At the NFL owners meeting, Commissioner Roger Goodell was asked about the league’s investigation into the DeShaun Watson lawsuits:
NEW YORK — The playing status of Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, one of the hottest topics in the NFL ahead of next Tuesday’s trade deadline, does not sound as if it will be altered any time soon.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday at the league owners meetings that the NFL doesn’t yet have enough information about the 22 civil lawsuits that have been filed alleging sexual assault and inappropriate behavior by Watson to make a decision on potential discipline, and that the information they do have is not enough to convince the league to place him on the commissioner’s exempt list.
“Obviously, the police have been investigating, and we don’t have access to all of that information at this point in time,” Goodell said. “We pride ourselves on not interfering in that and in being as cooperative as we can in order to get all the facts. I think that process is still ongoing.”
It is interesting that he would say that the information they do know about the situation is not enough to convince them to put Watson on the exempt list.
The commissioner’s exempt list is basically paid leave. The player cannot practice or even attend the games. He doesn’t count against the 53-man roster limit. However, he can be at the team facilities for meetings, workouts and injury treatment/ rehabilitation.
The exempt list is like a semi-suspension. When you’re fully suspended, you don’t receive pay.
If you go and look at the NFL’s definition of the exempt list, there’s no explicit mention of it being triggered by criminal charges or civil lawsuits. It’s completely up to the Commissioner, and he basically has full discretion over putting guys on the list.
However, traditionally, the commissioner’s exempt list is used when some credible criminal accusations are made against a player and the league wants to conduct its own investigation before actually suspending the player. It’s like a “pre-suspension,” but obviously there’s the chance the player is cleared of wrongdoing and never suspended at all.
In 2019, Antonio Brown was put on the exempt list. There are other examples at the link.
I was always under the impression that when any accusations dropped, the player immediately went on the exempt list until the league can get to the bottom of the matter. But that has not happened with DeShaun Watson, which leads me to believe there’s something fishy going on with all these allegations about him.
DeShaun Watson could play right now if he wanted. He is not suspended. He is not on the exempt list. If he gets traded to the Dolphins tomorrow, he could be suited up and playing for them on Sunday in Buffalo. There is nothing prohibiting him from playing other than his own desire to never play another down for the Texans again.
At least that’s my takeaway here. Now, because there appears to be some mutual agreement between Watson and the Texans that he’ll dress, but not practice or play in games, he’s basically de facto on the exempt list. He’s just not formally on the exempt list. Maybe that’ll change if he gets traded. Maybe he’s not officially on the exempt list because it’s unnecessary given that he’s already being treated as if he is on the exempt list by the Texans.
Also, to my knowledge, the Texans haven’t said whether Watson is suspended or not. We actually have no idea what their official stance is with him. As far as I know, the Texans have not disciplined Watson in any way here, other than not trading him when he wants to be traded.
You have to imagine the Texans are doing their own investigation. Is it possible it hasn’t turned up anything warranting any disciplinary action against Watson thus far?
Because that’s what Roger Goodell basically said.
I’m trying to read between the lines here, and it seems like they’re saying they haven’t found or heard of anything regarding Watson that would warrant disciplinary action against him.
If they found these accusations credible, the league would’ve put him on the exempt list already.
Goodell did say they don’t have enough information to make a full decision on Watson’s playing future just yet, but the question in regards of that is, how long is this investigation going to take? It has already been months.
You interview Watson, you interview his accusers, maybe some close confidants of theirs, and you try to figure out what really happened. You review text messages between Watson and the accusers, if there are any, and other phone records. What is taking so long here?
It could be that all these accusations essentially boil down to he-said/she-said. If they all took place during one-on-one massages, then that presumably means there are no third-party witnesses to corroborate any of the accusations. It’s just a masseuse saying that Watson did some fucked up shit to her during a massage, and Watson saying he didn’t. That makes this a tricky situation.
My best guess here is that if Watson is indeed traded, then he’ll go on the exempt list at that point. But as long as he’s with the Texans, it’s not necessary to place him on the list because he’s already de facto on it.