest suspension ever imposed under the personal conduct policy for sexual misconduct. What remains unknown is whether Robinson’s mandate that Watson’s massage therapy be limited to team-approved massage therapists for the remainder of his career is upheld. Watson’s punishment is in line with what the NFL was seeking 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 takes effect Aug. 30 when the final roster cut to 53 players for NFL teams takes place. Under the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, Watson will be allowed to return to team facilities and participate in limited activities during the second half of a suspension on terms similar to players who are suspended under the game’s drug policy. NFL performance. On October 10, the day after the Browns’ Week 5 game against the Chargers, your permitted activities will include attending team meetings, working one-on-one with the Browns’ strength and conditioning coach, meeting one-on-one with Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski, offensive coordinator. Alex Van Pelt and quarterbacks coach Drew Petzing and receiving treatment/rehab from Browns medical staff and coaches. Watson will be able to practice for the last two weeks of the suspension beginning Nov. 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 Dec. 4. His return will be in Week 13 instead of Week 12 because Cleveland has a bye in Week 9.

Many of the other NFL teams feel that the fully guaranteed, five-year contract worth $230 million that Watson signed in March as part of his trade from the Texans was structured in a way that was designed to minimize the financial fallout. of suspension. Without pay corresponds to the base salary with suspensions. Watson received a signing bonus of $44.965 million and his base salary for 2022 is $1.035 million, his league minimum base salary in the deal. He loses $632,500 (or 11/18 of his $1.035 million base salary in 2022) as he earns $57,500 each of the 18 weeks of the regular season.

The Browns will get $632,500 of the 2022 salary cap from base salary that Watson will not earn because of the suspension. The $57,500 Week 9 bye will reportedly be handled as suspensions under the NFL’s substance abuse policy. It should be paid in equal installments for the rest of the season after Watson serves his suspension. Watson’s contract does not affect his 11-game suspension. His contract years will run as planned, meaning his contract ends after the 2026 season. His salary cap numbers from 2023 to 2026 will each remain $54.993 million ($46 million base salary and $8,993 million). million in signing bonus proration).

Had there not been a deal in which Harvey gave Watson the one-year suspension the NFL was seeking for his contract, a price would have been exacted. Essentially, Watson’s contract would have been frozen and resumed in 2023 with a toll. His 2022 contract year would have become his 2023 contract year and any additional years on the contract would have been pushed back a year as well. Instead of Watson’s contract expiring after the 2026 season, it would have ended after the 2027 season. Although the contract would have been postponed for a year, the prorated bonus of $8.993 million per year from 2022 to 2026 would have remained intact.

None of Watson’s $44.935 million signing bonus is in jeopardy, thanks to the language of the contract. Watson’s salary guarantees will also not be waived. Contract guarantees are generally voided for an exhaustive list of breaches by a player. By voiding, 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 disclosed to the Club in writing pursuant to Paragraph 42 resulting in the Player’s unavailability to the Club solely for games during the 2022 or 2023 NFL League Years will not subject the Player to forfeiture of the Signing Bonus.”

Without this language, the Browns would have been entitled to ask Watson for one-eighteenth of the $8.993 million signing bonus attributed to the 2022 salary cap for each week of the 18-week regular season missed with the 11-game suspension. The Browns would have been able to recover $5,495,722 (or 11/18 of $8.993 million) from Watson.

Relevant language that prevents Watson’s warranties from being voided is found below:

“…will not constitute a foul or refusal to practice or play for the Club and the Player will not be in default if: … (iii) the Player is suspended solely in connection with matters disclosed to the Club in writing in accordance with Paragraph 42, resulting in the Player not being available to the Club solely for games during the 2022 or 2023 NFL League Years.”

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

The suspension ends a 17-month ordeal that will not be easily forgotten. Watson still maintaining her innocence Thursday despite Robinson calling her conduct predatory and “more egregious than any previously reviewed by the NFL” is considered overwhelmingly disappointing. Last week’s apology rings hollow and sounds like something he did specifically so that a deal could be reached.

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