The NFL will not use the Commissioner Exempt List for Deshaun Watson. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday that because two grand juries chose not to criminally charge Watson that the Browns quarterback is subject only to a suspension under the Personal Conduct Policy.
“The civil cases were in play over the last year,” Goodell said. “The only thing that’s changed is the criminal element has been at least resolved, and that was an important element in the context of the Commissioner Exempt List as discussed with the Players Association. So that was an important (decision as it relates to the Commissioner Exempt List).
“If the criminal had proceeded, that more than likely would have triggered the Commissioner Exempt. I think at this point, the civil case in and of itself would not do that. If there’s a violation of the Personal Conduct Policy, that may trigger something, but that more than likely trigger some kind of discipline in some fashion.”
Watson, who was traded from the Texans to the Browns on March 18, still faces 22 civil lawsuits against him alleging sexual assault and inappropriate conduct during massage sessions. That is expected to draw a suspension under the Personal Conduct Policy, something Goodell said the league was “clear with every club” about.
Ben Roethlisberger received a six-game suspension from the league in 2010 for a pending rape lawsuit in Nevada after he avoided criminal charges in Georgia. The suspension later was reduced to four games. More recently, Ezekiel Elliott served a six-game suspension in 2017 after waging a legal battle against the NFL as he repeatedly declared his innocence against allegations of domestic abuse. He was never arrested or charged.
“The Personal Conduct Policy is something that is very important to us, so the Personal Conduct Policy does not need a criminal violation to be a violation of the Personal Conduct Policy,” Goodell said. “So they recognize that that’s something we’re going to pursue. We’re going to make sure that we get to the bottom of the facts and make sure how it applies to the Personal Conduct Policy. That’s where we are at this point. When we get to that, a decision will be made whether there should be discipline and if so what is it.”
Goodell said there is no timetable for reaching a decision on Watson, who was on the Texans’ roster last season but did not play as the team made him inactive on game day.
“Our people are working on it,” he said. “Obviously, these are serious charges. We’re looking at this seriously. We now have obviously, at least on the criminal side of it, obviously there are still civil charges that are going on, so our investigators hopefully will have access to more information and that will be helpful obviously at getting to the conclusion of what are the facts and was there a violation of the Personal Conduct Policy, but that determination will be made by a joint discipline officer established by the NFLPA and the NFL. She will make that decision when the facts are all in and we’ll see. There’s no timeframe on that.”